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Anatomy of A Failed Fastlane (What You Can Learn From My Mistakes)

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Contrarian

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I've been away from the forum for a while.

You may or may not remember me. Either way, that's not important.

I first came here two and a half years ago, a few months after reading TMF . The book that changed my life forever, although not as quickly or as much as I would have liked - for reasons of my own making.

Soppy stuff doesn't come easily to me, but I must take a moment to express my sincere and undying gratitude to @MJ DeMarco. I don't know where I would be or what road I would be on now had I not found the book or this forum, but I would certainly be a lot worse off.

When I first came here, I felt trapped in a job I absolutely despised, working for people I viewed with contempt, with others who hated it just as much as I did but who continued to work there year after year anyway.

I hated it so much I once watched back-to-back episodes of 24 from the moment I got home through to 7 in the morning, just to escape the reality of it. Yeah, almost a whole season.

I'd been screwed out of £15,000 commission from my previous employer, and fired with no notice for daring to discuss a business opportunity with somebody else and being naive enough to mention it to a snitch. Being the sidewalker that I was, I'd earmarked most of that money to pay off my credit card debt from living beyond my means. I had no savings whatsoever. I took the job because I had to.

Today, things are very different.

Thank you, more than words could ever express.

Bleurgh...OK, enough with the soppy stuff. :)

So what happened in the meantime?

A bunch of stuff. I've (almost) always worked in recruitment, so I spent a few months doing freelance recruitment. I investigated a bunch of ideas, one seriously, and which was massively beyond my financial means.

In the end, I created a recruitment business with a previous employer - one that I'd always stayed on good terms with, and kept in touch with.

I desperately wanted to start a business. I didn't have any money. I lacked direction. I was running away from more than I was running towards. Here I had a willing partner and investor. Here I had a ready-made escape. One that I took.

You wise folks will no doubt already be thinking - first mistake. And you'd be absolutely right.

This thread will chronicle the fifteen months that followed that decision. The mistakes, the failures, the learning points, and also the successes. I'll update this with a new post every day.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about the circumstances surrounding that first mistake. Why I made it, why deep down I knew it was a mistake even as I was making it, and why I went ahead and did it anyway.

Beyond that, I'll cover areas of success and failure in the business itself - the hollow victory of being anointed a "thought leader" despite having no clients, a marketing strategy that worked brilliantly (but also didn't work at all), the folly of trying to scale the unscaleable, and many more things besides.

Stay tuned for part two...
 
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MJ DeMarco

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I sense a legendary post incoming...

We tend to learn more from those brave enough to post their failures. Thank you.

Look forward to Part 2 ... rep+ plus watched.
 

Contrarian

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The first mistake...

This is hard for me to write about. Not because I fear admitting failure. I've always been very open about admitting my failures. Also equally protective of my successes, and contemptful of those who think they were down to "luck" or that the fruits of my successes should be "redistributed". I'm sure you can relate.

It's funny how you're the bleeding-heart's best source of self-satisfying "concern" when you grow up dirt poor, insecure, and downtrodden, but suddenly become their worst enemy as soon as you learn to stand on your own two feet - accomplishing exactly what they claim to want for you - and reject their ideology of victimhood.

Anyway, I digress. This is hard for me to write about because it feels disloyal to write it, even though that's objectively not the case. My partner in the recruiting business - let's call him Steve - is a great guy, and I want only the best for him. I feel like I've let him down, even if that's illogical. He first hired me years ago, when I was in my early 20s.

At the time, I'd just been made redundant from my job as a B2B telemarketer. I'd recently moved far away from home to start afresh (one of the best decisions I've ever made). I was doing well at work, but really I was a ball of unrealised potential. I was morbidly obese, still walking around with a limp - recovering from the self-inflicted motorcycle accident that only through sheer miracle didn't cost me my life. How many people are ever granted a second chance at life after hitting a tree at 60mph? I was making just enough to pay the bills and maybe buy one or two beers on a Friday, and was kind of socially awkward.

Despite all that, I was happy. Far happier than I'd ever been. I was making something of my life.

But Steve saw something in me. He always was a big softie at heart, much as he would vehemently deny it if you made the accusation.

He taught me how to be a recruiter. Not just any recruiter - a professional, ethical recruiter. In an industry full of pirates and bandits, that's a gift.

Granted, I was also devoted to self-study and had an incredible work ethic. How could I not? I loved it. I loved recruitment. I loved my work. I thought it was what I was born to do. I used to look forward to Mondays! I'm not really sure why I loved it so much, but I did.

But Steve provided the framework, the tools, and the example. And he continued to believe in me. I worked there for over three years and - despite the unstoppable work ethic, despite being told by clients I was the best recruiter they'd ever worked with, despite seeming to do all the right things and taking them to another level - I never made much money.

I never hit my targets, or even came anywhere close.

For a while, I kept the faith. I knew I was building something for the long-term and that it would all come together in the end.

But I just kept spinning my wheels. I didn't know why the results weren't coming. Steve couldn't figure it out either. Still, he believed in me. Anyone else would have fired me long ago.

Eventually, I lost the faith. Three years on, I was fighting fit, self-assured, and had almost everything I wanted in life. But I thought I'd be making six figures by now. Instead, I couldn't even afford to live alone. Oh how I wanted to live alone.

I decided that, either I wasn't cut out to be in recruitment after all, or something was wrong in my environment. I had to find out. So I moved cities and started afresh again, got a new job with a bigger company that turned over millions and made the fastest growing companies lists.

These guys weren't ethical. The quality of their recruiting work sucked. They partied til 4am and did drugs on weeknights. The same sort of people who post Wolf of Wall Street memes on Linkedin. But they made a lot money. I ignored most of what they taught me, but soon I was making a lot of money too. I won the award for the best-performing recruiter in the company the same quarter I joined. Soon after that, I got my first ever five figure paycheque (at least, before taxes - FFS!).

Then I got headhunted for a management position elsewhere, on double the salary. I moved out of my houseshare and into an amazing new apartment on the waterfront and bought (ahem - financed) the shiny sportsbike I'd always wanted (I only just finished making the payments). I went out and socialized with the beautiful people most every night of the week. I spent all day out on my beloved bike on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer, when I wasn't joining in the 48 hour drinking sessions of the hedonists that had become my new friends. I'd finally made it - or so I thought.

Pride cometh before a fall.

It was around this time I started to have an existential crisis. I can't pinpoint the catalyst, but I wanted more out of life. Any success I did earn was very precarious, and liable to be snatched away at any moment (such is the life of a sidewalker on a commission-based income). My new lifestyle wreaked havoc on my health. I was trading incredible nights out for exhaustion, discontent and now-tedious days at the office. I put on weight. My face was pale.

