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You, I’m gleaning, are considering a career change. Which means you’re weighing up your career options. And from everything you’ve seen thus far, becoming a certified resume writer and starting your own resume writing business both sound pretty appealing.
Yet you can’t help but wonder – is it all that it’s cracked up to be?
Today, you’re in luck. This post is your chance to hear what it’s really like to start such a business.
Join me as I chat with Irene and Steven McConnell, the co-founders of Arielle Executive.
Today, the company is a full-service career advisory firm, with offices in Sydney and Melbourne, and a team scattered across Australia, USA, UK, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Cyprus.
Yes, Irene’s rockstar EA, Gillian, lives in Cyprus.
Over the past 7 years, the company has built up a formidable reputation as the preferred resume writer to top Australian CEOs, corporate decision makers and board directors.
It has also been featured by Forbes, Australian Financial Review, BBC, Huffington Post, Inc, Foundr, Australian Institute Of Company Directors and countless career blogs.
And in early 2019 the company launched two budget brands, Exceptional Resume Writers and Exceptional Interview Coaching.
However, you may be surprised to find out that all of this started out as a humble resume writing side-hustle, with Irene getting her first clients by placing a $5 ad on Gumtree.
But we’ll get to that shortly.
We’ll also bust 4 popular myths that are circulating the internet about the value of resume writing certifications, as well as starting a resume writing business.
It’ll be just as eye-opening as an episode of Mythbusters.
Okay well, maybe not quite as exciting as blowing a safe open with dynamite, but you’re here to seek the truth, so here we go.
Mary: Hi Irene and Steven. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. Since many of our readers may be checking out Arielle for the first time, I suspect introductions are in order. Irene, let’s begin with you. Tell us about your background and why you decided that starting Arielle was the right career move.
Irene: Sure. I worked for over a decade as a recruiter both in-house and for agencies. So I saw both sides of the experience – meaning, the full hiring lifecycle.
From the agency side, the mentality was all about getting “bums on seats”. And on the corporate side, I saw hiring managers genuinely struggling to choose the right candidate.
Often one emerged as the “star” but ended up not being a good fit for various reasons.
Meanwhile, great candidates were getting passed over; many not even getting interviews.
I began asking myself how to solve this problem. I saw a clear need. Good people needed help to stand out in the marketplace and get the jobs that would help their careers take off.
Mary: Thanks, Irene. Steven, tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved in Arielle.
Steven: My background is totally different to Irene’s. I had started several businesses before and had done marketing for other startups, successfully building their brands, particularly from a digital perspective.
So when Irene landed on her passion to help talented people move ahead in their careers, we decided to do it together.
This would be our opportunity to create both our livelihood and build something special, while leaving behind the past (corporate life for Irene, marketing consulting for me).
Marketing is essential to any business, but for Arielle, my skillset complemented Irene’s in a way that has definitely helped the business grow.
Mary: Yes, I can see that dynamic at work with the two of you. Now let’s address why our readers are here. More than likely, they’re considering at least one of these two possibilities for themselves:
They want to be a resume writer and are curious about certification and its benefits
They want to start their own resume writing business
So, here comes our first myth to bust: investing in a resume writing certification is essential to success.
Irene, since you oversee the resume writing team at Arielle, I’m sure you’re eager to share your thoughts on this.
Irene: I am! Honestly, I don’t see the value in any of the resume writing certifications that are out there. The skills that the certification equips the resume writer with don’t align with what really matters to the candidate in the digital age.
Here’s how I formed this opinion – I see resumes written by certified writers all the time, and most of them end up at Arielle because they have failed to perform.
These “professionally written” resumes fail for very specific reasons.
First, because they are propped up by hollow adjectives and keywords.
Second, because they don’t articulate a person’s value proposition in any meaningful way. This point is crucial, so let me give you a concrete example.
Let’s say you’re an excellent project manager with a strong track record in the construction industry. Thing is, there are another 20 equally qualified project managers who will also apply for the same role as you.
Unless your resume writer finds a way to make you look like a cut above the other 20, in my opinion, they’ve failed to do their job.
Ironically, they’ve also put another nail in the coffin of their own resume writing career – because they’ve failed to differentiate themselves from all other mediocre resume writers out there.
The key to becoming an outstanding resume writer is possessing a unique mix of skills: recruitment, HR, marketing and copywriting, all bound together with a hefty dose of commercial acumen and an ability to take language to the level of an art form.
People who are trained in these skills are able to craft resumes that have a strong commercial focus, and weave a client’s career moves together into a narrative that communicates that person’s unique value to the market.
