It’s time to get something off my chest. For the past year and a half, I’ve been pretending to run a business. What I do isn’t running a business. I’ve created an avenue for self employment. It’s not scalable, and therefore in my eyes… not a business. I would love to transform this into a business, and here’s how I’m going to do it!
Hi, my name is Greg Langstaff and I make a little over a $1,000 every month riding the subway. Am I really good at riding the subway? After all these years, I’d like to think so. But no, I’m not just getting paid for sitting here looking pretty (notice I said “here” because I’m writing this on the subway).
As many of you know, in January of 2018, I launched my resume writing and interview coaching business. And if you’ve been following closely, you’ll know that over the first little while, I had some ups and downs, including earning $820 in my second month and then $0 in my third.
After nearly a year of experimenting with various marketing and promotional tactics including organic Facebook content, word-of-mouth, paid Google and Facebook Ads, and registering with the Career Professionals of Canada, I started to experience a reliable flow of candidates that would earn me anywhere from $1,000 to $1,400 per month.
Lots of Clients… Not a lot of Time
The challenging part was, when would I write all those resumes and cover letters? I still have an 8:30am to 4:30pm job and I also live with my girlfriend, Ariana, who I like to spend time with in the evenings, so I can’t just work into the night. I also try to hit the gym 3-4 times a week and I don’t miss a Raptors game if I can help it. Also, friends. They take up time too!
It takes me anywhere from 1.5 to 4 hours to write a resume (depending on my familiarity with the industry and how useful my phone call with the client was). Cover letters take another 45 minutes or so and then an additional chunk of time for the LinkedIn makeover. I’ve been working with 5-7 clients per month so as you can tell, the time adds up.
So not wanting to give up any aspect of my life, or cut back on clients (and income), I scoured my schedule in search of a time when I could get this writing done. I tried waking up at 6:00am to start writing, but after even two days that turned me into a zombie. I tried doing work at home on the weekends, but that just made me sad. I tried working on lunch breaks at work and that had some success but it just wasn’t quite enough time.
Then… a Miracle
I tried writing during my commute. Every morning I walk 8 minutes to the subway station in downtown Toronto, sit down for 40 minutes and arrive just steps from my office. The subway is fairly empty because I’m leaving downtown when most people are coming in, so there is always a seat.
Right there, I found 1 hour and 20 minutes per day (nearly 7 hours per week) for writing. That’s more than enough to get through 1.5, even two clients a week without even touching my social life. Between that time and the odd lunch break here and there, I’ve managed to almost completely avoid letting writing interfere with my home or social life.
Building the Habit
Writing first thing in the morning or after a tough day of work wasn’t easy at first. I’m somewhat of a morning person but after work, my brain often feels like mashed potatoes.
However, I’m a big believer in habit forming. I have read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg twice (weird brag, I know), and using the tactics in his book, I was able to completely take the willpower out of writing on the subway. There is literally no decision making process at all.
When I get on subway.
Turn off music/podcast.
When I arrive at my station:
*(oh damn, as I was writing that line, I literally arrived at my stop and had to exit the train. Now I’m continuing to write this a couple days later. Welcome to this meta/behind the scenes tangent. Okay back to what I was saying).
What Makes a Habit Stick
According to Duhigg, there are four essential elements to building a successful habit. Here are mine.
The Cue: A recurring event that triggers the desired behaviour (e.g. waking up is the cue for brushing your teeth). My cue is getting into the subway.
The Behaviour: The thing you want to do. For me, this is writing resumes or blog posts or whatever is on tap.
The Reward: This is the reason for doing what we do. For brushing your teeth, it’s a clean mouth and a nice smile. For me, it’s clearing out my to-do list and having a free schedule.
An Internal Driver: It’s the subconscious driver that motivates us to continue with the habit. The internal driver for brushing your teeth is that satisfying tingly feeling you get after you’re done. For me writing in the subway, it’s relief from the fear of people yelling at me for not delivering their documents on time (if you’ve read my “How I Paid off $12,000 of Debt in Six Months while Enjoying Guilt-Free Spending” blog, you know the fear of being yelled at has always been a great motivator for me).