This vain life was not the right life for me. I wasn't being true to myself. I'd been craving status and popularity. Perhaps, the status and popularity I'd never had growing up. It's true that you can reinvent yourself, but for the effort and force of will it takes, you should be sure you're reinventing yourself to be someone you actually want to be. I don't care about either of those things anymore.

I was on a treadmill without end.

I started reading obsessively - Danger and Play, back when he used to write about self-improvement and not politics (I despise politics). Tim Ferris. Harry Browne. Chris Guillebeau. The great libertarian philosophers. The new digital nomads. MJ DeMarco.

I yearned to be free. Not climbing someone else's ladder. Not to be powerful and respected. Just to live my own life, in my own way - independently. Without obligation to or from anyone. To make wise decisions, not hedonistic ones.

And I no longer believed in my work. I used to believe I was doing good in the world, by helping companies hire better people and helping great people get better jobs. I suppose that's true. But I didn't believe in jobs anymore. That was the way of the past. The world is moving away from jobs.

I started to notice that the candidates in their 20s were bright-eyed and full of enthusiasm, whereas those in their 50s were often resigned and defeated. They'd already lived the treadmill without end. The young ones were still awed by the gold plating adorning the doors of the slaughterhouse.

I'd never noticed it before.

All these years, I'd kept in touch with Steve. He'd tried to hire me back, twice. And so, given the circumstances I found myself in - forced out of the management job I had "made it" in, and in another job I despised, desperately looking for the solution, I called him.

I freelanced for a while, mostly for his company.

I asked if he would go into business with me, knowing that he had the money and I had the will.

We discussed a 50/50 partnership. We drew up an elaborate and unnecessary business plan over the course of several meetings. We enthused over the fact that, if only we could turn a £1m profit through a semi-automated, scaled business system, we could sell the company for £6m and both quit working forever in just a few short years.

We could do this - we could use the tools of digital marketing and apply them to the consulting business model. New business on autopilot. Candidates on autopilot. Feed them to commission-only homeworkers who put the pieces together and made the placements, who would make a nice income on their own schedule for easy work. We'd just drive the marketing machine. Yes, it would really work!

Steve let me in on a secret - he hates work. He'd rather be doing literally anything else but work. He's read all the books, too. Still, he has an incredible work ethic for someone who hates work. If he's not spending time with the kids, he's working. And so it has been since I was still at school.

I was excited, but guardedly so. After all, I don't believe in jobs anymore, remember? I don't like working as a recruiter anymore. This isn't the kind of business I envisioned for myself. But it has so much potential. Yes, this was the ticket. It doesn't matter if I hate it, because in a few years I'll be free forever. If only it all goes according to plan. If only we don't have setbacks along the way. If only we steamroll the non-existent barrier to entry through exceptional execution. If, if, if...

Over negotiations, a 50/50 split turned into me earning a 50/50 split over time. I would start as a salaried employee of his existing business, but working from home. I'd get a profit-based bonus at the end of year one, and upon hitting our year one target, he'd set up a new company and give me a 25% share. Then I'd earn the other 25% for hitting the second year's target. We never discussed what would happen if we didn't hit the targets - how could we lose? Our competitors were going to have no idea what hit them!

Of course, that only made sense for Steve. It is, in reality, an entirely fair and generous arrangement. Who pays, plays. And so I feel bad writing about it here as a mistake, as if I had been wronged. Which I most certainly hadn't.

It wasn't the equity of the agreement that bothered me, but the nature of it. Was I agreeing to a partnership, or a job? Would we really be equal partners, even though I had no leverage and our past relationship was one of employer-employee? Was this really what I wanted to spend the next 5-10 years of my life doing? Was I boldly driving into the Fastlane or just convincing myself that I was?

But what choice did I have?

I agreed. Although there was no contract, and nothing in writing. And with reserved enthusiasm, and with all the red flags pushed safely to the recesses of my mind, we got to work.

That's why I started a progress thread on the inside, never updated it and vanished from the forum. I was deluding myself. I was acting like I had a business when what I really had was a job - at least for the time being. But I was running the business! And for the most part, I was. But that wasn't enough. Especially when I never fully believed in it in the first place...
 

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GuitarManDan

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Although it's already been said a few times on here, I have to agree that you have an excellent writing style. It's very engaging and I feel like I'm re-living the story.

Curious to hear more about what happened with this partnership.
 
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Vigilante

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You are a wonderful writer with a gift. You have managed to make your story read with the drama of a soap opera. I am waiting for the next installment.

@ChickenHawk follow this. @AllenCrawley @Kung Fu Steve

#goldwatch
 
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Kreativez

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As I was reading your story I literally got captured by it all -- I got lost and forgot that I was reading a thread and not some best-selling novel. Weird.
 

Contrarian

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Thank you all for your kind words. And thank you for the rep @Vigilante.

@MJ DeMarco - you tease me! I've read through the first five chapters of UNSCRIPTED more times than I'd like to admit. Goes well with Someday playing in the background. One month to go! :clench:

I would like to make more use of my writing. I thought my Linkedin articles and autoresponder emails would be an excellent vehicle for driving sales for this business. Turns out, not so much - but writing them was much more fun than making cold calls. But that's a topic for another day.

For now, on with the next instalment...
 
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Contrarian

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What exactly were we selling, anyway?

So let's talk about the product for a moment.

If you're not familiar with the recruitment industry, the vast majority of recruitment agencies operate on a "no-win, no-fee" basis. We don't place, you don't pay.

In short, they sell maybe. Let us work on your jobs, and maybe we'll find you some candidates. Maybe we'll fill some of your jobs. Maybe the person will work out.

In return, most companies farm out their jobs to multiple recruitment agencies and give them the bare minimum of information to work with.

Worse, it's become more and more common over the past 10 years for recruiting to be delegated almost completely to HR busybodies who don't have a clue, and whose prime interest is in protecting their turf and justifying their existence rather than delivering results for the company.

As my adaptation of the old saying goes, "those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, teach gym. Those who can't teach gym, work in HR."

HR people used to hate me before I learned the art of meeting people at their own level. In a previous job, I once worked with one of the major EPCs that managed safety & asset integrity for oil rigs in the North Sea (and many other places around the world). They'd been looking for a critical person for six months on one rig and nine months on another. It was so serious, they were on the verge of getting shut down by the government - which would have cost them untold millions. I placed them both within a month.

The same company's HR department told me they'd never work with me or my company again, because I "didn't respect their process". The same process that put them in that position in the first place. Baffled? Me too. It's shit like this that sucked the joy out of recruitment for me.

Often working with the larger companies under this model, you'll not only be competing against numerous other recruitment companies at bargain basement prices, but also against the internal recruiting team as well.

An HR person who is an asset rather than a liability is a rare treasure indeed.

