When Evan Fisher, now 33, graduated from Villanova University in 2009 with a dual degree in finance and international business, it wasn’t easy to get a job on Wall Street. The economy was in a recession.
After watching some of his very well-connected classmates struggling to find work in the U.S., the Newark, N.J. native decided to take a job offer in Geneva, Switzerland with Barons Financial Services, a boutique investment bank.
Fisher didn’t know at the time that his job would teach him a valuable skill that he would eventually turn into a million-dollar, one-person business: business plan writing.
In his six years with the bank, Fisher estimates he wrote about 1,000 business plans and around the same number of pitch decks. Through that constant practice, he learned exactly what investors wanted to know and put that knowledge to work for his clients.
“I never considered myself a writer, to be honest,” he says. “It was always about telling a very clear story in a specific manner for a specific audience.”
By 2015, one client, SIS Digital, noticed his talent for business plan writing and invited him to come on board to help raise capital and spearhead the company’s European expansion and sales strategy. Fisher stayed for close to two years.
Then the entrepreneurial urge struck. By September 2017, he went out on his own, starting Unicorn Business Plans, a business-plan writing firm in Atlanta.
The business grew quickly. Unicorn Business Plans brought in $107,000 its first year, hit $438,000 in year two and $1.2 million in year three, he says.
One reason for the fast growth is that he has delivered results. “We’ve had pitches go in front of Softbank nine times in the last 12 months,” he says. “Our clients have raised $2.1 billion.”
Unicorn Business Plans now part of a fast-growing trend: the growth of million-dollar, one-person businesses. The number of nonemployer firms—those with no employees except the owners—hit 41,666 in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau —up from 26, 744 in 2011, an increase of nearly 48%.
How did he grow the business so quickly? Here are his strategies.
Master your craft. Launching a startup in an area where you already have expertise can help you build momentum quickly. In Fisher’s case, he knew from his work at the bank that investors needed three crucial pieces of information, and he covered them in each plan:
· Does the business model make sense?
· Can this business sell its products or services and make money?
· Is there an opportunity to finance the business?
“If those three things are true, you have a very strong chance of raising capital,” he says.
Fisher also knew how to tell the colorful stories behind the businesses without rambling, so investors didn’t lose focus. “Distilling is exactly that—cutting out things that are not relevant and making the plan exceptionally clear, so it cannot be misinterpreted,” he says.
Focus on a niche you can own. Before creating his profile on Upwork, Fisher looked for a speciality where he had a shot at truly standing out. After studying the market, Fisher concluded that it made sense to focus on business plan writing, even though his business writing skills could conceivably be applied to other types of projects. That way, he could avoid competing on pricing—a practice that drives many freelancers’ rates down to a point that they are not sustainable.
“You need to pick a niche you want to be number one in,” he says. “If you’re not actively working every single day to be the best, you are going to have to play the pricing game.”
Make it a team effort. Fisher realized that to deliver the high-quality results that clients wanted, he needed a team. He looked for other freelancers in Upwork who had complementary skills. “The first person on the team was a designer,” he says. “I would write and she would design.”
He later expanded to hiring people who did accounting and back-office support work. Eventually, he hired someone to help him with writing. “It grew from there,” he says.
Fisher has organized the business so his team members can tackle projects remotely from wherever they happen to be. “If you work your best on a beach in Fiji and you have a reliable Wi-Fi connection and can deliver super-high-quality work, go for it,” he says. “I want you working your best in the best place for you.”
Today the firm’s extended team includes 12 people, all freelance. He has deliberately kept the business to boutique size, to make sure he has control of the client experience. “We tried to keep it as tight-knit as possible,” he says.
Select clients carefully. When he first set up his profile on Upwork, Fisher received between one and three invitations a week to talk about projects with potential clients, but as his firm’s reputation grew, that number hit about 15.
Fisher saw that he couldn’t possibly take on every client who wanted to work with him. He decided to focus on companies that are looking to raise $5 million to $50 million, an area where he is very experienced.
“When you make sure you are only working with people you can crush it for, that’s what makes for a great working relationship,” he says.
To make sure he can deliver the best results, he looks for clients with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn—qualities that will allow them to be successful in raising capital.
“Ultimately, it’s about ‘Can you work with other people?’” he says. “If you can’t, how are you going to be perceived if you are asking for millions of dollars?”
He also pays attention to how potential clients present their business concepts. “You may have the most wonderful idea on paper, but if you can’t talk me through your business and have me understand it, you’ve lost me already,” he says.
Over time, Fisher has also learned to avoid potential clients who tend to create drama. “It slows everything and everybody down,” he says.
Ultimately, he knows that when he creates a plan, he has to step aside at a certain point. Industry regulations prevent him from calling an investor on a client’s behalf. Selecting clients who can make a positive impression on their own gives him confidence that his business plans will make it into the right hands and contribute to a successful financing round.
Adjust prices to meet market demand. When Fisher first got started, he charged $2,500 for a business plan but soon concluded he was undercharging. “It is a lot of work to put together a financial model and a plan around that,” he says. “I quickly realized I would burn out.”
To give clients the time each plan required, he decided he needed to charge more. Gradually, he raised his prices, and today clients pay more than $10,000 for a plan. He does not accept equity as payment for his services or negotiate prices with clients.
“The moment price starts to become really important to someone, we’re not a good fit,” he says. “You can dine on steak at Sizzler or Kobe beef. We’re not Sizzler.”
Make the most of video marketing. Although Fisher’s business began on Upwork, word-of-mouth soon attracted a variety of other customers. “People talk to one another,” he says.
To attract more clients who are a good fit, Fisher and his team interview existing clients who have raised capital on recorded Zoom calls to create video case studies. “We look at how they did it and what has been most effective for them,” says Fisher.
They have rolled out the videos during COVID-19, posting them on the company’s website. Since the campaign launched, sales have been up 80%, he says. “Some of the things they entrepreneurs have done are absolutely mind-boggling,” says Fisher. “It turned into a piece of referral business for us.”
Ultimately, Fisher has found, the more his clients succeed in their goals, the more they talk about his business and the more quickly it grows. “By focusing on making sure our clients are as successful as they can possibly be, that produces its own success,” he says.
social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #flipboard https://www.forbes.com/sites/elainepofeldt/2020/08/30/he-built-a-million-dollar-one-person-business-that-helps-startups-raise-cash/