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!
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!
I recently became a member of the Career Professionals of Canada organization and as a new member, I am eligible to pursue my Certified Resume Strategists designation.
The first step in pursuing this designation is reading a 150-page textbook on writing great resumes. I’m almost done reading the book and I wanted to share some useful tidbits that I picked up along the way.
1. Think of your Resume as a Marketing Tool. In marketing, the object is to identify the potential buyer’s needs and cater your messaging towards them. For resume writers, that means carefully researching the target company, industry, and job duties in order to highlight the most relevant skills and accomplishments on the resume.
The book differentiates this from using the resume as a sales tool, wherein you might be tempted to just list all the best things about yourself regardless of what the employer needs.
2. Build your Resume around your Unique Value Proposition. Decide what makes you uniquely qualified for the position to which you are applying (i.e. Pilot Project Specialist, Software Solutions Sales Expert, Progressive Team-Builder, Innovative Problem-Solver) and use that as sort of a thesis statement which you back up throughout the resume.
Implementing this would mean using a headline or summary statement at the top of your resume such as “Safety-Focused Warehouse Manager” and following up with accomplishments like “Designed and implemented enhanced safety protocol company-wide; resulting in a 125% decrease in workplace injuries.”
3. Under work experience, emphasize accomplishments over job duties. Use SMART statements (Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Results-Oriented, Time-Bound) to highlight things you accomplished in previous roles, rather than simply listing job duties.
Bad example: “Entered customer profile information in database”
Good example: “Generated 50-75 customer profiles per week using the ABC Software company database, utilized by account management team to increase customer retention by 15% in 2017”
4. Some random, yet specific tips. The tips above are very conceptual. Here are some very specific tips for you from the textbook.
Objective statements are out of style (“I would like to acquire employment at blah, blah, blah”) and that space can be used more effectively with a headline (example in point 2).
There is no set rule about page limit but lengthy resumes (over two pages) can be off-putting to recruiters unless you have a great reason to take up so much space.
Leave plenty of white space on your resume. An overly busy resume is tough to read and could reduce recruiter interest.
Avoid photos, logos, and graphics. Unless you are a creative professional or a model, just stick with good-old reliable “words”.
There were lots of other interesting tips and guidelines in the textbook, but I know my audience and that is probably enough information for this instalment.
If you need any help with your resume, I’m getting pretty darn good at writing them, so please reach out!
Thanks for reading!
Applying to jobs has never been easier. Find job online, upload resume and cover letter, repeat. Find, upload, repeat… repeat… repeat.
With the lack of effort required to submit a job application, it's not surprising that every study about the job market seems to reveal that an average of 400 people (or another intimidatingly high number) apply to each online job posting and that getting an interview is about as hard as getting into Hogwarts. In my hiring and recruiting experience, I have certainly have seen huge numbers of applicants for particular jobs; however, the numbers do not tell the whole story…
What these statistics don’t capture is that the majority of these applications are, to put it delicately… "Weak Sauce". I know it sounds harsh, but most applications are straight-up incomplete. Those that are complete are typically generic. An “I’m scared-for-the-future-of-civilization-ily” large percentage of job seekers are simply trying to apply to as many jobs as possible, seemingly without the intention of ever getting one.
Because it is so easy to submit an application (a couple clicks and “voila”, right?) most applicants don't put in the requisite effort to get real consideration from a hiring manager. Their applications aren't being read and it's like they never applied in the first place. So rather than competing against 400 over-achieving Hermoine Grangers, the "real" applicant pool is more likely around 20-40. Seems a lot more doable now doesn't it?
So please don’t be intimidated when you hear those daunting numbers about how many people apply to every job online. The people publishing those statistics are just trying to scare you. But you are awesome! And when you’re really interested in an opportunity, you will put in the work and get yourself into the upper tier of candidates!
So, how do I rise above?
It might take a bit more time to apply to each job, but if you apply these steps, it won't take nearly as long to land something great!
Target your resume: Comb the job posting for key words pertaining to the duties you'll be fulfilling and be sure to include each of those 2-3 times in your resume. Also, make sure the most relevant work you've done is featured prominently!
Write a customized cover letter: Include why you'd like to do this job specifically and why you'd like to work at this company. Make them feel special (they better be special if you’re going to spend 40 hours per week there). Let them know you applied to this job for a reason!
Look for additional requirements: Some applications will ask for a sample of your work, an answer to a short essay question, or even a transcript verifying your education. Missing these requirements is a one-way ticket to the “No” pile.
If you're serious about the job to which you are applying, I know you're will put as much care and effort into your application as you would on the job itself! If you do, the hiring manager will notice and you'll rise to the top of the pile :)