It's a total crapshoot. The incentive then is for the company to invest little time and effort into working with any recruiter, and for the recruiter to invest little time and effort into any one job. Nobody wins, but that's the way it works.

Imagine what would happen if you asked five accountants to file your taxes and you'd only pay the one who did it the fastest. Crazy, right?

Well, we wanted to sell definitely. Not maybe. Predictable results and repeatable success for clients that valued them. We created what you might term a productised service, with its own brand and a defined set of steps. Although we didn't have a "buy now" button, or a long-form sales page with three options of escalating value - maybe we should have...

The first step is the creation of a performance-based job description, which defines required outcomes, performance and behaviours, rather than skills, experience and qualifications (doing, not having). This provides a template for selection which actually predicts on-the-job success.

It's also an effective marketing tool, since people who are great at what they do want to hear about the work they'll be doing and the impact they can make, not some bullshit list of "required attributes". Ever read the typical job description? Awful. Who exactly was it written for, anyway? Oh, yeah. HR busybodies. I remember now.

The second step is a multi-channel candidate attraction system which operates continually in the background (at least, that was the vision). So rather than posting ads and making dozens of cold calls for every job, we build a pool of the best people and pull from it on demand. I won't focus on the specifics in this post since a lot of it ties into marketing, which I'll talk about later - but it includes things like content marketing, webinars, podcasts, downloadable tools all integrated with lead capture systems. And semi-automated outbound email to replace the endless calling.

We then used a cloud-based portal for all assignments, where candidates can upload their information, a video introduction, complete a psychometric test, etc, we can add commentary, and the client can view on demand, collaborate, and schedule interviews.

Then we had a proprietary interview system which we coached the whole hiring panel at the client company how to use, and provided a set of accompanying documentation. The benefit being - it's an incredibly accurate predictor of on the job performance, when paired with the performance-based job description.

Finally, a process for making the offer - specifically, the offer must be quantifiably 30% better than the job the person is already doing (according to whatever that person's motivations may be). Not so difficult to do when you've collected such a depth of data.

The service was backed with a very generous money-back guarantee if the person leaves within a period of time. But in order to deliver the service, the client must retain us exclusively. That means, a non-refundable downpayment, and if they decide to hire for the position through any other source during our term of engagement, we're owed the full fee.

I stand fully by the service we created. It's awesome. It works almost 100% of the time. Even most C-level executive search firms only fill about 70% of the assignments they take on, and they're far more expensive than we were.

The problem is - what if nobody cares?

What if people need it, but don't care enough to do anything about it?

What if it's part-service delivery, and part-management consulting, and therefore confusing for the client?

What if it has so many moving parts that prospects don't know what to make of it, and say "this sounds amazing" - but then take no action?

What if we created something that has so much built in complexity, it relies heavily on my expertise to deliver it, defeating the object of creating a systematised and scalable business system?

What if it's so outside the norm, it requires truly exceptional salesmanship to gain commitment for?

We'd created something that was far superior to any other recruiting service in the industry we served.

The problem was, nobody cared.
 

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Great story @Contrarian, and well told.

Glued for the next instalment.
 

Contrarian

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Thank you @Andy Black - and also for the rep. Let me know if I'm veering too far into story-telling mode and skirting around the actionable insights. :)

This isn't necessarily going to be in chronological order from here on in. I'll talk about a different element in each post.
 
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The marketing strategy that worked brilliantly (but also didn't work at all)

So.

We bought all the inbound marketing hype, hook line and sinker. One to many marketing! Cold calling is dead! Why sell one to one when you can gather 50 people on a webinar and sell all of them at once?

Get this - we were going to put on FREE WEBINARS! We would invite guest speakers who were respected by the market. We'd post about it on Linkedin and dozens of eager people would turn up for the show. The guest speakers would invite their audience along and we would sit back and bask in their reflective glory.

We'd be rolling in so many leads we wouldn't know what to do with them. The market would be awed by our innovative approach and our authority by association.

All we'd have to do is run and promote a webinar every couple of weeks and all the clients would come knocking at our door.

It's completely ridiculous in hindsight, but that's what we believed.

Bearing in mind this was a completely new market that neither of us had ever worked in. How did I spend the first couple of months? Talking to prospective clients? Talking to candidates?

Nah. Calling's for chumps. I'm too busy building the webinar schedule. The webinar schedule for people I didn't know in a market I only vaguely understood.

OK, OK - I'm being a little unfair. I did interview a few people for our "customer avatar". I even asked them all about the values they'd like to pass on to their kids, and how they'd like to be remembered after they die. Useful stuff.

So I found our first guest speaker. Webinar arranged, landing page up, and we're in business. Posted it in all the Linkedin groups and multiple times as a status. Had nothing to do with recruitment. We were leading not with boring stuff like recruitment, but topics that were interesting to our market (hmm...so we built this great system and then didn't even talk about it).

So easy. Post a free webinar in a Linkedin group with 100,000 people in it - tons of people will show up! Well, maybe it worked like that a few years ago before content fatigue set in, but it doesn't work that way anymore. Not a single person even clicked the link.

In the end, five people showed up to the first webinar. Noone who did show up was particularly interested in talking about recruitment.

I kept running the webinars. And they got better.

I started doing more legwork to promote them. Instead of relying on Linkedin, I set up outbound email sequences and invited hundreds of people. I wrote emails for the speakers to send to their lists.

Next time, 20 people showed up. Then 30. Then 40.

People liked the webinars. And my landing pages were converting at between 30-60%!

I contacted the President of the industry association for our market. He introduced me to their guy in the UK, and we met up for coffee. Then between the three of us we hashed out a deal - they promote our webinars to their email list and on their website, and we'll promote the association and their conference on our landing pages and in the webinar intros & outros.

Now my webinar attendance was staying pretty consistently around the 40 mark, but I didn't have to do the legwork anymore. I sent out a few emails to my inbound list, and besides that, everyone else did the promoting for me. With every webinar, our list grew. Awesome!

And the speakers were really happy. Most of them got at least one new client from doing a webinar for us.

It was time for something more ambitious. I put together an Online Summit. Nine "thought leaders" over two days. One of them had even given a TED talk. I inserted myself alongside them of course, and I did a talk about recruiting in a way that was relevant to the theme of the summit.

There was quite a buzz about it. Noone had ever done anything like this. Hundreds of people signed up. The people who registered promoted it to their friends and colleagues. This was our big moment!

It was an absolute nightmare to organise. And it was a hell of a long two days. But it was great fun. And people loved it. We got great feedback. Multiple people told me we should have charged for the event, and they would have been happy to pay.

I was invited over to the USA to present at the conference of the association I'd partnered with.

