I recently had a great conversation with Irene McConnell, a very successful resume writer in Australia. She shares some very powerful insights about business building and writing which I’m sure you will find a lot of value in . . .
Irene founded and runs Australia’s #1 executive personal branding agency. In 3 years she grew the business from zero to $1million in annual revenue while relentlessly pushing the boundaries in the fields of executive resume writing and executive LinkedIn profile writing.
Feel free to comment below if you want Irene to respond.
Joshua Waldman: What were you doing before you became a full time resume and LinkedIn profile writer? What made you leave it for what you do now?
Irene McConnell: I was a HR manager and recruiter for 10 years. Even though I was doing quite well, I realised that I had a craving for flexibility and freedom that corporate life could not cater to.
My dream has always been to be able to choose what I do, when I do it – and I saw entrepreneurship as a way of getting there.
The first step on this journey was making the time to start my business, so I quit my well-paid HR job and started temping part-time as an executive assistant. It was a big step back in many ways, but it gave me two things I needed at the time – a relatively stable form of income and free 2-3 days per week, during which I could start building Arielle.
Joshua Waldman: When you first got started, how long did it take for you to start making money? What worked and what didn’t work those first few months?
Irene McConnell: Surprisingly, it all happened quite quickly. I placed an ad on a free classifieds website and was very surprised when a few people responded. I used the profit from those first few customers to place a paid ad on the same website and that got even more traction.
It would be mistake to think, however, that those ads were my “secret weapon”. Sure, they worked, but if they didn’t I would have found something else that did.
What gave me momentum at the beginning was my mindset. Most days I felt like I had my back to the wall and the only way I had available to me was forward.
I had very little little savings, the part-time job paid barely enough to cover the bills and I was acutely aware of the fact that I was sacrificing my career to start the business. My friends were on comfortable $100K+ salaries while I was scratching pennies together again (just like during the impoverished university days) – all in the name of chasing my big dream.
In many ways, I leveraged my biggest problems at the time – lack of resources, entrepreneurial experience and time into my biggest asset at the time – grit.
Joshua Waldman: Many writers struggle with defining their niche and pricing strategies. What made you choose the executive markets? Did you always feel 100% congruent with your pricing?
Irene McConnell: Pricing is quite and art and a science in itself, isn’t it? When I was starting out, I couldn’t believe that someone would pay me $100 to write their resume. Today, some of our resumes cross the $1,000 mark and I often feel like we’re massively undercharging for the value we provide.
That is, and has always been, my test for pricing – I have to know, deep inside, that my client is receiving more value that they’re paying for.
Executive focus felt like a no-brainer decision – it was a way to leverage my corporate experience. During my HR days I frequently partnered up with senior executives, so I’ve always felt like I could speak their language and understand their needs.
Joshua Waldman: Finding leads can be a big struggle for many resume writers. What are some of the tools you’ve found to be helpful to get more in-bound leads?
Irene McConnell: Our main lead sources are referrals, paid search and organic search.
I think a lack of leads stems from one fundamental mistake people make when they’re starting out: they think themselves primarily as a resume writer.
In my experience it helps to view yourself as a businessperson first, resume writer second. This means that the learning curve becomes extremely steep – there’s a lot to learn when it comes to marketing, finances, copywriting, business strategy and so on. As a business owner you have to be across all those things on at least a satisfactory level.
Joshua Waldman: How has your craft changed over the years?
Irene McConnell: We’ve become a lot more brand-centric. People come to us because they want a new resume (or a LinkedIn profile or a headshot or a set of business cards) and they walk out seeing themselves in a new light, armed with a fresh focus and a strong career direction which they didn’t have before.
Joshua Waldman: What are some mistakes you see other writers making that they should avoid?
Irene McConnell: Copying other resume writers – instead of seeking real ways to create value – is mistake number one, two and three.
The world is changing at a huge pace, which means that new, untapped opportunities to create value are presenting themselves every day. Look at professional LinkedIn profile writing, for example. Three years ago it was unheard of – I remember hearing about it and wondering, “would anyone really pay for that?”. Today, it’s a huge industry which rivals professional resume writing.
The modern business landscape favours innovative, risk-taking, highly adaptable, agile players. For the past few years, however, most resume writers have done exactly the opposite – they’ve copied established players.
This has resulted in a stale, hugely behind-the-times industry which is vulnerable to the next generation of newcomers who are able to think outside the box.
Joshua Waldman: I noticed that LinkedIn services isn’t just another cheap add-on to resumes on your website. What made you decide to offer LinkedIn profile writing as a stand-alone service?
Irene McConnell: We’ve all heard the stats – 94% of recruiters will check out a candidate’s social media presence before calling them, etc.
Importantly, it was clear that recruiters would use both a candidate’s resume and LinkedIn profile to vet them – and they’d use those tools differently. This made a pretty strong case to offer LinkedIn profiles which would as act as an extension of the resume.
Remember how movies on DVD came with a “Bonuses” disc? If you liked the feature, you could continue to interact with the brand via the bonus disc – you’d watch “behind the scenes” footage, bloopers, interviews with the stars, Q&A with the director and so on. To me a LinkedIn profile is that bonus disc – it’s allows a candidate to tell their story in a leveraged way to people who have expressed some interest in them.
Joshua Waldman: What are some of the major differences between writing resumes and writing profiles?
Irene McConnell: Resumes focus on factual, dry aspects of what you’ve done while the LinkedIn provides a glimpse into your personality and motivations.
Joshua Waldman: Do you have any other advice to give to resume writers and career professionals?
Irene McConnell: During the 1970’s people lived through what I call the “hardware revolution”. Personal computers revolutionised how people worked, lived and played. It was a time of immense upheaval and – thus – opportunity. Millions of people embraced and leveraged the change to improve their lives, start businesses and change the world.
When I was younger, I sometimes wished that I was born earlier because I felt like it was a one-off type of opportunity which I missed. I no longer wish that because I realised that right now we’re living through a much larger upheaval – the “digital revolution”.
The entire social fabric is moving online and computers are once again reshaping the ways we work, live and play. Studies show that in 10-15 years, majority of us will be either freelancing, starting a business or doing contract work. People are expecting to have more meaning and freedom at work. Companies are beginning to view people as valuable assets, rather than expendable resources.
While the details of this revolution can be endlessly debated, one thing is clear – next decade will be rich in work and business opportunities for people who are ready to take up the challenge and be on the cutting edge of this revolution.
If you have questions or comments for Irene, please comment below. If you would like to improve your LinkedIn profile writing and increase your sales, check out my Certification Program just for resume writers.