In 2016, Queen was doing freelance work in the healthcare field and struggling to make ends meet. She wasn't working full time, didn't have company sponsored benefits, and was making just over $~2,000/month. Worst of all, she didn't feel challenged or fulfilled by her work.
Today, Queen works a customer success consultant in the Bay Area making 3x more than she did a few years ago. She consults with startups to help improve the customer experience and usability for the company's product in order to maximize value for its customers.
In this interview, Queen walks us through her journey from one of the lowest points in her life to one of the highest. We're going to cover:
+ How Queen got around the black hole of applying online by sending cold emails to CEOs and by leveraging Upwork (the freelance platform) to find opportunities at companies that other people overlooked
+ The tools & process Queen used to identify influencers (CEOs, founders, etc.), find their contact info, and actually get responses from them
+ The exact process Queen used to identify pain points at the companies she wanted to work for, as well as the process she used to craft solutions and present them in a creative way
+ Queen's two pieces of advice for anyone struggling with their job search
Full Interview Transcript
Austin Belcak: Hi everyone. Welcome to another Cultivated Culture Success Story. I have Queen Joseph with me here. Queen, thank you so much for joining me tonight.
Queen Joseph: Thank you for having me.
Austin: I'm super happy that you are here because I'm really excited to share your story with everybody here. Before we get into it, tell us a little bit about yourself and where you're at these days.
Queen: I'm in Northern California in the Bay Area. I'm a customer success consultant. What I do is I work with startups and I help their customers use the products, so they get value from the product. Sort of like Account Manager, Client Manager and Customer Support all rolled into one. I've been doing that for the last maybe a little over a year. Right now I'm working with a couple of startups here in the Bay Area. One in on a full-time, the other one is part-time. Just working with the team.
Austin: Awesome, that's fantastic and it hasn't always been this way. We talked I think it was a couple of years ago now at least one probably. You were definitely in a different spot. I know you were looking to make a change. Tell us a little bit about that. What were you doing then and also what kind of sparked that need to make a career move?
Queen: What sparked the need at the time, I believe it was maybe in 2016, probably in the summer of 2016 when I reached out to you. I signed up for your email. I can't remember where I found your article, but I started getting your email. At the time I was working a freelance, I was doing freelance work, working in the healthcare field. My background is mostly I worked mostly in health insurance, but at the time I was doing freelance work. I wasn't employed full-time. I had left my full-time job of seven years to do freelance work and I was working with medical providers.
I felt that the work wasn't fulfilling. I still wasn't filling fulfilled in my work and I was still bored. I was getting clients that wasn't paying me. [laughs] I was getting clients that wasn't paying me or I'd get a contract and the contract will end. It was just one thing after another after another. I was doing what I could to do freelance work. Looking for a full-time job in a medical field, in a healthcare field and also, working part-time in retail. I was barely making it.
At one point, I was living in a hotel for a couple of months. Then when I finally got an apartment, I didn't have any money to get furniture so I was sleeping on the floor. Those are the pictures that I sent because I knew if I take a picture of this place that I would never be back here. I was making maybe, at the most, probably $2,400 a month. Which isn't a lot. [laughs] Wasn't a lot of money so it was a very tough time.
I didn't want to make a change until there was a– I started working with a health tech company in New York and they were a startup at the time. That was my sparking change in changing my career, going from the healthcare field to working in the tech field. I didn't know how to go about doing that, so I started getting more resources and research. Then I would apply to jobs and no luck. [laughs] I was living in Florida at the time. Yes, there's no luck there.
I worked with that company for about eight months and they're no longer in business, but it was a great experience. That was my really, I was like, “Okay, I really want to work in the tech field. I don't want to work in healthcare insurance anymore.” That was my change and that was the spark, that started the journey and the ball rolling and tried to get there. It was a lot of applying for jobs online, not hearing back. I was still doing freelance work, but I was trying to find a job, appointment job and I was having no luck. [laughs] Yes, it was a very tough time.
Austin: Definitely. Yes, I can't really imagine 2,400 bucks. I've been in a similar situation and I know it's not a lot of fun. That feeling like you get that one bill that you weren't expecting and it ruins your whole month really. The need to get out, that drive really builds and builds and then– I don't know if you felt this, but I hit a tipping point where I was like, “All right, I need to really kick this into high gear. I need to forget about everything else, I need to do whatever it is that I possibly can do to get myself out of the situation and in a better one. You mentioned that this kicked off the journey, you were applying a lot of places, you didn't really hear back, what other challenges did you face or how did you at least overcome that first one? We could start with either one whatever you'd like. I don't know if there were more challenges beyond just applying online and not hearing back or if those arose later, but what was the next step there?