As a result of that summit, I've since been invited to be a founding member of a new society, heading up content & memberships, which I'm still doing part-time. It also led to my current self-employed sales position (the founder of the company gave a talk for me at the summit).

So that's all good stuff.

We made waves. We built an audience. People started to call me a "thought leader", too. It was awesome.

But it was a pyrrhic victory.

Why?

Noone who ever came to any of our webinars ever paid us any money! That's right. Not ONE client. We'd been extraordinarily successful at creating a ton of value - for everyone except ourselves.

In hindsight the flaw is obvious. People didn't come to our events to learn about recruitment, they came to learn about the topic of our events (which was never recruitment).

And the people who have time to come to webinars generally aren't the same people who make buying decisions.

I'd built a loyal fan club full of people who could never buy from us.
 

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Bump.
Very interesting experience with the recruitment industry, @Contrarian . I had assumed that most corporate bodies would do their own hush-hush headhunting themselves.

The products you worked on actually looked quite valid, but I think that scale was slightly disarmed. Some of those programs or tools seem to be very content heavy, with some significant skillset required to operate them. They seem pricey...maybe that is why companies were vary of touching them. Can they be made cheaper? Or is it possible that any of those products need ALL those content? Could they be stripped to the bare essentials?

Keep in mind that most companies aren't Fastlane-orientated in the sense of quality. That is why we can beat them. The companies you interacted with are gonna look for the extra buck to cut, and will most likely treat employees as cannon-fodder (and most employees are gonna job-hop for the extra buck or experience, so why waste resources to hold them back?) and might not invest as much time and resources as possible into their upkeep unless they are outliers like Branson or Zappos. By outliers, I mean those who adhere to Fastlane quality controls strictly. Your employee performance rating product should be cheaper and effective at the same time in accordance with their interests. Only THEN they might consider buying.

People only agree with what they are interested in. Very bias, but that's the world.

Most of your products are actually sound...but it's only the possibly high cost that seems to be of concern. And your target customers seem to be only professionals...you said you got them from Linkedin. IMO, Linked is mostly for professionals, who are workers, not founders or the owners of businesses, who should be your customers! It seems to me that your products COULD work if they were marketed for big corporations, to manage huge staff.

That might require more of Andy Black's diesel and coffee rather than a simple Linkedin connection. Hard work, but your products look very high-tier.

Here's some rep for your troubles.
 
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Contrarian

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lol so pivot and make the webinars your business.

If it were just me running things, I might have done so!

Bump.
Very interesting experience with the recruitment industry, @Contrarian . I had assumed that most corporate bodies would do their own hush-hush headhunting themselves.

The products you worked on actually looked quite valid, but I think that scale was slightly disarmed. Some of those programs or tools seem to be very content heavy, with some significant skillset required to operate them. They seem pricey...maybe that is why companies were vary of touching them. Can they be made cheaper? Or is it possible that any of those products need ALL those content? Could they be stripped to the bare essentials?

Keep in mind that most companies aren't Fastlane-orientated in the sense of quality. That is why we can beat them. The companies you interacted with are gonna look for the extra buck to cut, and will most likely treat employees as cannon-fodder (and most employees are gonna job-hop for the extra buck or experience, so why waste resources to hold them back?) and might not invest as much time and resources as possible into their upkeep unless they are outliers like Branson or Zappos. By outliers, I mean those who adhere to Fastlane quality controls strictly. Your employee performance rating product should be cheaper and effective at the same time in accordance with their interests. Only THEN they might consider buying.

People only agree with what they are interested in. Very bias, but that's the world.

Most of your products are actually sound...but it's only the possibly high cost that seems to be of concern. And your target customers seem to be only professionals...you said you got them from Linkedin. IMO, Linked is mostly for professionals, who are workers, not founders or the owners of businesses, who should be your customers! It seems to me that your products COULD work if they were marketed for big corporations, to manage huge staff.

That might require more of Andy Black's diesel and coffee rather than a simple Linkedin connection. Hard work, but your products look very high-tier.

Here's some rep for your troubles.

Interesting points.

Someone could have turned this into a Fastlane business. I've no doubt about that.

Our client contacts were only founders/owners at the smaller companies. At larger orgs, they're mid-senior management.

I'll have some things to talk about later actually with regards to things you've touched on - stripping down the service to the essentials, and some larger corporate deals we had in the pipeline.

Thanks for the rep.
 

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The Autoresponder

I'd built up a decent-sized email list through the webinars. We'd come out of nowhere and made an impression on the market. I had a following, of sorts.

Now it was time to turn our subscribers into customers.

I built out an autoresponder sequence for prospective clients.

It's important to note at this point that because recruitment is a two-sided market, sales and marketing is suddenly twice as complex. Perhaps three times as complex, if you also consider HR as a separate market, since their motivations are profoundly different from the managers who actually hire staff.

So my autoresponder sequence was for clients. I wanted to do one for candidates too, but time was at a premium and our problem was getting clients, not candidates.

It was a manual thing - if they're in a hiring role, I tagged them in ActiveCampaign to start the sequence. Couldn't figure out a better way to differentiate between clients and non-clients.

Predominantly long-form emails, with information of value relating to hiring practices, but also mixed in with my opinion pieces on life, business, etc.

At the bottom of each email, I included a PS. where they can click through and book a 15 minute consultation into my diary. I'm sure you've subscribed to email lists with a similar format.

Stats looked good - open rates above 35%, some people were opening my emails multiple times, and forwarding them on. Occasionally I got a reply and some engagement. Occasionally people unsubscribed.

It became quite a time suck. I kept having to bash out an email at the last minute to keep the autoresponder topped up before the first entrants finished the sequence. In the end I ran it for two and a half months until I got too busy, ran out of things to write about and stopped working on it.

Some people told me when I spoke to them on the phone they really liked my emails.

But it never won us any business. Not one person ever used the scheduling link to book in a call with me.

Maybe if I just kept grinding out the emails, it would pay off. But it didn't seem to be a profitable avenue. I was already working 12+ hour days and there were too many other things to focus on.
 

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The same company's HR department told me they'd never work with me or my company again, because I "didn't respect their process". The same process that put them in that position in the first place. Baffled? Me too. It's shit like this that sucked the joy out of recruitment for me.

This made me LOL. I had experiences like this all the time when I was young and working in the NGO world. I guess it's everywhere.

Epic thread, btw. Thanks for taking the time.
 
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This made me LOL. I had experiences like this all the time when I was young and working in the NGO world. I guess it's everywhere.

I can't remember where I first heard it, but one of my favourite quotes goes something along the lines of: "First, companies were run by the salespeople. Then they were run by the accountants. Now they're run by the HR department."

I bet you have some fascinating stories of your own!

I caught your post about your colleagues who tried to turn you into a pariah for not buying into their generous-with-other-people's-money shtick. My girlfriend works for a charity, and as far as I hear, it's the same deal there.

