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Snagging Six Figures: From earning $54,500 in advertising… to coffee shop owner

The concept  ‘Snagging six figures’ was created after we had readers writing in asking for advice about how to use their degree and current job skills to launch into a different industry or career. We know that no one career story is the same, but telling the stories of others can challenge, inspire and shape your own. We are asking every interview the same five questions: 

  • Why they picked their course 
  • Their course experience
  • Their first job 
  • What they learnt
  • Their next step
  • And their advice

Name: Ally

Age: 24

From media agency account executive into coffee shop owner

Salary: From $54,500 at 24 to $91,000 at 26

My course:

I chose a Bachelor of Arts majoring in creative writing.

Course experience: (spoiler… I regret it)

I know “passion” is a concept everyone’s obsessed with at the moment. (I think social media gives us a skewed perspective that every job has to be the “most fun” job on the planet). Doing what you love is a privilege, rather than something that we should expect. Relevance? I think studying English with a major in creative writing is a privilege. It is something I am passionate about certainly, but a viable career? Maybe not.

To get a job with an creative writing major (that isn’t as an independent author) you need to adapt and evolve your skill set into the world of business and profit. You can look for a job in corporate communications, publishing and advertising but you will quickly realise that the people who are ‘successful’ in those industries have business backgrounds.

As a creative writing major you’re able to assimilate large amounts of information and coalesce it into a core idea; and no doubt, this is an extremely valuable skill. But while my degree imparted me with a critical eye, a neat skill of writing and the ability to negotiate ambiguity; these are skills I would have arguably pursued in my own time.

Perhaps better explored in an internship or short course? Maybe a more literal degree like business would have given me the ‘foot in the door’ at a job where I’d inevitably be able to use my love for writing?

Side note: I’ve since read the advice from handfuls of famous authors who say they believe creative writing courses stifle the creativity of budding writers.

 

My first job and the itch to move:

I felt that I wasn’t able to be creative working in a media agency. I felt like our team’s ability to be creative or innovative with brand activations was stifled by the complex approvals processes. Sometimes brands take so long to approve proactive concepts that the window for leveraging a real world event may have passed.

1.5 years into my career I was googling “How to quit advertising” about three times a week.

And I got nothing. Seriously? Surely SOMEONE has decided to move on from a career in advertising or media? Where are they hiding? I needed the Google machine to offer me advice, community, and comfort. It was failing me for the first time.

So I decided to write down on a piece of paper what I liked about advertising and for me it always came back to the brand.

I liked the idea of building communities. I liked challenging our brands to ask questions like, are you doing enough to make sure like-minded people can easily discover what you have to offer? For those that have found and follow you on social, are you giving them something that’s useful or entertaining?

I liked create content that connects with people and adds value to their lives, allowing brands to participate in the conversation as opposed to interrupting it.

I didn’t know what to do immediately in my career but I thought I’d start a newsletter and Instagram community built around my enjoyment for cooking as a way to distract myself from obsessing over my career trajectory.  I saw cooking more as a hobby at this point and something I could do even if I had another career. I was very interested in nutrition, and I always cooked for friends and at home.

I was cooking a recipe every second day from cookbooks and magazines and posting them on an Instagram that I made and including food photos and recipes in a newsletter. My list of subscribers at first were just my friends. Over about 3 months I had a lot of subscribers, and I had a very engaged group of subscribers.

What I learnt:

My advice for anyone looking to build a community online today is to consider the relationship between scale and impact. If you want impact, you often don’t need scale. You can have a small community of really engaged and like minded people and have more cut through with those 5,000 people than you would have if you were trying to “be something for everyone” with an audience of 30,000.

My next step:

At this point I had been cooking from recipe books and posting my recipes for about 8 months and I had a community of 12,000 people. But there was a huge leap between “I like cooking” and “I’ll make cooking a way of living”.

My friend asked me to cater an event and that was the first time I cooked with responsibility, with real responsibility. I thought, I think this is what I want to do, I want to cook, but I want to read all my life. I want to be doing this. I want to cook for others, I want to have the responsibility of organising a meal.

I decided I wanted to open a small coffee shop.

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I never realised what that implied, the amount of responsibility, the amount of work, the amount of discipline. At that point I felt that I worked a lot, but I didn’t have responsibility.

My next step

All these things change when you become an owner and have your own place. Maybe if I realised that I would never have done it. Because I thought, I’ll have my small restaurant and do my things, do this and do that. I never realised the reality of it.

I got a bank loan for $40,000. I rented a space near a train station, which was hardly my dream location, but I decided that I’d concentrate on coffee sales at first and then add on take away food options. This was probably the best decision I made. Coffee has a great return on cost, where as food is harder to make a margin on. I stupidly took the loan out before I had a solid business plan; you should be ready to go when you get the money. This was a stressful stage.

I researched local coffee roasters and found a company where I could lease the machine and buy the coffee without a minimum order. Then I did a few barista courses. It was like my life had taken a completely different direction overnight. If I did it all again I would have worked a few weekends at a local cafe to learn the ropes on someone else’s time, rather than learning on my own time. 

I was lucky that I was targeting commuters, they are more forgiving and easier to target. Their choice to buy off you is completley dependent on their schedule and if they have time to spare. The foot traffic paid my rent from month one which gave me the breathing space to build a business plan. Within 5 weeks I started offering packaged lunches that my regulars could buy on the way to work. I would make them in bulk the night before. In the first few weeks I was only preparing 30 to sell the next day, and once I got a handle on that I was making 50.

It’s been 8 months since that point now and I am standing on two feet, just!

I have big dreams for my coffee stand; I want the brand to grow big enough that I can open a café or a restaurant. I think there is a huge market for commuters and I am just working out the kinks of how to best leverage it.

I wanted to contribute to this site because I am an example of someone who has pivoted into a completely different industry. It took a huge pay cut and a huge risk, but now I am making more than I was in the agency.

My advice:

Write a business plan. Write down all of your costs. How much is coming in the door and how much you will need pay out every week. Learn about cash flow; there is nothing more stressful than a lack of liquidity.

I’ve also been surprised by how much I’ve learned about myself during this time, at first you will probably find it hard receiving feedback from people you are really close with. In traditional professional settings, sometimes people won’t push you to your max because of politeness or a lack of care. To be with someone who is so close with you that they’re like, “You could have stepped it up,” without a sugar coat. My advice is to embrace the constructive criticism.

 

The concept  ‘Snagging six figures’ was created after we had readers writing in asking for advice. Do you want to submit your story, or have a suggestion of someone you want featured? Email us: hello@thefootnotes.com.au

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