How I Started A Profitable Resume Writing Side Project
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi everyone! My name is Alex Benjamin, founder of Recruiter Written. We are a resume and LinkedIn profile writing service that provides our clients with an extraordinary advantage in the job market.
As a recruiter with 13 years of experience selling candidates to hiring managers, Recruiter Written combines staffing industry best practices, keyword optimization, and a collaborative approach to create a compelling story that highlights our client’s value in the job market.
In addition, we now offer services for one-on-one job search coaching (covering topics from search and application strategies to interview preparation to offer negotiation) as well and employer services, such as job description writing, phone interview forms, and reference check questionnaires.
In your one, Recruiter Written had supported > 100 customers, ranging from administrative assistants through C-level Executives and are on target to support ~250 clients year two.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Supporting the pharmaceutical industry over the last 13 years has taught me a couple of lessons. First, hiring is cyclical and it is much better to passively search for a new position while things are going well, rather than waiting until you are miserable, or even worse, laid off. Second, being highly educated and well-compensated doesn’t necessarily provide strong resume writing abilities.
As a recruiter, the average vacancy that I support requires at least five years of a very specific set of skills and pays over $100k+ (some above $300k). After reviewing hundreds of thousands of resumes, it was abundantly clear that resume writing is a unique skill that most people don’t necessarily possess. Year after year, speaking with insanely talented people whose resumes were subpar at best, was enough motivation to start researching the process of setting up my own company.
The major challenge was that working a full-time job along with helping my wife raise our two young daughters didn’t leave a lot of time for another endeavor. Creating a side hustle that allowed flexible hours (nights and weekends) was a must!
The job market is cyclical and when my day job started to slow down, it was the perfect time to get the ball rolling!
Take us through the process of designing your services and launching the business.
The beautiful thing about setting up a service-based company was that I knew what services to offer. Since I knew the “what” the next step was to focus on the “how.” I knew I needed to create a process that would be repeatable, customizable, and be able to support all industries and positions. Over a couple of weeks, I created numerous workflows, client interview forms, resume worksheets, pricing charts, questionnaires, and other supporting documents. Resume templates were created and categorized as were checklists to get ready for launch.
It took about five weeks until we received our first client, but wound up booking $1600 in total that month.
I am assuming that if you are reading this, we share something in common: we like to do our research. A few books that I found valuable in the startup process include, Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days and The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau as well as The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferris.
To create Recruiter Written, the shortlist was indeed short. It included setting up the company as a legal entity, creating a website, collecting payments, and marketing. In short, the process was easy and cheap, costing around $600. The initial investment included setting up all of the legal stuff (setting up an LLC was extremely easy and I didn’t find the need to hire a lawyer or accountant), reserving a P.O. Box, marketing materials, and creating the websites (including the domain, hosting, and email).
The most complicated part of the process, by far, was setting up the website. In all fairness, this is the first website that I have ever created from scratch. I have helped develop website skeletons and content in the past, but nothing from a programming standpoint nor anything from conception through launch. The most time-consuming task was content creation. I wanted to create a website that was aesthetically pleasing, easy to navigate and offered readers value outside of booking our services (including resume tips and our blog).
Once we launched, the next hurdle was funneling visitors to the new site. A DIY lesson in search engine optimization (SEO) helped quite a bit, but we also needed to start banging down doors and directing more traffic. After all, we were asking customers to book a $200 service without knowing ANYTHING about us. Since I was trying to get the business up and running on a minimal budget, rather than using Google AdWords I decided to try free marketing methods. I utilized a mixture of my LinkedIn network (which at the time was around 16,000 connections and is now getting close to the maximum of 30,000) and free mass mailing platforms (including Mailjet and a trial of Mail Chimp). To boost our backlinks, I set up our social media pages, responded to Reddit posts, and, most importantly, was a regular responder on HARO (Help a Reporter Out).
To test the process, I had helped out a friend who was unemployed at the time, creating his resume for free in return for his testimonial. I’m sure it was a coincidence, but after being out of work for over six months, he wound up getting the first position he applied to while using the new and improved resume. I give him all the credit but hope the resume helped at least a little bit.
It took about five weeks until we received our first client, but wound up booking $1600 in total that month.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Running metrics is a regular practice in the recruiting industry, so it was only natural that I started to track the source of our business from day one.
I am sure all you are wondering where we see the best results. The answer is quite simple, referrals, referrals, and more referrals.
During the early days, the best (and free) marketing came from our podcast episode on Chris Guillebeau’s The Side Hustle School. Around four to five months after our launch, I stumbled onto one of the HARO daily emails to find that Chris was looking to interview fellow Side Hustlers, so I jumped on the chance. He put together an excellent episode that, to this day, still brings in new customers regularly.
Overall, every marketing avenue has produced customers, including email marketing, direct LinkedIn message campaigns, and having a presence on online forums.
