[Self-care for Boss Women] Carrie Kramer: Getting Through the First Year Building a Consulting Business

January 23, 2019


Carrie Kramer has over 12 years of experience in digital advertising with a heavy focus on data, technology and consulting.


Her experience is split between working at an agency (Starcom) and technology sales consulting. She has led multiple technology and consulting teams over the last six years and played a critical role in educating and training sales organizations at previous companies.


Now the CEO and Founder of Refine, Carrie works with media, data and technology companies to train, educate and up-level sales organizations in digital advertising in an effort to drive more revenue and stand apart in a constantly evolving marketplace.

Sophie: Congrats on your first year in business with Refine, your digital advertising sales consultancy! What led you to make the leap and found your own company?


CK: Thank you! It seems crazy to think I am now in year two! I decided to start my own company for many reasons, one of the biggest being timing. My former employer (digital technology company) was acquired in mid 2017 and after a few months with the new company, I realized I was ready for my next opportunity. After having numerous discussions, it was noticeable that most opportunities for a sales engineer were located in New York or the west coast. Since I was looking to stay in Chicago, I saw an opportunity to offer sales engineering solutions on a contract and consulting basis. The need and time felt right so I decided to make the jump!


Sophie: Was that first year what you expected?


CK: Absolutely not! Once I thought of the idea, I moved quickly and didn’t think through all of the details or do as much research as I should have. Once I officially was out on my own, it took much longer to get up and running than I expected. I was having great conversations and people were extremely interested, but they didn’t have the budget for this type of support, or budgets were cut, or they couldn’t get approval from higher levels. So, I was having a harder time in the beginning converting conversations into actual work.


Sophie: Did anything surprise you?


CK: Yes, many things surprised me along the way but one of the biggest surprises was the amount of structure I personally need in order to stay motivated. In the beginning, I would get caught up in having coffee with friends, doing housework, running errands, etc. which meant I wasn’t getting as much work done as I needed. I craved having a true office space like I was used to for the previous 12 years of my corporate career. Once I “built” more boundaries, I became much more focused, energized and motivated to truly jump in and build my business which allowed me to start finding the right clients to support! Here are some things I did to help build those boundaries:

- Made a dedicated office space: Often times, I was just sitting at my dining room table or on the couch which made me too comfortable, leading to less motivation. Now I have an office space in our second bedroom that is away from TV and other distractions. I shut the door when I go in there so I don’t even think about the things that may need to be done outside of my “office.”

- Block times on my calendar: When starting your own business, you are everything (the sales person, the financial person, the doer, etc.) and there are likely going to be tasks you do not enjoy. I kept pushing those things off which was holding me up. Now, I block time in my calendar for those tasks. I think of it as an appointment that I wouldn’t cancel or miss and just get the task done. It has helped in so many areas to keep me moving.

- Morning routine: For so long, I would sleep in and just roll out of bed before starting work. I was completely skipping a morning routine which I had done for 12 years. By skipping a morning routine, I was not fully awake and ready for my work to start. I slowly tested out what was going to work for me and now have a very similar routine every AM: get dressed, brush my teeth, grab my coffee, write in my five minute journal and meditate for 5-20 minutes. Once this is done, I am ready to truly begin my day. Sometimes I add in a workout in the AM as well (depending on my schedule), however I much rather prefer working out in the afternoon or night as I personally don’t get as good of a workout in the morning.


Sophie: I often hear that the first year is the hardest. What obstacles did you come across and how did you handle them?



- One of my biggest obstacles was myself. When you are out on your own, it is very easy to doubt yourself, feel “imposter syndrome” and continually ask, “why did I leave a good paying job?” It was critical for me to find people I could co-work with, old colleagues I could call to run an idea by, a group of amazing female entrepreneurs to connect with and a business coach. Having these resources helped me get out of my own head and believe in myself and what I was doing.

- Figuring out all of the business set-up requirements like filing an LLC, whether or not to trademark, getting a business bank account and the list goes on and on. For my first year, I wanted to run a lean business so I didn’t want to hire outside companies to do this work for me. One by one, I tackled the different pieces and I didn’t always get it right (didn’t fill my LLC paperwork out correctly — whoops). But I learned from these things and now I know what to do and my business is up and running because of me, not because of someone else.

