What do you do when you graduate with one of the most coveted degrees that you don’t want to use, a pile of debt and no plan? Look at one entrepreneur’s answer in this The Power Of Broke Community Series post about Lauren and her company, All Aces Promotional Staffing!
Degrees, Debt and Decisions
My “power of broke” story starts shortly after graduating from college. With a mound of student loan debt and a degree in Neuroscience that I wasn’t planning to use, I was stuck. I had to pay off my debt, but I knew I wasn’t going to do it with neuroscience. And so, I forced myself to be creative. I wasn’t one of those fortunate kids who could mooch off of my parents while I “figured it out”. With my back against the wall, I saw no choice but to succeed. As I started to look into what I would do to create a lucrative career, I looked back onto my life. While I was in college, I would always have fun freelance staffing and managing promotional campaigns and events. Since I worked with staff and clients in both Boston and New York, these two cities sounded like great starting points. With little money and no "real job" experience, I reached out to companies I had worked with in the past as well as others I knew about who needed to provide staff for their events. I immediately received a couple of positive responses and decided to start my company, All Aces Promotional Staffing. With my passion in All Aces, I also knew that I had to make money sooner rather than later. A friend convinced me to try financial planning as well, so I studied for it while also running All Aces, figuring at least one opportunity was bound to work. After almost a year of doing both, I realized the “jack of all trades but a master of none” lifestyle wasn’t going to work for me. Besides, I sucked at financial planning and was receiving new business requests through All Aces without even trying. So I made the decision to drop out of wealth management and pursue All Aces full time.
It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who
Never having had a “real job”, I didn’t know what a functioning company looked like from within, so it took me a long time to figure things out. Since I had graduated college not too long before starting All Aces Promotional Staffing, I didn't have much support for my new business forcing me to exercise the power of broke mindset, and bootstrapped it from the start. The key to the experiential marketing and event staffing business is creating relationships and positive experiences with consumers and event attendees. I knew that would begin with me, so I utilized LinkedIn to connect with and create relationships with potential clients. A meeting over a cup of coffee often led to a new client, sometimes lasting for years. By utilizing my relationship building skills, our sales more than quadrupled in four years.
Thinking Outside the Box
A couple of years later, I discovered the Best of Staffing competition, which awards you with a diamond award after 5 years. I knew this could help give my company recognition and an edge over bigger firms. Based on a net promoter score given by staff, we did win the award (and won for the next five years in a row to achieve the diamond award in 2016), which has become one of our biggest selling points. Our revenue increased 30% after that first win and I believe that award was one of the biggest factors to our success.
When You Become Too Comfortable, You’re No Longer “Broke”
After being in business for six years and achieving several corporate landmarks – steady company growth and solid partnerships – I fell into a classic pitfall of “the power of broke”, I became too comfortable and lost some of that ambition. We relied on expensive forms of advertising and sponsorships that didn't yield enough return and made a bad hiring decision that pervaded for months. After losing two big accounts and deciding not to continue business with another, the vast majority of our business was gone. Six years of hard work had been wasted and I practically needed to start from scratch again.
Resetting the Mind and Company
I thought about giving it up, but after all my hard work I was determined to make All Aces successful once again. In the following years we changed tactics and truly trapped into “the power of broke” mindset, by testing new markets, as well as other forms of client outreach. We began using social media to engage with our staff and clients, targeted new industries, strengthened relationships, partnered with vendors to reduce costs and increase sales, and within two years our revenue saw a 50% increase. We also began hiring all brand ambassadors and event staff nationally as W2 employees, a big move that has allowed us to work with the larger players in the industry. This year I am working on a partnership with a large security guard staffing firm which will bring All Aces to a whole new level, and our new website, along with search engine optimization, has more than doubled our proposal requests. We just won the Innovation and Excellence Award for Event Staffing too, which I’m sure will help us gain more business even further! Our great reputation has organically led to higher quality clients and contracts overall. I was also accepted into the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, which I am currently enrolled in. I believe this will give me the discipline and tools to elevate my company’s growth much further! We have already surpassed 2015’s revenue and are on target for our best year yet. Next goal: Inc 5000 list!
Learning from my past experiences regarding cutting down on expensive marketing and memberships allowed me to go back to our roots and rethink. As we grow I will make sure I never lose sight of the “power of broke” and what has led to my success. Throughout my journey, the fear of being broke motivated me to come up with solutions because no matter how tough the situation became, I persevered. I created this company from nothing. Success, like failure, is in my hands!