Even handing out business cards and putting a magnet on my car has brought in customers. But, I am sure all you are wondering where we see the best results. The answer is quite simple, referrals, referrals, and more referrals.
It is a humbling compliment that about half of new business comes from referrals. I take it as a sign that we are providing high-quality documents that are positively impacting our customer’s lives. It is not uncommon to finish up one of our customer’s resumes to then have their spouse, colleague, friend, or even an acquaintance of an acquaintance reach out the following week. The referral business has grown so much that other marketing efforts are on hold.
Also, I like to maintain contact with existing customers, not to sell anything, but simply check in to see how they are doing. Quite a bit of business comes from updating resumes or LinkedIn profiles after our customers move into a new position. Since a simple update is well less labor-intensive, special pricing is offered. It is much cheaper and more effective to keep a resume, or LinkedIn regularly updated than it is to have to start from scratch, a task that is much easier once both are in excellent shape.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
When starting a business, the original goal was to get to the $2,000 per month mark while spending 5-10 hours per week in total (marketing, bookkeeping, writing, etc.), which has been hit steadily since month five. I have yet to pay for any marketing and have been as busy as I’d like to be.
Keep in mind, I enjoy recruiting. In fact, part of the “special sauce” of Recruiter Written is that all documents are being written by someone who is active in the staffing industry. Recruiting trends change rapidly so there is a major advantage in having expert knowledge of the latest and greatest best practices, tips, and tricks on how to attract human resources and hiring managers.
As mentioned earlier, the startup cost was a little over $600. The annual cost is under $250 (maintaining the website, email, and PO Box) or $20/month. Credit card processing fees are 3% + .$30 per transaction. This all brings the average gross profit to around $1940/month.
For now, I am pleased with the sales numbers and plan to keep things status quo. I can accommodate an increase of 50% of time investment before I would need to hire another writer part-time. Any writers hired would also be recruiters as I strongly feel the need of working with others who are “in the weeds” day in and day out. Otherwise, a great writer who doesn’t understand the staffing industry is going to produce a pretty piece of paper sitting in the trash bin.
In additional to primarily writing resumes and LinkedIn profiles, job search coaching has been a new addition to our services and has been very popular and useful for our customers. I’ve found that there is a niche of people who either have a resume or want to write their own, but want to make sure they are on the right track. I am toying around with putting together downloadable PDF Resume Writing and LinkedIn Profile Writing guides where the average person can learn the ins and outs of the recruiting industry while following general guidelines to make sure all of the “important stuff” is best represented.
Starting a business seems much more complicated than it actually is. The experience has been full of learning and has continued to build my entrepreneurial spirit. I realize that this is just a small operation, but there have been a lot of “firsts,” which has made the idea of starting something bigger a much more realistic task. Believing in the diversification of income, I have a couple of new business ideas (other side hustles) that will take a bit of startup time, but will require minimal time investment once up and running.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Taking the first step builds momentum.
It is very easy to procrastinate starting your own business. There are thousands of excuses to postpone taking the first step, but once you do, the following action becomes much easier, as does the following, and so on. The more time you spend, the more invested you are, and the closer the finish line becomes. I found it extremely helpful to start by making a to-do list of everything involved in starting up the business.
It can start as a master checklist, but I have found that it is easiest to create a list of steps, this way you can focus on the task at hand while planning for the next. Once the list is together, assign each task an estimated cost and set a timeline for completion, keeping in mind that the actual cost/timeline will wind up being +/- 50% of your estimate. Set a deadline to finish step one and I can guarantee you will be more likely to keep the ball rolling.
Most roadblocks can be solved with a Google search.
The reason why there is a 50% variance in actual costs and timelines is that there will be unforeseen shortcuts and roadblocks that will inevitably arise during the process. If this is your first company, as Recruiter Written was mine, your original task list is going to grow significantly once you find out there is more to it than you originally anticipated. The good news is that most of these roadblocks can be solved in about 10 minutes through a simple Google search.
Most likely, you are not the first to experience the issue, and others are asking the same questions. As a bonus, there are cost and time-saving answers littered around the internet. Long story short, don’t feel like you need to be an expert in everything before you get started. If you are smart, motivated, and at least minimally computer savvy, you have all of the necessary skills to start your own business.
Most people are genuinely good-natured.
Customer service is key. Since I provide a service, this means understanding my customer’s needs, making sure we are both of the same page regarding the desired outcome, and delivering on a shared goal. I work across industries and have helped customers throughout the US. As long as you are genuine, truthful, helpful, and have a product that provides value, people tend to be appreciative, reasonable, and easy to work with.
For example, I schedule my customers in the order they book and pay for their service as I need to ensure that my completion timelines are consistent. However, when possible, I try to expedite documents for those who are unemployed. When these situations arise, I reach out to anyone earlier in the queue who is not actively looking for a new position to see if they would mind if it takes a couple of extra days for their documents to be completed to help someone else who is coming to me in a more time-sensitive situation. I have yet to have anyone decline.
