This is “How I Made My First $10,000,” a new, ongoing feature that gives all of us a glimpse at how other solopreneurs hit the challenging $10k milestone. If you would like to be the “How I Made My First $10,000,” please send me an email.
Name of solopreneur:
Name of business:
(At the time) Armonk System Consultants; Armonk, NY
Why did you start your own business?
Most of my career to this point (1985) had been spent in marketing; primarily strategic planning. In February of 1985, my firm (a branch of a Fortune 500 company) was sold to a group of five investors from Connecticut, all lawyers. It didn’t take long for changes to occur. On February 14th (we called it our Valentine’s Day Massacre), ALL of the executives were escorted out of the building and the company.
Within days, through sales and marketing network groups I belonged to I was able to partner with two computer software programmers. I had seen a need for management and sales organizational software while at my firm and thought that the software, written correctly, would fill a need. I made a promise to myself that I would never again feel the pain of being a number in a corporation.
What was the company’s financial condition at startup?
I ponied up $2,000 from savings and went into business 50/25/25 with my partners. We soon found out the world of self-employment was a tough one. I might mention they still maintained a day job, so I did all the sales and marketing.
What worked and didn’t work for landing new clients/customers?
At the time, there was no Internet. I made cold calls every day and then followed up with marketing materials. We wrote a simple spreadsheet program to track our contacts.
It took two months of courting three firms to finally get results. One of the companies was a world-wide, not-for-profit charity. We contracted with them to write a data program to track their marketing efforts. I remember thinking they would never go for the $42,000 bid…I was wrong; they loved it. Later I learned that it would take $50,000 of resources to get the job done! Our first job cost us money.
We leaned on each other as partners and the two guys taught me how main frames and PC’s worked (I couldn’t spell PC when I began this company). After one or two small jobs we were able to make a template of what worked and what didn’t. We relied heavily on word of mouth and testimonials. Within six months we were well over $200,000 in sales and finally profitable.
After a year the two partners, who were unwilling to go solo, wanted out. I bought them out and never looked back. I combined my skills as a marketer with my new skills in the computer PC world and began working with small startups and established businesses as a consultant. When the Internet became a factor in the mid-1990s, I converted to selling my services online with continued success. I’ve been fortunate to sell my ideas and programs to companies in Europe, South America, and Africa.
What was the best thing you did? What’s the biggest mistake you made?
As I reflect on what went right and what went wrong along the way, I remember thinking initially I had no right or experience to do what I was doing. I had little confidence in my computer skills and now that I was out of the corporate environment and its support system, I had less confidence in my marketing skills. But as the saying goes: “it was too late; I had already become a success.” I just did it.
How did you deal with fear/uncertainty?
I wanted to quit probably every Friday when I realized I had to take more money out of my dwindling savings account to pay my bills and contractors.
I had a lot (A LOT) of learning experiences that made me question my motives, but every time I had one bad thought, I would go back to the Valentine’s Day Massacre and smile. No one would ever rule my good work again.
How long did it take to reach $10,000?
Ten-thousand-dollar jobs turned into $20,000, which turned into six figures and I had reached the financial tipping point in two years.
What’s your advice to aspiring and new solopreneurs?
My best advice I can make to aspiring and new solopreneurs is twofold:
First: PLAN. Know what you want to do and map out how you think you can do it. There will be many changes as new opportunities arise, but make sure you know what you want and where you are going.
Second: COMMIT. This was the hardest for me. I am a thinker more than a doer and I am very good at thinking out what I want, but less willing to complete the project. Once I finally began to commit, my success increased dramatically. I also started working with people who could finalize my ideas. It’s better to pay someone else to do what you can’t (or won’t) than to lose the whole project.