Life’s good! I had a problem and I solved it! Onto the next one :)
If you know anyone who’s struggling to form a good habit or make a lasting change (or find a time to write), send them this blog. I’d really appreciate it and hopefully they will too!
On a chilly December morning in 2016, on the cusp of turning 29-years-old, I woke up with a panicked realization that I was about to become a full-on adult and I knew absolutely nothing about money.
I had a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing, and a Master of Science in College Student Affairs, and despite being fairly well educated, my financial education was pitiful. My parents never talked about money, they never shared how much they made or how they budgeted, and the subject seems taboo around most friends so I was very much in the dark.
To cope with this lack of information, I had developed a fool-proof plan for my financially ignorant self. I called it, “Spend as little as possible so I don’t run out of money to buy food and die of starvation”. Though physiologically safe, this plan did not provide a lot in the way of an enjoyable lifestyle.
How I Got into Debt
Finishing grad school in July of 2014, I owed my bank and the government a combined total of $45,000. I was unemployed for about 5 months because I desperately wanted to stay in the U.S. but, as a Canadian, that meant I needed to find a university that was willing to hire an entry-level administrator on a work visa that they were saving for distinguished international research professors. My determination to prove I was worth the investment had me basically living in my University Career Center (which eventually sparked my interest in starting my resume writing business, so in hindsight, I can’t complain about that).
A Brief Look at My Dark Days
Because I was unable to find a job in the U.S. but I was too stubborn to move back to Canada, times got tough. My girlfriend of the time was paying for most of our expenses and my dad had to wire me money a couple times, though he refused to call it a loan because he didn’t want to burden either of us with any pressure for me to pay him back (really sweet, but also an example of how money wasn’t a subject we wanted to hover on for too long).
Without a clear sense of direction or any kind of financial stability, I essentially melted into a shell of my former self. I lacked my normal confidence and I lost my drive to do much of anything aside from play NBA 2K14. It was a whole ordeal and I plan to blog about that in more detail in the near future, but for now, let me just tell you, it sucked.
Okay, Happy Time Again!
In November 2014, I made the big decision to move back to Canada. Luckily for me, I had worked so hard on developing my resume writing and interviewing skills in my attempt to earn a U.S. work visa that I was immediately hired to the first job I applied to back home!
The job was at my undergraduate institution, York University, planning the new student transition programs and the salary started in the low $60K range with an annual step progression.
The First Plan is Not Always the Best Plan
I spent the next two years paying off debt using a new financial plan I called “Spend as little as possible so I can give all my money to the bank and the government so they don’t yell at me for owing them money” plan.
The plan worked. I was paying off about $850 per month and then whenever I had a substantial chunk of cash in my account, I’d ship it off to either the bank or the government to lower the principal on the loans.
By December of 2016, in just 2 years of working, I had paid off $33,000, which is about $1,300 per month. I remember feeling proud that I was able to do that with only my fear-based system to drive me.
Beware of the “Fear-Based Savings Plan”
The problem with the fear-based system is that it causes a lot of discomfort. I hadn’t been on a vacation in years. I only owned three pairs of pants. I rarely went out for dinner or even lived the luxury of buying myself blueberries. It also caused a lot of arguments with my girlfriend, which you know if you’ve experienced any money-centric agruements, is the worst.
So, on that frosty December morning, I woke up and made a decision. I was going to learn about money and take control of my money. Here’s how I did it!
The Second Plan… The Much Better Plan
Within that month I read about 8 personal finance books and one, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, by Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D. and William D. Danko, Ph.D. stressed the importance of creating a personal budget to guide your spending.
Now, I’ll admit, I’m a bit of an Excel nerd, so it didn’t take much convincing for me to build a spreadsheet to track all my monthly expenses versus my income. By doing this, I was able to not only track and adjust my spending, but I was also, for the first time in my life, able to identify money I could spend on myself, guilt-free!
I built the budget by making a row for every recurring monthly expense: food, rent, phone bill, metropass, toiletries, gym membership, haircuts, etc. Then I added categories for things I’d have to save up for monthly that I wouldn’t be buying every month like clothes (pants) and gifts (oh yeah, I was also a terrible gift giver during this era. Just ask my mom and her bag of Starbucks coffee beans).
