I just returned from my first speaking engagement of the fall so I thought I would give you a proper run-down of what has been happening with my new business over the past several months. I’ve discussed how my PhD prepared me for entrepreneurship and pointed you to my speaking site a few times in the past, but haven’t yet told you exactly what my objective is or how I’m doing. I guess I haven’t wanted to speak too soon and jinx things, but as it’s the end of summer it’s been long enough!
The broad objective of my endeavor is to inspire and empower early-career PhDs to make the most of their money. I am primarily focusing on reaching graduate students through live speaking engagements at universities. I also have written blog posts for two websites and hope to keep those gigs and expand that list. This is the ‘active income’ part of my business. Simultaneously, I am building out Grad Student Finances (it’s all text now, but I would like to move into audio and video as well soon) and developing a suite of products. GSF will be a free resource and once my for-sale products are finished they will be (largely?) ‘passive income.’
The majority of my work time this summer has been spent on pitching my live talks. I first contacted graduate student groups, but then often was referred to or moved on to conversing with staff members within the graduate school or other administrative offices. I haven’t started this yet, but the next wave of pitching will be to postdoc organizations.
I created a flyer and wrote a standard pitch email. After requesting that my personal contacts get in touch with groups at their universities on my behalf, I started cold-emailing my opening pitch email. I emailed at least one person/group at 91 universities, amounting to between four and five hundred cold emails in total. Around 300 of those emails were at least returned, and to date I have had 63 video or phone conversations with individuals at 50 universities.
I’ve enjoyed pitching much more than I thought I would, particularly the video/phone conversations. After I did about 5-10 I found that I had naturally established a regular outline and script and I began to feel comfortable. I think my passion for this subject matter and competence really come thorough in the calls, and I enjoy hearing feedback on the content and local insights from the students and administrators I’m speaking with.
As of today, I have three paid speaking engagements on my calendar for the fall. (The one I just retuned from was at my alma mater, and I agreed to speak there for free.) My goal for the semester is eighteen, so I have a long way to go yet. There are six more universities that I’m pretty confident (>80%) will book me, but the dates have not been set yet. (Several of them have told me they are targeting late October, so that might end up being a very busy time! One of my confirmed engagements is in that two-week period, as well as a conference I pitched a talk to.) Also, a few more universities said they want to book me for the spring semester or are seriously considering the spring. I am in ongoing conversations about with another eighteen universities, so I hope a number of those will work out as well. And of course I have some additional feelers out there that I don’t think will amount to anything but aren’t yet ruled out.
Earlier in the summer I started writing the ebook I’ve had in mind for years, but I paused that progress in favor of sending my initial pitch email to all my target universities before our move last month. I am also starting to think about creating video courses, which two of my Durham friends recommended and I’ve also learned a bit about from Kraig at Create My Independence‘s podcast. A few potential clients have expressed interest in webinars as well. I would really like to have some kind of finished product out this fall that I can offer to students at universities that aren’t booking one of my talks.
Now that we’ve started our new life on Seattle, I’m looking forward to getting in a nice routine of continual content creation for GSF, my gigs with other websites, my book, and my video courses. I feel I’ve neglected creating new content for most of this summer because establishing and maintaining relationships with potential clients is so time-consuming. I hope I am over the hump at least for this season and perhaps forever with those! However, I also have to start paying more attention to marketing. GSF doesn’t have any appreciable traffic right now, and it is a possible platform through which I could sell products, so it needs an audience!
I feel so energized after my speaking engagement this week to push forward with content creation and closing the remaining gigs for the season. I really love interacting with the students and helping them see how they can set and reach their financial goals. The new thing I’m tackling this week business-wise is forming an LLC and I’m also following up on some new ideas I heard/generated on the visit.
I suspect that I will wait until the end of the calendar year to pay myself anything because I want to keep ahead of my travel expenses, which will be reimbursed following each speaking engagement. But I am hopeful that my end-of-year paycheck will be a reasonable amount of money for a half-year of work!
I have so much I want to accomplish and never enough time, it seems! I’m not a workaholic at this point but I can certainly see the temptation. I enjoy what I’m doing so much and I believe in its importance. If I didn’t also desire to have local relationships and keep a healthy lifestyle, I think I would spend all my time working! That’s a great place to be as far as it goes, but it’s only going to be sustainable if I start generating some significant income, which in the short-term is likely to be from the speaking engagements.
Have you ever launched a business, and if so how did the early months go? What are you passionate about these days? Do you have any advice for me and my burgeoning business?