Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners
Interview with Alexandra Bowden
Introduction by David Wagstaff
As part of our series of articles providing stories and insights to entrepreneurs, I met Alex through her application to the Entrepreneur’s Network (EntrepreneursNet.net). She has participated as part of the group of entrepreneurs in our PeerConnect Group.
Reading Alex’s profile, I liked the fact that she focuses on helping businesses develop a holistic approach to talent, including hiring, onboarding, and retention. There is little point in hiring if you don’t also have a strategy to help get people up to speed and then retain them once they are onboard. And through the PeerConnect program I have gotten to know Alex as professional, experienced and smart. These are all great attributes for a successful entrepreneur.
One reason I’m so passionate about entrepreneurship and have such high respect for successful entrepreneurs is that success tests so many aspects of who we are. There are always exceptions to every rule, but from my experience working with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I find entrepreneurs are not only good at the craft, trade or service, but they are also good with people and have a unique kind of practical intelligence. They are able to see opportunities and attract clients and employees to their vision. Both from reading Alex’s profile and my interactions with her, I believe she has these skills to help clients win in talent acquisition and HR processes.
Entrepreneur, Talent & Recruitment Consulting
Alexandra (Alex) earned a bachelor’s in fine arts from Ohio State University with Honors. After a few years in that field, she shifted to human resource focused roles in talent acquisition, diversity and inclusion where she took on both leadership and coaching roles.
Interview with Entrepreneurs: Alex Bowden and PEOPLEfirst Talent & Recruitment Consulting
When I told my husband I wanted to leave my amazing corporate job, where I was well respected, given a lot of flexibility and getting promotions almost annually, he definitely toed the line between telling me I was crazy and trying to understand my desire for such a drastic change. You see, his position at a global company had been terminated months earlier and he was still in the interview process, uncertain of his future. We’d just had our first child within the year and were experiencing an exorbitant amount of change and instability. It was, quite possibly, the worst time to tell him I’ve decided to leave my company and start something entirely on my own. I can still remember the look of trepidation and confusion on his face in our small kitchen, pacing around the wooden floor as he fed the baby his bottle…
I have always wanted to start my own business- I just never knew in what. It was kind of like when you want to write a book but cannot seem to develop a clever enough idea or one that really speaks to you in a manner that allows the story to flow freely. I understood what it took to run a business. I had helped many other entrepreneurs run theirs during my years as a dancing professional. I’ve helped run creative programs for inner-city schools in both Baltimore and NYC, and I’ve been part of growing various dance studios for 20 yrs. It is a 24/7 type of responsibility. If I was going to make that type of sacrifice, I wanted it to be for something that really excited me. I also saw it as something that would completely hinder my family time, which gave me serious pause in the stages of planning for kids. However, the situation I found myself in was quite the opposite: I was spending so much time away from my young son, missing both those big and small moments (the ones that take on an entirely greater meaning when you become a parent). I was putting in an enormous amount of effort for a great company that had always done right by me. Yet, my future was still not in my own hands, and at the end of the day, I only had limited control over the elements of my job that I focused on. That simply wasn’t enough for me…definitely not enough to trade in all the time with my young son. After 8 months of this weighing heavily on me, I decided that I needed to take a leap of faith and make a change. I wanted to build a business that would do two key things:
Allow me the flexibility to be with my son more, and help people. I wanted to focus all my effort on some critical areas in the talent & retention space that I saw severely lacking. I wanted to make an impact in my field that allowed job seekers to reach the careers of their dreams and businesses to understand some simple changes needed in order to thrive.
My business focuses on both the B2B and the B2C components of Talent. On the B2C side, I help job seekers by partnering with them throughout their entire job search or career change process. This includes hands-on coaching and ongoing help with things like resumes, personal branding, networking strategies, job searching, interview coaching, offer negotiation, etc. My experience of watching excellent talent go through horrible or endless job searches was enough to make me want to provide more support in this area. Whereas headhunters cater to the business, I wanted to cater to the talent. Throughout my corporate job, I had encountered good people failing simply because they didn’t understand the strategy behind hiring or the different things they could do to optimize their chances of success. I would also hear horror stories of how companies treated them or the superfluous and arduous hoops they were forced to jump through. I wanted to tackle these issues head-on and start helping good people gain great careers.
The B2B side of my business takes a unique approach of partnering with businesses or internal HR, developing and implementing lean processes and strategies that are holistic and tailored to allow for long term success. What that means is discovering the source(s) of the problem and building out multi-faceted solutions, instead of continuously treating the symptoms and losing an exorbitant amount of money in the process. I saw how many companies lost great talent on their hiring process alone or were spending much more money than they needed on hiring because they waited until it was urgent to deal with. Whether that meant having to hire staffing agencies at great expense per placement, hiring the wrong person because they are rushed or not properly trained, spending a ton of money advertising for jobs with little ROI, or toiling away trying to find the right candidate while the teams or their clients deal with the residual impact, many companies still do not realize how much money and time they will save in this space with some simple fixes and proactive measures that make a lasting impact.
Touching back on my desire to help people…I am really proud of the consulting and payment structure I was able to create for my job seekers. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make a living off of helping people that often find themselves in financially precarious positions. After much brainstorming, I decided on a type of “reverse headhunter” model. I would work for my clients for free until they have landed a job. Once they did, they could choose to repay me a small percentage of their first year’s salary in 30 days, or as 12-month or 18-month installments. This also allows for anyone to be able to afford my services whether they are at entry level or a CEO.
Some of the biggest challenges I face as a business owner are working from home (as a very social person) and educating my consumers on the need for my services. On the latter of the two: many people feel they are doing just fine on their own and don’t realize how much more efficient they could be with a little guidance. This has proven less of an issue on the B2C side because it becomes obvious very quickly when someone is not doing so well…they simply don’t get hired. However, on the business side, 49% of companies never calculate their cost of hiring or turnover. Therefore, they are often unaware of how much money they’re actually wasting in this space or are hesitant to spend the time looking at optimizing it because it’s not the main component of their business.
I have not yet cracked the code on how to best educate my consumers, but I have improved on my ability to work from home and stay productive. I had to set parameters for myself, such as getting up early and starting my day with meditation, as well as working in a designated space that doesn’t allow me to see everything I want to get done in my house and get distracted doing it!!
My main pieces of advice to budding entrepreneurs:
- Don’t feel like you need to have it all figured out before you take the leap. The shape of your business will most likely change many times. Think of it as a market experience that you will continue to adapt and hone based on the needs you find and feedback you receive.
- Be patient. As someone who is used to putting in a ton of work and seeing the fruits of their effort quickly, let me tell you that building a business is not as immediately satisfying. Set little goals for yourself that will make you feel accomplished, but don’t expect everything to take shape or happen as quickly as you might want. Some things truly just take time, and in my experience, a business is one of them!
- Create a routine. Whether it’s exercising every morning, or reading email over your coffee, etc. Make time to do something that sets you on a positive track. I never bought into meditation until I became a business owner. Between running a business, managing a new home, parenting my son, teaching dance classes in the evenings, being a wife, etc, I quickly became overwhelmed and less productive. I found meditation and made it my morning routine, and it has been a life changer! So much so, that I actually introduced it into my job search process to aid my clients with resiliency in the face of rejection, and confidence in the face of pressure.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help or step outside of your comfort zone. I am much more of a relationship person than a salesperson. I had to learn how to not accept “no” so easily, but rather ask questions and follow up. I also felt awkward asking people I know for help making a connection or for a favor, but you need to! And more often than not, they are more than willing to assist you. You can’t do all of it alone. You need a lot of people in your corner guiding and advocating for you! You can do this!”