Then, after looking at all the money I was obligated to spend each month to keep my life moving, I could see how much was left over to put into student loans. By budgeting, I was able to see that I could comfortably up my loan repayment from $1,300 per month to $1,600.
The Best Part: Guilt-Free Spending and Logical Discussions about Money
After calculating all the monthly expenses, and upping my loan repayment rate, I still had a few hundred dollars left over. So I then created a “Dating” budget line, and an “Entertainment” budget line and even a… “Vacation Fund” budget line where I started putting money aside for my first trip in years!
Adding these pieces to my personal budget meant so much to me. It significantly reduced my financial anxiety while allowing me to spend money on myself and my loved ones without stress for the first time in my life.
As things got more serious with my girlfriend, Ariana, it got easier to talk about spending together. Instead of saying “those cherries are too expensive”, I was able to say, “I only have $45 in the grocery budget for this weekend so if we want those cherries, we can’t have the watermelon”. I find it so much easier to talk about money with literal numbers than in the abstract.
Paying Off the Loan
Paying off $1,600 a month from January to May allowed me to whittle down the final $12,000 pretty quickly and then in June of 2017, I submitted one final lump sum of nearly $4,000. I was done! Debt-free for the first time in 8 years with a fully paid-for education.
It felt great!
I continued to use the budget for months after I paid off my loans in order to start saving for my investment portfolio and keep tabs on my spending. After a while, when I got a good handle on my expenses, I stopped keeping track and set up automation with my bank so portions of my paycheck each month would go into investment and savings accounts for things like retirement saving, personal development, and food. And I still know roughly how much I can spend each month on myself, just for fun :)
If you’re interested in budgeting your personal life, sign up for my mailing list and I’ll send you my personal budget template for free along with other similar stories and tips, and tidbits!
Why did I start this business? Really?
This is a tough question. To be honest, I have written an opening paragraph and then deleted it four times now but that wasn’t getting me anywhere so I’m just going to try the stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Bare with me, please.
In December of 2016, as a 28-year-old man, I literally woke up one morning in a panic when I realized I knew nothing about money. I had always been frugal, but that was mainly because the extent of my financial plan was “spend as little as possible so you don’t run out of money to buy food and then die of starvation”.
Lying in bed next to my sleeping girlfriend, Ariana, I googled “Best books to learn about money” and found Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. It was only $8.95 so I went to the mall and picked it up later that day. I read Rich Dad Poor Dad over the next three days and I can’t say I understood much (I’ve read it twice since and taken in a lot more), but it certainly got my financial blood pumping.
I read about 8 more personal finance books in the next month and also had a long talk with my most financially successful friend about savings, budgeting, and investing. After just a few weeks of vigorous, panicked financial education, I had designed a personal budget and created a master plan to pay off the last $12,000 of my student loans in 6 months on only my income as an early-career university administrator (see that story here).
Once I had the budget plan in place and got closer to sending in my final loan payment, I started to think about what I was going to do with all my extra money. I was paying off about $1,600 per month and I knew I didn’t want to just waste that money by immediately upgrading my lifestyle and taking on more expenses. I wanted to play the long game… I just didn’t know what that meant yet.
I did a deep dive into investment research, including reading The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham, a 500+ page paper brick that the internet said was for “beginners”. It went waaaayyyy over my head. In the end, I decided to open a Tax Free Savings Account, and invest my money there using fairly safe vehicles like Exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
By July 2017, after one final large lump sum payment of over $3,000 (had to tighten the belt that month), I paid off my student loans and started saving to build my investment portfolio.
The weightlessness of being debt-free was incredible! I don’t own a home or a car (and don’t plan on doing so anytime soon either, but that’s a conversation for another time), so I really had no responsibilities outside of my day job at York University.
I had no debt. I had a reliable, unionized job with good benefits and an enviable pension. I could have stopped there and been fine, but something wouldn’t let me.