G-Man said:
Epic thread, btw. Thanks for taking the time.

You're welcome sir. Besides, it's cathartic for me. There were times when I was questioning not just the business, but my own abilities and worthiness. It's good to put things in perspective.

I can point to lots of things we did wrong, but I'm still not 100% sure why we failed so spectacularly. Perhaps writing about it will help me figure it out.
 

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Outbound email marketing, automation - and a taste of sweet, sweet victory

I was brought up in the old school methods of headhunting, which include artful mastery of selling skills, leading people to realise their need for change, coaching, and sometimes playing the role of armchair therapist. But most of all, the old school methods of headhunting can be summarised as pick up the damn phone and talk to people! (To paraphrase @Andy Black)

While the Millennial-style recruiters were busy posting adverts and whiling away their afternoons repeatedly pressing F5 on Monster.com, hoping to pounce on the one good candidate who's desperate enough to post their resume online before fifty other recruiters get there first, I never played that game.

I made lists of people I wanted to speak to and called them at their desk.

The most valuable candidates are those who realise they need to make a change, but haven't started looking yet.

In the days before Linkedin was a reliable source of data, I called the switchboard and found out who did what. For such calls my alias was Ed Hunter. I even tried Rick Rooter a few times. Boy that was fun. Somehow noone ever picked up on it. Then I called them at their desk.

I can't count the number of times "not interested" ultimately turned into interviews happening because I asked them if it was worth five minutes of their time in exchange for something which could change their life. Such is the critical knife-edge on which success and failure rests in this game.

Later, one of the less ethical companies I worked for did most everything by mass mailshot. They accumulated data from job boards, adverts, applications and all the other low rent sources, and would spam an HTML email about a job to 1000 people at a time. Often times, the job didn't even exist, which I was never happy about.

And every day they'd mass email a candidate's anonymised details to companies, looking to scoop up interviews and leads.

Lots of people didn't like the mass mailshots. A couple of my clients I couldn't even email from my work address because we'd been blocked from their mail server. I didn't like them either - I was committed to Quality (TM). Of whatever use that is in its own right - they made truckloads of cash.

So I was reluctant to embrace email marketing.

But it's oh so scaleable...

So... what if it can be automated without being spammy? Ah-ha! Now we're on to something.

We set up a personalised email marketing system. With sequences. So, if the person doesn't reply after a couple of days, they get another email copying in the previous one. And then again in a few days. And in two weeks. Then two months. Most people couldn't even tell they were automated.

All I had to do was get the contacts, write the emails and click the button.

And for the delivery side of the business (ie. recruiting candidates), it was devilishly effective.

I took on an assignment just a couple of days before I was going on holiday for two weeks. Actually, to scope out a new country to live in. Where I'll finally be moving in two months. It was the first assignment we'd won. Seven months after opening the doors. But that's a story for another time.

So, this was really bad timing. But not to fear - automation's here. I put together a list of about 200 target candidates, used software to grab their work email addresses, wrote the emails and left it with our administrator to send them out and handle the responses. (She's also the administrator for Steve's other company - we didn't go hiring left and right before making money!)

I came back to find 21 calls booked into my diary. Victory! And that resulted in the first money we made. I felt like we were really onto something. We'd started to crack the code.

For all the job-related cold emails I sent out over the course of the business, reply rates averaged anywhere from 62-76%. It was amazing. It was actually better then calling people at their desks - and took a fraction of the time.

Thus became my new talking point - we can deliver the same thoroughness of work as you'd expect from a C-level search firm, only in a matter of weeks instead of months and for half the price.

Even better?

I won the job through the same cold email process - only, the ones I was sending to clients.

Trouble in paradise...

So the cold email process was a roaring success. At least, on the candidate side.

But it didn't work so well for generating sales leads. Yes, we did win business through it. But the stats were terrible. Response rates closer to 20% - and most of the responses were along the lines of:

  • No thanks
  • We're not allowed to use agencies
  • We're happy as we are
  • You need to speak to HR
  • Sounds interesting, but...
  • We're not hiring
  • We do all our own recruitment
  • What's your fee?
  • Feel free to send me any candidates if you have them
And so on...

We tested different emails. We tried sending them to different types of contact. Whatever we tried, it was never a huge success. Surprisingly, the "this is who we are and this is what we do" emails were more effective than the "you-focused" ones. Wasn't expecting that.

The ones who weren't interested but amenable to keeping in touch got added to my autoresponder. But we already know how that worked out.

Later on, we even hired a VA to map out the market, strip contacts from Linkedin, categorise them and feed them into the cold email machine. But if any significant payoff were to come from that, we didn't realise it in time.

What about the successes?

I was going to talk about sales in a separate post (and I still will), but speaking of the sales that came from cold email:

The first one is the victory I mentioned above. So what stood out about that?

  • She had an urgent need
  • She was the owner of a small (<$10m) company
  • She found it very difficult to do her own hiring in our specialisation
  • Had been burned by other recruiters in the past and found my approach unique
It still wasn't a total victory. She wasn't willing to go for the total program (with the downpayment), so I did it on a no-win no-fee basis. At a reduced fee. And she only hires occasionally. Not ideal business.

The second one was the CEO a not-for-profit foundation that randomly got caught up in the emails. Related to our market, but definitely not in it. He replied confused and I called him to apologise...and then we got to talking. He asked me for help. I said yes (we needed the business, after all - and besides, they have a great cause).

He wanted me to find him an Ops Director in SF Bay...at a salary that didn't come anywhere close to market, recruiting out of a boom industry.

I gave a presentation over the internet. He really liked it, but needed to get sign-off from the Chairman. He went off the radar for ages...months later he emailed me out of the blue and asked if I could send him an invoice to get started. Great!

They loved the whole program. Everything we did. But they could only afford to pay $15,000. The full fee at the salary level we ended up with should have been $41,250.

It was hard work. Really hard work. For little pay. I sat on five hours of conference calls hashing out the job description. I spent hours writing it. I emailed 500 people. I sat here for hours cold calling people at their desks in the evening - what with the 8 hour time difference - when we still ended up with nobody.

I found the perfect candidate. So good the CEO was worried about his own position if he hired her. She'd been earning $400k/year before, but was in the middle of her mini-retirement. Her next chapter in life was to work in the non-profit sector. It wasn't about the money anymore. But in the end she decided she didn't want to go back to the grind again just yet.

So it was back to the drawing board. But in the end, I got someone. And he's doing great. It was a really rewarding (if frustrating) experience, but NOT a textbook example of profitable business OR scaleability.

As it happens - that's the only time anyone ever bought our full program and paid upfront.

What about similarities with the other cold email win?