Then, there is the 1%.
No matter what you do, how over the top you perform, or how genuine your interest is in helping others, there will be the 1% that will never be pleased. There is no reason to get upset; it is merely the cost of doing business. To see this in action, look at any Amazon review that has over 1,000 reviews, check out blog comments, or pick a random forum page (Reddit is a great example). There is that minor percentage that wants everything for free, has the utmost unrealistic expectations, or wants to argue for argument's sake.
For example, I have a 100% satisfaction guarantee on my services as I am confident in the value of the end product. I have only had one person, ever, request their money back. Was it because she wasn’t satisfied with the service? Absolutely not. It was because she had unrealistic expectations that a professionally written resume would qualify her for positions which she clearly did not have the experience. Not only did I provide extra (and free) job search coaching, but I even agreed to speak with her before she booked are service to ensure Recruiter Written was the right fit. When the request came in for a refund, I kindly apologize for the outcome and initiated the refund. Low and behold, shortly thereafter I noticed that she accepted a new position, one that was right in the wheelhouse of what we were targeting with her documents in the first place.
Most likely, this is going to happen to you at some point. Get over it, move on, and focus on appealing to the masses.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
CRM : HubSpot- it is free, effective, and easy to use.
Web Hosting/Website Creation : Weebly- The perfect tool for the newbie who wants to create their website. The cheapest paid version is only $8/month (don’t go for the free version as they stick their branding everywhere and it cheapens the look of the site). For a first-time website creator, I found the tool intuitive, easy, and cost-effective. If you are looking for absolute customization, you may want to go another route, but for any small business owner who wants to get started quickly, I’ve had a pleasant experience and nothing but positive comments from my customers about the look.
Weebly also has an easy to create online store that links up with several major credit card processors.
Email : G Suite/Google for Business- Weebly has a G Suite integration that works seamlessly. You can set up multiple email addresses using your domain name ([email protected], [email protected], [email protected]). Plus, they give you Google Drive online storage to back up your documents as well as access to all of the online Google Docs tools synced to your account. With prices starting at $6/months, it is a natural choice.
Credit Card Processing : Square- Getting paid is pretty important. Pricing is pretty similar across most of the major providers; however, there is an additional 3% fee if you sell from the Weebly store if you use their cheapest hosting service! I chose Square for quite a few reasons. First, funds are deposited in 1-2 business days. Second, they have an invoicing system that is extremely easy and effective, allowing me to create custom invoices for services. Third, they provide a free card swiper this way I have the option to book business during trade shows, events, or career fairs.
Royalty-Free Photos : www.pexels.com, www.pixabay.com, www.unsplash.com- When creating a website, you need high-quality photos. Doing a Google search may seem like a good idea to find what you need, but they may not be royalty-free. Unless you want to pay for photos or are taking your own, choosing royalty-free photos is a safe way to find pictures that won’t come back to bite you in the future.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Chris Guillebeau’s The Side Hustle School
- Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days, by Chris Guillebeau
- The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future, by Chris Guillebeau
- The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, by Timothy Ferris.
Side Hustle and The $100 Startup provide an outline of what is needed to start a business, ways to scale and provide tools to keep you on track by goal setting while keeping startup costs at a minimum. Both books feature stories of other entrepreneurs as well as their journey’s, each with important lessons of success and failure to learn from.
Tim Ferris has some great books out there, but The 4-Hour Workweek provides thought-provoking strategies for automation and outsourcing to allow you to minimize your time investment while maximizing profitability. There is also an emphasis on creating a business that will let you work from anywhere, which is ideal for the flexibility I was looking for when starting a business. Just an example, I am currently writing this from Bermuda with one of the best views you could ask for.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Even starting a small business takes time and investment, so make sure you do something that you enjoy. The more you believe in your product/service/mission, the more motivated you will be to see things through.
A business only makes sense if it’s profitable. Before a new venture, run the numbers to make sure it makes sense. It may take longer than expected for customers to start flocking in, but at the end of the day, you want to make sure the endeavor is putting money in your pocket. If you aren’t seeing an ROI, diagnose the problem and fix it right away. If there is no way for the company to be profitable, it might be time to cut your losses and try again. I wouldn’t consider this a failure, but an opportunity to use your newfound knowledge to create a more successful business.
When starting a new business, there are 1000 excuses why NOT to start. The fact is, there is never the perfect time to get the ball rolling. Life is always busy with competing priorities. The longer you wait, the better the chance of someone else will take the same idea and make it profitable. Remember, taking the first step will help you gain momentum.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Right now, Recruiter Written is not hiring.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: www.recruiterwritten.com
- Facebook: recruiterwritten
- Twitter: recruiterwritt1
- LinkedIn: 11765548/admin/
- Blog: recruiterwritten.com/blog
- Email: [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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