You can call this a blessing or a curse, but for as long as I can remember, whenever I’ve had a moment in my life where I felt like I was “good” and I could just coast, something bad would happen to me, usually health related. Maybe that’s why I was afraid to let myself relax, for fear of getting sick again.
I know a part of it was financially driven. Maybe I wasn’t satisfied with the passive 4% to 8% growth I was going to get from my ETFs. Maybe reading about all the entrepreneurs and lifestyle designers like Chris Guillebeau and Tim Ferriss during my quest for financial literacy had me dreaming of a life of financial freedom.
Most likely, it was a combination of fear, drive, and dreaming that revved my engine and got me moving. At some point between July and September 2017, I committed to the idea of starting my own business.
It didn’t take me too long to decide that I wanted to help people find jobs through resume writing and interview coaching. During my last few months in grad school, in 2014, I practically lived in the Career Center, (I’ll explain why another time, but trust me, it’s a juicy tale) and since then, I had become the go-to resource for friends and family members who needed help during their job search.
My next questions were, would people actually be willing to pay for my help, and how could I find those people? These two questions paralyzed me into inaction for several more months, but luckily, I’m a big New Year’s Resolution guy, so on January 8th, 2018, I got my shit together and launched the damn business (forgive the cursing, I just wanted to drive that point home).
Nearly 18 months later, I’m still going hard. Whatever the initial reason was, it was good enough to get me started. What’s more important is that I know now why I still run the business. I love connecting with clients and helping people feel confident about their job searches. It’s been very rewarding to learn how to market myself, develop my reputation and as resume writer and interview coach, and find new ways to expand my business.
As long as I’m able to help people and keep challenging myself, I plan to keep this thing running!
Dear Mom... and whoever else decides to read this blog <3
Ten months ago today, I launched Greg Langstaff - Resume Writer & Interview Coach! Believe it or not, I'm still standing :)
Since January 8th, I have served 43 clients (plus five currently in process) and I owe a great deal of that success to all of you who supported me. Thank you to anyone who passed my name onto some who needed help, or shared my promotional content online, or simply asked me how the business was going. Without you, I am but a lonely man posting memes on his Facebook page.
For all those following along the journey, here's how the first ten months have gone :)
I don’t think enough people share the cold hard numbers when they talk about their businesses, but like a good resume, I want to show you my specific and measurable accomplishments.
My initial goal was to make a modest $1,000 this year. I went onto hit that in February so I set a new goal of $5,000. I've honestly stopped keeping track of how much money I've made exactly (I guess I'll have to figure that out before tax season), but I can tell you that I'm somewhere north of $6,000.
At the six month-mark (after some eye-opening spring travelling with Ariana), I decided that I liked running this business enough that it was time to commit. Here's a quick summary of what committing looks like for me:
July: I registered as a Sole Proprietor with the Government of Ontario.
August: I applied for and was accepted to the Futurpreneur Mentorship program for young entrepreneurs. I now have a great mentor who is helping me expand my business.
September: Record-high month in revenue generation at roughly $1,200.
October: I became a card-carrying member of the Career Professionals of Canada.
November: I am studying for my Certified Resume Strategist designation which I hope to have by the end of this year.
The first ten months have definitely dropped some knowledge into my lap. I've done my best to categorize those lessons for you.
Marketing: You can get it for free, and you can pay for it too.
I've had great success in posting useful content in my social media just to generate awareness in my business and tossing out the occasional sales pitch. To be honest, the content generation does get challenging, and I've been guilty of disappearing for weeks on end. It's a lot of work and I also worry about over-saturating my newsfeed and wearing out my welcome.
I'm also starting to dabble in paid marketing (this is where it's great to have an experienced mentor). I’ve done a bit of Facebook and now I’m messing around with Google Ads a bit, which has proven to be fairly successful so far.
Service Excellence: I’ve also found that the best way to find new clients is to do a damn good job with the ones you have! About 20% of my clients have been referred by other satisfied clients. That's not a bad ROI for just doing your job with a smile... also it's nice to genuinely help people, but that’s not as measurable ;)
People are Amazing: There are a lot of really great people out there. I'm so lucky to get to spend a hour on the phone with each of my clients, hearing all about their incredible lives. I have learned so much about so many different professions that I would have never learned if I hadn't started this business. Talking to people has been my absolute favourite part.