- Not quitting. There were many conversations with my husband and good friends where I just wanted to throw in the towel. Thankfully, they would not let me do that as they knew I had a good idea, they knew I could do it and they pushed me to keep going!


Sophie: Looking back, would you do anything differently?


CK: Yes! So many things. However, the number one thing I would have done differently is to not put a timeline on my “success/revenue” goals. I originally said I would try this out for 6 months and if I wasn’t making a decent salary, I would look for a corporate job again. The problem with this is 1) 6 months is not enough time to start and build a business, 2) I was constantly thinking about my fall back plan which meant I wasn’t as focused on building my business and 3) it took away a bit of my passion because I knew I could always get another full-time job. In year 2, I am not thinking about a fallback plan but truly focused on growing my business and being the best partner for my clients. Changing this mindset removed unnecessary pressure and has allowed me to showcase my passion and focus on the clients I am working with.


Sophie: What skills and personal attributes helped you get through this first year?



- First, my reputation has been a tremendous help. Early in my career, I always called people back, I took meetings and I was politely straightforward on whether or not there was an opportunity. This built a respect and a rapport with many people that has come back to help with my business. I had one contact follow up to my outreach to say “He would be happy to take my meeting because I was always willing to take his years ago.” Now if that doesn’t showcase “what goes around, comes around” I am not sure what does.

- Second, having 12 years of prior corporate experience has enhanced my skill set. In the first year, many people said “well your business is still so new” that we are going to look to someone else. I was able to rebut this with the fact that while my business was new, I have been doing this work for years and was able to share examples and approaches I had previously used.

- And third (there are many more but I don’t want to list them all!!), is perseverance. When starting a new business, you will probably be told “no” 100 times before you are told “yes” once. But that one yes means SO MUCH MORE than it ever did in my past corporate life. Every yes just gives me even more of a push to hustle and produce the best work for my clients as possible.


Sophie: How did you keep your spirits up when the going got tough?


CK: Luckily, I have an amazing support system inclusive of my husband, family and friends. I also have several close girlfriends who went out on their own (other businesses) around the same time as me so I started a monthly entrepreneur group for us all. It is a time to learn from each other, push each other and support each other on a regular basis. I also went to therapy for the first time in my life and it really opened my eyes to the way I would speak to myself. This self-doubt from within was holding me back. While I can’t say I never have self-doubt anymore, I am my own cheerleader more often than not! All in all, if you surround yourself with the right support, you can keep pushing through the tough times and come out better and stronger!


Sophie: Do you have any advice for fellow female entrepreneurs?



- Stop thinking about ‘imposter syndrome.’ YOU made the leap because YOU had a great idea, because YOU have an amazing background, because YOU believe in yourself. So, trust all of those things and the reason YOU originally decided to do this.

- Stop comparing yourself to someone who has been doing something similar to you for much longer. They are in a different place than you are. Learn from them, look up to them, gain knowledge from them but do not compare yourself to a company that has been around for 10 years when you are just getting starting.


Sophie: Have health and wellness played a role in the success of your company? How do you take care of your mind and body?


CK: More than I could have imagined! Being my own boss, means I create my hours and schedule. Building in time to work out, whether it be at 7am, 11am or 8pm, is now part of my schedule at least 5 days a week. I previously traveled weekly for my job, so working out was always on the back burner, but that has since changed. I get so much mental clarity from this activity, which I then channel into my business. When I get stuck on a task, I will take a break, go workout and then go back to what I was working on. Generally, this break and rush I get allows me to dive right back in with a renewed focus and energy. Also, working with a therapist last year helped my health and wellness journey a ton. It is amazing how talking about your doubts can ultimately help you gain the confidence you need to push yourself and your business forward! My health and wellness journey (as well as my business) is a work in process… and that is ok! The tools and techniques I have built and put in place in my first year will only enhance and push me even further in year two!


Connect with Carrie on LinkedIn or via email at carrie@refineconsult.com


About the author:

Anne-Sophie Bousset ("Sophie" to English-speaking friends), is a freelance marketer and community builder. She helps companies build their brand, attract clients, and build a community around their product. Her favorite things include sunshine, yoga, reading, and lazy Sundays in with her cat, Phelps. She can be found on Twitter @Sophie_Bousset.

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