Queen: I think one thing I learned and the next step is when I was working on freelance and I was doing a contract position with the healthcare startup in New York and I was working remotely with them, I really loved what I was doing. I was in customer support and I loved what I was doing, but then once they didn't have enough funds to pay me, my contract, I only stayed with them ran for eight, nine months and then I was back on the market. It seemed like every time I would get something and then it would go away, but I knew I didn't want to go back to the health insurance field. I knew I wanted to work with a start-up in the tech space.
Some of the challenges I have was applying online and not hearing back. I sit back and started thinking– I would go on websites like Upwork and I see that there were startups on there that we're hiring for similar job roles. I said, “Well, I'll just continue to do contract work and I'll just be consultant. I started doing that and I will apply through submit proposals and I will win some proposals.
Another thing I did was something I learned from you was to cold reach out to founders or leaders at startup companies I was interested in working for. That's how I got the job where I've been at one of the contracts and what now I started working with them last summer.
One of the things that I reached out to them, it was, they had a job ad. I had to learn to get creative, pursue opportunities because there are so many opportunities everywhere, for instance, and I did this before, if you go on a website, let's say if you're interested working in a company and I went on to review, I looked at the reviews. I saw like customers were complaining about the lack of response time and knowing helping them. I put together something and gave my ideas and suggestions and sent that to the founder of the company of how to improve your customer experience, your customer service and they offered me a position.
I had a choice between that one and one of the contracts I'm working with now. Sometimes you have to take a different approach if you see opportunities that could be out reaching to them, not just applying in online and just waiting to hear back. I also try to market myself. I created a video and it's for marketing. I only tried for a couple of weeks because at the time I didn't have funds to be [inaudible 00:08:19] but I got response, but no jobs, but I did get some response and I did it on YouTube.
How I got where I'm at now is I saw a job ad and where the company I'm with now, they were looking for someone to do customer success to manage their customers to do HR, and business operations. They were looking for three different roles in one and I said to myself, “I'll just take the customer piece and offer my service to them and then they can have somebody focus on the HR stuff and human resource and business operations,” because to me those are three different types of jobs and skill sets.
I reached out and offer my services to them and they had never considered it, they never worked with someone in a contract role, they never worked with a consultant. They're based here in California, but they also have remote employees and I was living in Florida at the time. I reached out to, I think it was the vice president, now he's a CEO, but at the time he was a vice president and I reached out, offered my services. Couple months later he said, “Hey, we're going to need you.” [laughter] At first he was like, “I don't know, how does this work?” I had to explain to him because he never worked with anybody in a contract role, but that turned out to be an opportunity and they end up offering me a full-time position. I'm still with them to this day, sometimes you have to figure out ways to reach whether it be the hiring manager or whoever and the job posting. Not coming from an angle of being a consultant doing contract work, but it can be the same thing as somebody's looking for employment, because I've had a couple of opportunities here for full-time employment as well since I've been in California. Or at least in talks for full-time opportunities as well, sometimes it's taken a different approach.
Austin: Yes, definitely. I love much of what you're saying and I want to dive into some of it. I really like the point you made that this approach works for more than just the job search. If you want to be consultant on your own, if you're freelancing, if you decide to start your own business, you're going to have to, most likely, outreach and it's going to be cold and learning those skills now it's going to help you in your job search.
It's also going to help you in your career down the road just in general, the more comfortable you get with doing that. For you personally, let's start with how you found these contacts. Was it mostly on LinkedIn? Did you find them via Google? How did you go about finding the companies and the contacts to start?
Queen: The contacts I would look up on LinkedIn, there's also I think it's Clear Connect. It's a plug-in that you put in Gmail and you can search. If you have the company's name, it'll give you their email or their other profiles. There's another one called Hunter as well. There's a couple of them that I would try out and I would get their email because if you can find a contact person, especially the startup is easier to find who's hiring and who's offer the job versus if it's with a large corporation, sometimes it can be hard to find who was the hiring manager.
Don't email support or a generic email, email actual person. We get emails all the time for people, emailing support or general email addresses and it's like, “No, you need to find a person.” Find a contact person, but I used those two things. I think it's called Clear Connect and the other one is Hunter. I think it was those two. I would find their email addresses and email them.
Austin: Sweet, and how would you craft that email? Did you have a template, did you do some research on these people and maybe like personalize it a little bit, how'd you make that happen?
Queen: I think you have a template on there, but even though it's not used– I think I got some from you from the cold email, and then I did some research online. I probably sent out about maybe 20 emails first and no response before I start getting back to responses.