Urgent need - check. Small company - check. Very difficult to hire - check.

Trouble is, there are only so many companies in a market like this small enough to really value the help, but large enough to afford us and to hire regularly...

Those were the only sales we ever made through the outbound email system.
 

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There's no prize for second place

No matter how bad things looked, we were always just about to turn the corner. Always *right* on the cusp of big shit happening.

And a big part of that was down to a never-ending stream of promising-looking deals that never materialised.

First there was the guy who contacted me out of the blue on Linkedin, before we'd even started to go out to market. My profile really resonated with him and he wanted to talk to me about his impending requirement to build a leadership team around him for the US division of an Australian company he'd been tasked with building. He wasn't ready to hire anyone yet, but he wanted to start putting the pieces in place.

Wow - this inbound marketing thing really works - and we haven't even done anything yet! Sadly, he went off the radar after that and I never heard from him again. And never again did a lead land in my lap like that.

Then I got to talking with a highly accomplished VP. Pretty incredible stuff he'd done. He found me as the first result in his Linkedin search for relevant recruiters, and got said I must know what I was doing because I understood keyword optimization so well.

But he didn't want to hire, he wanted a new job. And he used a semi-outsourced, semi-part timer model for his team so there wasn't going to be any business for us with him, either.

Still, he was awesome. And he wanted to work with me exclusively to find his next job. Went through everything in exacting detail and put together a massive list of companies, then used my outbound email system to contact them all.

Got lots of interest from that. But lots of tyre kickers. People who saw the value, but couldn't afford him. And others who saw the value but couldn't see how to make him fit into the org chart.

I got interviews for him with four companies. Two went into serious discussions. This was great! At his level the fee would have been $50-60,000. That's no small chunk of change. But in the end, noone was willing to make the investment in not just the candidate, but the infrastructure that would have been required around him.

People rarely go looking for a guy like this. And the company has to be in a pretty specific place in the lifecycle. I essentially created the demand. But the demand wasn't strong enough to sign on the dotted line. There's no prize for second place.

And again

Then there was the guy that wanted to hire for his team and wanted a new and better way of doing it. He was completely sold after the presentation, but needed to get approval from the overlords and wasn't willing to introduce me to them.

Inspired by Alan Weiss' Million Dollar Consulting, I sent him a results-focused proposal with three options of escalating value. The third option included me flying out to Boston to give a performance-based hiring workshop to the whole senior leadership team and also chair the interview panel. This was back when I had a bit of an identity crisis as to whether I was a recruiter or a management consultant.

But it would have been a great opportunity for Diesel and Coffee with all those contacts I never got the chance to meet, and a healthy margin to boot.

(If you've been paying close attention you might have noticed that the people we were dealing with were usually half-way around the world. A questionable strategy in retrospect. I'll come on to that later.)

He never did manage to persuade his overlords. And he never did introduce me to them so I could do it for him. A few weeks ago he called me after having vanished off the face of the earth for months to tell me he quit because they weren't willing to invest in anything, but if I could find him a new job that would be awesome. There's no prize for second place...

And AGAIN

I took a reference from a guy who'd recently quit the corporate world to strike out on his own. We got to talking about his business - in essence he was a B2B recruiter. He introduced service providers to his industry contacts built up over many years in exchange for a % of the revenues. Interesting business model. I asked if he could work with us.

And he did. In exchange for 15% of Y1 revenues from the introduced client, 10% Y2 and 5% Y3.

He introduced us to the Global Head of HR for one of the prominent mid-market companies. This guy was one of those rare as all hell HR guys who actually adds value! And after one call between the three of us, he immediately saw the value in what we do and agreed to a test case with the view to rolling things out across the whole company if they're happy with the results. He asked me where we had the best network. I said we cover the whole of Europe and North America, but if I had to choose, it would be the US.

So he handed me over to the US Head of HR, who - like most HR people, was only interested in protecting her own turf and doing as little as possible. And my original contact wasn't amenable to my suggestion of overruling her, nor to doing something in Europe instead.

And so another dream went to die. There's no prize for second place...

My guy also got me in the door with a couple of senior people at one of the major companies in the market. Now this looked really interesting. They liked what we did. They wanted us to get to work. I thought we had it signed and sealed.

Until they saw the contract.

They wanted everything their own way. They were happy to pay a retainer, but wanted it refundable if the person leaves within a year, or for any other reason whatsoever that doesn't result in a placement via us. We already as standard very generously offered the remainder (two thirds) of the fee refunded if the placed candidate leaves within one year of joining - or a free replacement.

They also wanted to not have to pay us and to have it refundable if they used their own sources to find someone. I said that defeats the point of the process - it's not just about finding someone, it's the method of search and evaluation.

But they didn't want to risk losing anyone who might find themselves in the mix from other sources, even though "we won't be doing anything else actively" (hmm). OK - if you find someone else, send them to me and I'll include them in our hiring process. And we'll put a time limit to the commitment, so if somehow we're 12 weeks down the line and haven't filled the position yet, they can release us at no further change.

Nope. Wouldn't go for that either.

So, if you can...
  • Cancel at any time and for any reason
  • Continue to enlist no-win, no-fee recruiters at no risk and then get a refund from us if it pans out
  • Get the internal recruiting team working overtime to try and get the retainer back
  • And in all of these cases, circumvent the whole process you claim to be interested in
What's the point in having a retainer?!

Oh, and they also wanted us to move jurisdiction for the contract from England & Wales to New York.

I tried to explain that the retainer pays for the process - the significant amount of upfront work that's needed to kick things off, and for the transfer of IP.

"We don't care about the process, we care about results."

OK - but the process is what will produce the results. And in order for us to invest in the process, you have to invest in us. That's what will get you the results.

No deal.

In the end I went back and offered the no-win no-fee service, with the consulting elements stripped out. They didn't see the point in that, because the process is why we were interested in working with you in the first place.

What?!?!

images


There's no prize for second place.

And the big one...

After my Online Summit, I followed up with people who attended. One guy I spoke to - he said my talk was his favourite. He's a manager for a startup branch of a household name multinational. They were gearing up for a massive expansion and would soon be hiring 15 people in our niche alone.

Awesome.

He became a good advocate for me. Always forwarding my emails and content along. But very business-like. We only ever discussed business, and we only ever spoke at prearranged times in advance. The kind of traits you see in people who get shit done in their company.

Awesome.

I put the idea to him of delivering an integrated hiring strategy. We would do everything we usually do, plus pre-recruit for the year's hiring needs in advance and create a "talent pool" the company also have access to. And we would also work with them on branding and marketing efforts, with articles and webinars that we would then invite the kind of people they wanted to hire to.

And rather than charge per placement, we'd charge a monthly service fee.