Mary: Thanks, Irene. I’m sure our readers will appreciate your distinct perspective. Steven – anything to add from a marketing point of view?
Steven: Before you decide to become a CPRW (Certified Professional Resume Writer), you should be aware of a business concept called the Three Value Disciplines.
There’s actually a book about it called The Discipline of Market Leaders. The authors, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, researched and observed trends in companies such as Wal-Mart, Dell, Southwest Airlines, Intel and Sony.
This resulted in their business model, which revolves around three key competitive areas:
- Customer Intimacy
- Product Leadership
- Operational Excellence
The idea is that, for a business to get traction, it must do reasonably well in all three areas. But – and here’s where the CPRW question comes in – if they wish to grow and prosper, they need to excel in one of the three.
Being a CPRW resume writer essentially locks you into being a low-cost, low-margin, high-volume business. In other words, you compete on Operational Excellence.
You know what they say, though … “You can’t out-Amazon Amazon”.
The fact is that the marketplace is saturated with resume mills which use this model. And they have perfected their operations to the point where they can produce a resume in 15 minutes (and pay an overseas resume writer a few dollars to do it).
Unless you are an operations wiz, you won’t be able to compete with that.
(And if you do happen to be so skilled at business operations, you should probably not be a resume writer. Instead, you should apply for a job at Amazon, Google or something similar).
Mary: Thanks, Steven, for your insights. Let’s press on to our next myth. Myth #2: starting a resume writing business is a turn-key, 40-hours-per-week venture. Irene, what do you think of this?
Irene: (Laughing) Really? Do people say that?
Even though there’s not a lot of expensive overhead to get rolling – for example, you don’t need to rent office space – it’s hardly turn-key. Any time you have your own business, you can expect to work far more hours than your “normal” peers.
You have to – especially in the early days – because you don’t know what to focus on. So you focus on everything.
It takes time to figure out – usually by doing the wrong things – what to invest your energy in.
Also, a lot of would-be startup founders underestimate the degree to which they are not equipped – as human beings – to build and run a successful company. I was certainly that person. Seven years ago I was certainly not strategic enough, not strong enough, not operationally savvy enough, to run a business.
As I adapted, Arielle grew. And its growth presented me with new, larger challenges.
Most people get into entrepreneurship because they seek relief from the challenges they’re experiencing. The good news is that being a business owner can certainly relieve you of some problems in life.
For example, if you don’t like the corporate life – because of its bureaucracy, rituals, dominance hierarchies and politics – startup life can offer relief.
The bad news is that the challenges and stresses you’ll face as a freshly minted business owner will be not easier. They’ll simply be different. And often greater.
So if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to orient themselves into a challenging situation, or you collapse under pressure, or are highly neurotic, starting your own resume writing business is probably not for you.
It certainly won’t be a 40-hour per week gig – until you reprogram many of your existing habits. Starting any business takes time, grit and an unhealthy degree of love for the act of building something.
There’s no way around it.
Mary: Thanks, Irene. It’s interesting how these myths are linking together. Steven, what are your thoughts on Myth #2?
Steven: When you’re building from the ground up, you either have the money to invest in some high-level mentors to advise you, or you take your chances and learn from your mistakes.
Ours was the latter.
For those of you out there seeking an accurate picture of how to build your own business, I’d suggest you start your business education by reading a book called “Predictable Success” by Les McKeown.
He’s created a very clear depiction of the developmental phases which an organisation travels through.
It’s important to note that at every phase on this diagram, you have to be curious and open to learning.
Even once you’ve reached “predictable success” – because at that point, you run the risk of sliding into complacency and boredom.
Which, as his diagram shows, both tend to set in right before the demise of your business.
Beyond being curious, you also have to maintain focus and eliminate distractions. It takes tremendous amounts of energy to progress from the “early struggle” to the point where you are scaling the business for growth. The more distractions you have, the longer it will take.
This means making difficult choices. Do you need to watch Netflix tonight? Should you skip that dinner with friends? Do you need to go to the gym less often?
Sacrifice is a necessary ingredient of growth.
Growing the business is at least a 10-year journey to get the operations, processes and people right. And if you’ve never started a business before, it may be more like a 15-20 year journey. And 2-3 failed businesses along the way.
I have a saying that’ I’m quite fond of – “everyone f#&*s up their first startup”.
This is based on my observation that very few people grow their first business to any meaningful size. Failure in business is normal. The big question is – when you screw it all up, what will you do – give up or go again?
Mary: Thanks, Steven. Hardly sounds like an easy gig. And certainly not turn-key. Let’s forge ahead to our next myth about starting a resume writing business.
