Assistant Ad Writer Quits Job, Starts a Business and Becomes a Multi-Millionaire
Ali Brown is currently the CEO and Founder of Ali International, but she started out as an assistant ad writer who quit her job, started working as a freelancer and is now, ten years later a multi-millionaire, who has just launched her own magazine. Her magazine is Ali Magazine, geared for female business owners and entrepreneurs. She also has over 40,000 members in her online programs.
I worked with Ali when she first started 10 years ago. When I met her in a networking group in New York City, she hated her job working in a small advertising company. She had been a job hopper, jumping every two years to a new job, but she was restless and always wanting and trying to make changes to help the company become more successful, but was constantly told just to focus on her current job tasks. She began to think she was unemployable and kept looking for a job that would be the right fit. Her last job was with a small ad agency — although she disliked it, she was allowed to work with clients and got the feel of running a business.
Her salary was meager for New York City at $35,000 a year. She remembers envying a free-lancer who worked for the company who could come and go as he pleased. Inadvertently, his invoice for services ended up on Ali’s desk and she was shocked to see his bill for one project was more than her total annual salary! Another eye-opener for Ali. “I didn’t realize that you could make that much money as a free-lancer.” The thought of having freedom and money appealed to her.
Plus she said her bosses didn’t seem especially brilliant, so she thought, “OK, If these knuckleheads can do this and turn over a million dollars a year, then maybe I can do this on my own and at least make enough just to live on by myself.”
She quit her job when a new opportunity to work part-time as a free-lancer for another firm appeared. This new flexible position was her safety cushion — it covered the rent while she started her own business.
How did you start your career re-invention?
I had no clients, but I just couldn’t work for anyone else anymore. I was terrified, but the excitement was greater. There was no reason not to be scared as I had no savings. But I thought about the worst thing that could happen and that would be to move back home and live with my parents. I remember meeting a college friend for drinks the day I quit my job. When I announced I had just quit that day, her face blanched and she asked, horrified, ‘But what will you do?’ I told her I was starting my own business. ‘But how can you do that?’ I had no idea really, but I didn’t let that stop me. I started my business on two credit cards and had to pay for your coaching on credit.
Why did you hire a coach?
I had no one to talk to about what I was doing who would believe in me except for you. You were the catalyst that gave me the confidence that I could do it. I had no voice in my life of someone who could say, ‘You can do this.’ I remember once I couldn’t withdraw $20 from the ATM because my balance was $18.56. That was a real low point. And there was one week that I was trying to learn QuickBooks and had no money and I had the thought, I’m not smart enough to do this, I must not be smart enough to have my own business. Maybe I should go find a job. But you pointed out that I didn’t need to do the bookkeeping and convinced me to hire a virtual assistant before I thought I could afford one. She has since bought into the business and is now my partner!
What is the biggest transition you’ve made?
When we are in traditional jobs and in school we are taught to work our way up one step at a time. When you work for yourself there are no rules and no limits. There is no reason why I should do a magazine. I have no magazine experience. It is an outrageous move to start a new magazine in the middle of a deep recession when other magazines are going out of business. To me it is play. When I was 11 years old once playing in my room, I created a magazine called ‘Cool Girl’ by cutting out pictures from other magazines and pasting them into my own.
And yes, I’m scared. But when I really set my mind to doing something, the universe supports me. Miraculous stuff happens. You are the one who taught me about the laws of attraction long before anyone had ever heard of The Secret. I have no consideration that I could fail. That just isn’t an option. I went from producing a 4-page printed newsletter to a 124 page glossy magazine. I also made the leap from charging $19,000 a year for mentoring business owners to charging $100,000 a year. And I did it. I have ten clients at that rate now. You don’t have to move up incrementally when you own your own business.
Now is a great time for women to be going into business on their own because they can create the business around who they are and their values. This is a great time for women because they are great at communication, relationships, working with purpose and honoring their values. Many women take their hobbies and make them into viable businesses.
If you could do anything differently now, what would you do?
I would have hired a coach sooner, while still working in that job I hated and created a more moderate transition plan. It would have helped to have had some savings for starters. And I had no idea how to get clients. I would have done a bit of research on how to do that first instead of just jumping in. Ironically, that is what I started teaching others–how to get clients using the internet. It is what I needed to learn to be successful myself.
What advice do you have for those stuck in jobs they hate, who are afraid to make that leap?
When you are stuck in a job you can’t necessarily see the next step to take, you just have to take it first. You don’t see all the steps lined out in front of you, but as you make the first step, the second step reveals itself. I never know exactly how I’m going to do it. Listen, do your homework. You can’t make decisions from where you are, but from where you want to be. I would ask myself, what would Ali, the six figure business owner do? She would raise her rates and probably wear a nicer pair of pants! I remember when I was looking for a new apartment after my divorce and the realtor was showing me the one bedroom apartments, but I thought that it would be really great to have a second bedroom for my office so I wasn’t squashed into a corner of the living room. It was only $400 more for the 2 bedroom apartment with water views but that was a lot of money for me then. I made the leap, took the 2-bedroom even though it scared me and then attracted the clients and the extra revenue needed to pay for it.
What is the best outcome of all this?
Peace of mind. I can take care of myself. I can take care of my mom. The influence I have on the world to impact people who in turn impact others. It is the ripple effect.
Interview excerpted from Coach Yourself to a New Career: 7 Steps to Reinventing Your Professional Life by Talane Miedaner (McGraw-Hill, April 2010). Order the book.