He loved it. It would have been worth over $200,000 in the first year alone. Requirements would double in year two. Steve and I started talking about hiring an account manager to deal with the workload.

I asked if he could set up a conference call with him and his overlords. He said he needed to get their buy in first. I gave him a 12 page "pre-proposal" to help with that. This buy in never seemed to materialise, nor the conference call. Their HR Director signed up to one of my webinars, which he surely had something to do with - and unsubscribed from my email list a couple weeks later.

Some time later I emailed him and said perhaps I'd been placing an unfair burden on him by asking him to get buy in for something so enormous. How about we try one job first? (Should have done that in the first place.)

He emailed me back immediately and said - great idea! I've got something we can start on right away.

Well, that never materialised either.

Remember way back in the webinars post, I said I'd created a loyal fan club full of people who could never buy from me? Well, this is what I meant.

There's no prize for second place.
 

Andy Black

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There's no prize for second place

No matter how bad things looked, we were always just about to turn the corner. Always *right* on the cusp of big shit happening.

And a big part of that was down to a never-ending stream of promising-looking deals that never materialised.

First there was the guy who contacted me out of the blue on Linkedin, before we'd even started to go out to market. My profile really resonated with him and he wanted to talk to me about his impending requirement to build a leadership team around him for the US division of an Australian company he'd been tasked with building. He wasn't ready to hire anyone yet, but he wanted to start putting the pieces in place.

Wow - this inbound marketing thing really works - and we haven't even done anything yet! Sadly, he went off the radar after that and I never heard from him again. And never again did a lead land in my lap like that.

Then I got to talking with a highly accomplished VP. Pretty incredible stuff he'd done. He found me as the first result in his Linkedin search for relevant recruiters, and got said I must know what I was doing because I understood keyword optimization so well.

But he didn't want to hire, he wanted a new job. And he used a semi-outsourced, semi-part timer model for his team so there wasn't going to be any business for us with him, either.

Still, he was awesome. And he wanted to work with me exclusively to find his next job. Went through everything in exacting detail and put together a massive list of companies, then used my outbound email system to contact them all.

Got lots of interest from that. But lots of tyre kickers. People who saw the value, but couldn't afford him. And others who saw the value but couldn't see how to make him fit into the org chart.

I got interviews for him with four companies. Two went into serious discussions. This was great! At his level the fee would have been $50-60,000. That's no small chunk of change. But in the end, noone was willing to make the investment in not just the candidate, but the infrastructure that would have been required around him.

People rarely go looking for a guy like this. And the company has to be in a pretty specific place in the lifecycle. I essentially created the demand. But the demand wasn't strong enough to sign on the dotted line. There's no prize for second place.

And again

Then there was the guy that wanted to hire for his team and wanted a new and better way of doing it. He was completely sold after the presentation, but needed to get approval from the overlords and wasn't willing to introduce me to them.

Inspired by Alan Weiss' Million Dollar Consulting, I sent him a results-focused proposal with three options of escalating value. The third option included me flying out to Boston to give a performance-based hiring workshop to the whole senior leadership team and also chair the interview panel. This was back when I had a bit of an identity crisis as to whether I was a recruiter or a management consultant.

But it would have been a great opportunity for Diesel and Coffee with all those contacts I never got the chance to meet, and a healthy margin to boot.

(If you've been paying close attention you might have noticed that the people we were dealing with were usually half-way around the world. A questionable strategy in retrospect. I'll come on to that later.)

He never did manage to persuade his overlords. And he never did introduce me to them so I could do it for him. A few weeks ago he called me after having vanished off the face of the earth for months to tell me he quit because they weren't willing to invest in anything, but if I could find him a new job that would be awesome. There's no prize for second place...

And AGAIN

I took a reference from a guy who'd recently quit the corporate world to strike out on his own. We got to talking about his business - in essence he was a B2B recruiter. He introduced service providers to his industry contacts built up over many years in exchange for a % of the revenues. Interesting business model. I asked if he could work with us.

And he did. In exchange for 15% of Y1 revenues from the introduced client, 10% Y2 and 5% Y3.

He introduced us to the Global Head of HR for one of the prominent mid-market companies. This guy was one of those rare as all hell HR guys who actually adds value! And after one call between the three of us, he immediately saw the value in what we do and agreed to a test case with the view to rolling things out across the whole company if they're happy with the results. He asked me where we had the best network. I said we cover the whole of Europe and North America, but if I had to choose, it would be the US.

So he handed me over to the US Head of HR, who - like most HR people, was only interested in protecting her own turf and doing as little as possible. And my original contact wasn't amenable to my suggestion of overruling her, nor to doing something in Europe instead.

And so another dream went to die. There's no prize for second place...

My guy also got me in the door with a couple of senior people at one of the major companies in the market. Now this looked really interesting. They liked what we did. They wanted us to get to work. I thought we had it signed and sealed.

Until they saw the contract.

They wanted everything their own way. They were happy to pay a retainer, but wanted it refundable if the person leaves within a year, or for any other reason whatsoever that doesn't result in a placement via us. We already as standard very generously offered the remainder (two thirds) of the fee refunded if the placed candidate leaves within one year of joining - or a free replacement.

They also wanted to not have to pay us and to have it refundable if they used their own sources to find someone. I said that defeats the point of the process - it's not just about finding someone, it's the method of search and evaluation.

But they didn't want to risk losing anyone who might find themselves in the mix from other sources, even though "we won't be doing anything else actively" (hmm). OK - if you find someone else, send them to me and I'll include them in our hiring process. And we'll put a time limit to the commitment, so if somehow we're 12 weeks down the line and haven't filled the position yet, they can release us at no further change.

Nope. Wouldn't go for that either.

So, if you can...
  • Cancel at any time and for any reason
  • Continue to enlist no-win, no-fee recruiters at no risk and then get a refund from us if it pans out
  • Get the internal recruiting team working overtime to try and get the retainer back
  • And in all of these cases, circumvent the whole process you claim to be interested in
What's the point in having a retainer?!

Oh, and they also wanted us to move jurisdiction for the contract from England & Wales to New York.

I tried to explain that the retainer pays for the process - the significant amount of upfront work that's needed to kick things off, and for the transfer of IP.

"We don't care about the process, we care about results."

OK - but the process is what will produce the results. And in order for us to invest in the process, you have to invest in us. That's what will get you the results.

No deal.

In the end I went back and offered the no-win no-fee service, with the consulting elements stripped out. They didn't see the point in that, because the process is why we were interested in working with you in the first place.

What?!?!

images


There's no prize for second place.

And the big one...

After my Online Summit, I followed up with people who attended. One guy I spoke to - he said my talk was his favourite. He's a manager for a startup branch of a household name multinational. They were gearing up for a massive expansion and would soon be hiring 15 people in our niche alone.