Myth #3: Anyone can be a resume writer – even if they’ve never written before. Irene, is this a true statement?
Irene: Being a professional resume writer is a huge responsibility. Someone comes to you and puts their career in your hands. Whether or not they get that next role influences sometimes an entire family … what kind of school their kids can go to, where they can live, and so on.
And if you’re just dabbling, if you don’t love to write or don’t have a background in HR, recruiting or marketing, (even if you’ve gotten a certification) the way I see it, it’s unethical.
You’re not giving that person the leg up they deserve – and are paying you for.
The only possible exception to this might be if you’re writing for, or starting, a resume mill company that cranks out a resume in 30 minutes and charges $50-$100.
But that scenario isn’t ideal for the client who is serious about their career, or the writer who is serious about creating a sustainable business.
Mary: Okay, let’s tackle our last myth, which is a big driver for many people … money.
Irene: Over time, perhaps it can happen.
Steven mentioned McKeown’s stages of predictable success. I’m thinking specifically of the “fun” stage. It’s really a stage where you have traction, but you haven’t scaled, which means you don’t need to face huge logistical, technological and staffing complexities.
I think a “one-man-band” resume writer in that stage can make pretty good money – but ONLY if they find a way to compete through a Customer Intimacy or Product Leadership value discipline.
Think a “cosmetic surgeon” type of business/pricing model.
For example, I do one err … augmentation per day and I charge $10K for it. A resume won’t sell for $10K, but if you’re good enough, you can probably pull off a $1-2K price point.
However, to be this kind of elite resume writer, you need three things:
- Be very skilled at writing resumes (which, ironically, means going far beyond the typical resume writing credentials and flies in the face of Myth #3).
- Be very strong in sales, marketing and branding – otherwise you won’t be able to explain to clients why you’re worth the $1-2K price point.
- Have some ability to bring in leads via networking, paid online ads, SEO and so on.
If you’re sorely lacking in any of these areas, you’ll wind up trying to sell “me-too” resumes for $100 per piece.
And it doesn’t take a math genius to see that the economics of this scenario don’t add up to a corporate salary.
Mary: Steven, other thoughts on a resume writer waltzing into a corporate salary? Is it possible?
Steven: Well, going back to McKeown for a moment, for the resume writer who is not in the “cosmetic surgeon” scenario that Irene mentioned and who wants to build a resume writing company, we could make a philosophical argument that corporate salaries are possible at the “predictable success” stage.
But (and this is a big but) getting your business through the “early struggle” phase to the “whitewater” period, and then from “whitewater” to “predictable success” requires something I referenced earlier: An immense amount of energy.
Again, a newbie entrepreneur can expect it to be a 10-year journey at least, if not longer.
Mary: So, from what both of you have said, you have to really want your business to succeed with an unbridled passion and believe in what you’re doing.
In other words, starting a resume writing business is not for the faint of heart. And it’s certainly not for someone who’s just looking for an easy job to do from home.
(Both nod in agreement).
Okay, so that concludes our myth-busting. Now I’d like to ask you both what has been your favourite part of the ride you’re on with Arielle. Irene, what’s been yours?
Irene: Helping people see themselves in a new light. The career journey of our customers becomes one of certainty and self-confidence.
They become aware of their unique value and can sell it. But more than that, they really feel it … live it.
That’s an external result of our product innovation, which would be my favourite experience in building Arielle.
Creating our proprietary methodology has been an incredible learning and growth experience for me. The personal growth aspect of this has been huge. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. Every day is an evolution.
Mary: That’s so great to hear, Irene. Thanks for sharing. Steven?
Steven: For me, I love the building process and its creative element. Watching the multidimensional aspects of Arielle come together has been extremely satisfying.
Creating a future vision for the company and scaling for the future are other cool aspects that have been very rewarding.
Mary: Alright, last question for both of you. What one piece of advice would you offer to an aspiring resume writer/entrepreneur? Steven, we’ll start with you this time.
Steven: Think of yourself as a business person first and a resume writer second. Coming at the venture with a business mindset will keep you going when times get tough, which they inevitably will.
Mary: Irene, you’ve had some extra time to mull this one over. What’s your advice?
Irene: You must love, and really have a passion, for writing. As in, each word matters. Be a perfectionist to that level of detail.
Also, be endlessly curious about the commercial context your client is in.
Lastly, as I said before, it comes down to ethics. Someone put their career in your hands. Do everything in your power to live up to their expectations.
Mary: Steven and Irene, thank you both. And to all the aspiring resume writers and entrepreneurs out there, best of luck! Feel free to comment below if you have questions or want more information from Irene and Steven.