Here's a quick taste of some upcoming initiatives for my business.
Certification: As mentioned above, I'm currently studying to become a Certified Resume Strategist. Just reading the textbook as already validated a lot of my earlier work and given me more confidence in my ability to help my clients.
More Succinct Marketing Plan: Some of you may have heard that I recently moved in with my beloved, Ariana. And you may know that she is a digital marketing professional. So between Ariana and my mentor, I feel great about the direction my marketing strategy is heading in.
Video Course: I've been talking about this for a long time now, but I swear I'm going to do it!
Thanks for reading! If you're thinking about starting a business or you recently started one and you want to talk, hit me up!
Last time I blogged about my entrepreneurial journey, I was one month in and despite not being able to spell "entrepreneur" without spellcheck, I was flying high! Since then the journey had been… I wouldn't call it a roller coaster, but a very least, a kiddie coaster. Maybe more of a bumpy train ride through a rolling valley.
What I'm trying to tell you is, things were going great, then they weren't, so I had to make some major changes and alter my tactics, and now they're going great again!
February - Everything is Awesome
February was amazing. I was still benefiting from the initial boost of publicity I received of when all my friends and well-wishers shared my launch and I generated enough leads to last about two months.
After earning nearly $400 in January, I doubled that mark in February with over $800 in income, surpassing my incredibly modest opening-year goal of earning $1,000. It was great! I was receiving repeat business, referrals, and one client even paid for a friend to receive my services as a gift. I’ve never been gifted before ;)
What I didn't realize while I was thriving is that I was neglecting a very important part of my business.
March: Part 1 - Uh oh!
I'm not going to sugar coat it for you, my dear reader, I made $0 in the month of March. The big nuth. I had one solid lead, whom I think I scared off. Probably because I was so desperate to break my drought.
I must admit, for a brief period, in my over-dramatic state, I thought maybe the dream was dead. Two good months and then fizzled out like a sparkler on a birthday cake (not that sparklers last two months… just… they fizzle out. You know what I mean).
In retrospect, it was easy to see this coming. While I was working with all my initial clients, I disappeared off social media, my website traffic was virtually nil, and my word-of-mouth army had nothing to go on.
March: Part 2 - The Redemption
After feeling sorry for myself for a couple of lonely weeknights, I decided to kick my butt into gear. At least I knew enough to understand that marketing was my problem. So I signed up for a $0.99 trial at skillshare.com and completed at least four courses on social media marketing. In SkillShare, I stumbled across a fairly famous guy who seems to know what he’s doing, Gary Vaynerchuk, and I learned the concept of creating a relationship with your followers before you ask for something.
So I bought his amazing book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World and started crafting my Facebook marketing campaign (do I get a commission if you click on this link and buy this book? Hell yes, I do! But I wouldn’t recommend it if it didn’t help me monumentally). *Sidenote: I just bought his newest book Crushing It: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence—and How You Can, Too, and I’m expecting even more awesomeness to come.
April - I’m a Believer
Using my rudimentary design skills on canva.com, I built up 2 weeks worth of content to post on my Facebook page and my own profile that was either personal to me, relevant to my services, or just topical what’s going on in the world. Then, on my 30th birthday, boom! I hit the world with my first “Right Hook”, a 30% off deal to celebrate my 30th.
What a hit! Within the week I confirmed six new clients and have seven additional leads who I may work with in the near future. That $28 book made me somewhere between $700 and $1200 in about 3 weeks. But what’s even more valuable is that I now feel like I’m doing this thing for real. I’m still learning, but the power of being able to generate interest in my business and build my brand strategically feels amazing.
I’m very excited to be where I am today. I can’t thank everyone enough for all the support you have given me. The referrals, the social media engagement, the genuine interest in how it’s all going makes me feel like I can take this business to the next level and beyond.
Stay tuned for my next entrepreneurial journey update. I’ve got a couple of fun new projects in the works including a SkillShare course or two of my own, and another project completely outside the resume writing industry :)
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