Awesome.

He became a good advocate for me. Always forwarding my emails and content along. But very business-like. We only ever discussed business, and we only ever spoke at prearranged times in advance. The kind of traits you see in people who get shit done in their company.

Awesome.

I put the idea to him of delivering an integrated hiring strategy. We would do everything we usually do, plus pre-recruit for the year's hiring needs in advance and create a "talent pool" the company also have access to. And we would also work with them on branding and marketing efforts, with articles and webinars that we would then invite the kind of people they wanted to hire to.

And rather than charge per placement, we'd charge a monthly service fee.

He loved it. It would have been worth over $200,000 in the first year alone. Requirements would double in year two. Steve and I started talking about hiring an account manager to deal with the workload.

I asked if he could set up a conference call with him and his overlords. He said he needed to get their buy in first. I gave him a 12 page "pre-proposal" to help with that. This buy in never seemed to materialise, nor the conference call. Their HR Director signed up to one of my webinars, which he surely had something to do with - and unsubscribed from my email list a couple weeks later.

Some time later I emailed him and said perhaps I'd been placing an unfair burden on him by asking him to get buy in for something so enormous. How about we try one job first? (Should have done that in the first place.)

He emailed me back immediately and said - great idea! I've got something we can start on right away.

Well, that never materialised either.

Remember way back in the webinars post, I said I'd created a loyal fan club full of people who could never buy from me? Well, this is what I meant.

There's no prize for second place.
OMG... I can feel the frustration of smelling the finishing line but not being able to cross it...

As I keep reminding myself whenever I seem to have "signed up a new client" (i.e. they agreed the fees and start date):

"Money can't be in two places at once."

Until there's money in my bank account it's still in theirs, and they're still a prospect and not a new client.

I always forget this though...
 

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OMG... I can feel the frustration of smelling the finishing line but not being able to cross it...

As I keep reminding myself whenever I seem to have "signed up a new client" (i.e. they agreed the fees and start date):

"Money can't be in two places at once."

Until there's money in my bank account it's still in theirs, and they are still a prospect and not a new client.

I always forget this though...

Oh yes. Oh so easy to do! Being an optimist is not without its perils.

Back in the day I used to spend my commission before I'd even earned it. On credit card. To be paid off when it came in. So so foolish.

That really came back to bite me when I got fired so they didn't have to pay me. Took me two years to pay off that debt.
 
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The grumblings of discontent

From the very beginning, I was never 100% sold on pursuing this business - even though for a while, I'd managed to convince myself that I was. The reality was simply that I chose the most comfortable and readily available option that wore the clothes of entrepreneurship.

Our partnership worked fine when we saw eye to eye.

It's when we didn't that the problems started to surface. Little things here and there, mostly. At least, to begin with.

Not that we had any big arguments. But the frequent reminders that I was really just an employee masquerading as a business owner ate away at me.

In the very early days, I wanted to contact a few of the most respected companies in our market and offer them a free or heavily discounted search in exchange for case studies, testimonials, and referrals. Not only would we get huge social proof, but if our work were good enough to stand on its own merits, they'd continue to use us anyway. Plus, by working on those searches we'd automatically be talking to hundreds of people in the industry and bringing them something of value. We'd get ourselves a beachhead.

Steve wasn't going to go for that. It's his money after all.

But of all the various mistakes we made, I'm convinced that not doing that was the biggest mistake of all.

Firstly, it would have catapulted us straight into the networks of people who could actually buy from us. And it would have done so by providing them with the kind of value we could actually charge for in the future.

Time and again, prospective clients would ask me who else we'd worked with. I didn't have an answer for them. And the longer we went without winning any business, the worse it became.

If we had just done that one thing, it could have changed the trajectory of the business entirely. This might be a success story instead of a failure analysis. But it wasn't up to me.

Then there were the times I was told I had to "take accountability" for getting something apparently urgent done that I didn't see any point in in the first place.

Or the times when our administrator was useless, but I couldn't do anything about it because I didn't hire her and I wasn't paying her. She's very sensitive, yanno.

Or the fact that I still had to get permission to take time off. And I still had to be "online" at 8:30 every morning. Not that I wouldn't have been anyway, but it's the fact I was obligated.

Many months after starting, Steve sent me a calendar invite for an appraisal. An appraisal?!?! WTF?

I was actually pretty angry about that. Seething, in fact. I was going to confront him about it, but I let it slide. In the end we just had a perfectly productive chat about how everything was going, but I never forgot that. It was the principle of it that bothered me. This wasn't what I signed up for.

Slowly, imperceptibly, somehow over time I'd gradually become just another employee of Steve's existing company, albeit with much freer range and an impressive-sounding job title.

But it's in the time away - the disconnect from the day to day - where you really get perspective. I spent Christmas and New Year in Portugal. Free to do whatever I felt like, no "checking in" and no alarm clock.

I remember vividly being sat back at my desk on the first day back in January. It felt like absolute shit. I didn't want to be here. I'd rather have been doing literally anything else. I had the insurpassable mountain to climb, and it wasn't even my mountain anyway. By this point, it was virtually impossible for us to hit our targets for the financial year. Which means no bonus, and no equity. That would be another year down the line. Another year of this shit. With no hope of scale in sight. Well, I assumed so anyway - we never did discuss what would happen if we didn't hit the targets, and had nothing in writing either.

It was about this time I started to look at setting something else up on the side. But how could I? I had to put my full and undivided efforts into this business, or it was going to fail. But it wasn't even my business! What am I even doing this for? The 12 hour days continued. I wasn't earning enough money to save up a freedom fund - and I'd been using everything spare to pay off my debts. I felt trapped.

And Steve sure wouldn't be happy if he found out I was running a second business. I'd have a lot of explaining to do about that.

I even looked at job listings a few times, as much as it pained me to do so. At least I'd earn commission that way. Then I could build a freedom fund. But what recruitment company would ever employ me now? It used to be that I could walk into any company I wanted and name the terms. Now though? I'd just had THE worst financial year I'd EVER had as a recruiter. By FAR. It was a disaster. How had I managed to fall so far from grace?

And wouldn't I just fail again, and get fired?

Or maybe I could work in marketing. Or copywriting. Maybe I could help people generate new business via webinars. But then, I hadn't even done that successfully for myself, so that would make me a fraud.

I realised I was in the same situation that led me to get into this business in the first place. The siren song of freedom was calling to me, and I was grasping at any and every straw that might give me just a little more of it...
 

G-Man

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Oh yes. Oh so easy to do! Being an optimist is not without its perils.

@Contrarian @Andy Black You guys kill me with your eloquence. :thumbsup:

Eloquent UK version: Being an optimist is not without its perils.
Murrican: Life's tougher if you're stupid.
 

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