The one thing I found very valuable is when you're out reaching to somebody especially if they don't know you or don't anticipate, you have to show the value. For instance, if I'm reaching out to a start-up, I want to work with them and I'm not sure if they hire contractors or even if it's employee role, I don't want to say, “Hi, my name is Queen Joseph, I'm so excited to work with you.” It's like, “Okay.” They don't get no value from that. Even in a paragraph, if you can show whether you can save them money, I always use that. If I'm doing a contract role that I may charge a higher rate or a higher rate than what you would pay somebody, “But here's your cost savings to your company. That's how I can help your team,”
I use past experiences as well; how I helped another company or a testimonial. I've used that as well, but anything where you can show value if you are a product manager, if you can say, “Okay, where have you built and what is the financial revenue for that?” Any type of value can put into someone whether even if you're employed for looking for a full-time opportunity. I've learned that too and even if I'm looking for a job, I learned to put value.
I also learn how you said in your resumes, how to position your resumes as well because it makes a difference. While somebody's willing to pay you $6 dollars an hour to do custom support, where they probably pay that person in real life $20. It's how you approach it and how you carry yourself too as well.
Austin: Definitely. I'm smiling over here because I love what you're saying, this is like the poster child trial of what people should be doing. In my opinion and it's fantastic. Adding value is absolutely critical and I love that you came at these emails with the first paragraphs, you brought it up upfront. You also mentioned telling some of these companies how they could improve either aspects of their website or their product or some aspect of their business. What exactly did that look like? One, what did you focus on? Two, how did you research that, and three what was your deliverable? Was it just an email, did you do a deck, or did got an attachment there, or a video? What did that process look like from end to end?
Queen: For instance, one of the companies that I always wanted to work for and I chose this company where I'm at now over the other one. I approached them, I knew that I wanted to work with them. Actually, I wanted to do customer success work with them, and not customer support. I only saw opportunity for the customer support because I will go online, look at the reviews that people were leaving.
What I did was I did research, I was like, “What is the biggest complaint? “They were a small team, I think they maybe had 20 employees. I said, “What is the biggest complaint that customers are complaining about with the product?” The biggest complaint was the lack of slow response, it take days for customer support. Then they don't get a resolution to their issues. Those were the two biggest complaints.
I started thinking of ideas of how maybe, I don't know if they're using that, but here's some ideas they can use from different types of software, that your customer support team can use. Try to get this follow-up time, here's why it makes much better if you're getting back to a customer in a day versus five, six days because you're going to lose them.
It was just giving some ideas and examples of that, and my suggestions. I started thinking about that in my head, they were just based on past experiences and just saying, “Okay, this is how they can improve this.” That's how I wanted to approach how can I improve the customer experience and the customer service.
What I did was I put it all on Prezi. I used one of the little slides. I just created maybe two or three slides. I would put just information like, “Here's actually screenshots of customer reviews.” Then it's like, “Okay, here's my suggestions to improve your customer experience and customer service.” I just gave my ideas and suggestions, I sent that to one of the co-founders of the company, he gave me a call back. Turns out they did not have anybody dedicated to customer support. It was actually everybody in the team.
You never know a need that a company can have, especially if a start-up, unless you approach them or you see an opportunity, because they didn't have anybody. When they offered me a job at the time, I was in talks with the company I was in now, so I just chose this company. I would do it again.
Austin: Definitely. It's awesome the fact that you went out and found the customers themselves, and researched what they were complaining about, that's so powerful. A lot of people wonder, “How can I add value, this company has–” the perception is exactly what you just mentioned. We don't really know what's going on behind the scenes. We see the fancy website, we see the social profiles, et cetera and we think, “These guys have the resources. They have it together.” It could be a total dumpster fire on the other end, you have no idea.
The best way, if you can't figure out a way to add value, if you feel like you don't have value to add, for anybody listening, one of the best things you can do that I've seen a number of highly successful people who've gone through this process like yourself, Queen, what they did was they went and found the customers, and they asked the customers. Either some people have gone out and filtered through Twitter to find exactly what you were talking about, some complaints.
Some people have actually surveyed for big companies like Microsoft or Google, or Slack, we all use their product, so it's very easy to pull 10 of your friends, or a couple of your co-workers and get some data there. That's a great way to actually get the content you need to send it. I love the fact that you say you never know what's going on the other side. Just sending something is already putting you so far ahead of everybody out there, who's still just relying on online applications, resumes, cover letters, et cetera.
Bringing value to the table is so valuable. When you got the call back, did he immediately follow up with you? Did you have to send any follow-ups emails or was it like you sent it and he called?
Queen: It was three times.
Austin: Okay, so you followed-up with him three times?
Queen: Yes, three times and then the current company I'm working with now, I sent five emails.
Queen: [laughs] If you don't hear back in that first time– Also, if you can use some type of tracking so you know somebody's reading your stuff or if it's going out there to the place where lost emails go, but if you can track it, so you know somebody's open it. Be persistent, but don't be annoying. I don't like to annoy people. I always used to think like, “If I send it again, maybe I'll annoy them,” but sometimes people got stuff going on in their inbox that you don't know about and it's just a matter of just keep trying and keep sending.
I actually I just resent the same email until I got a response. It was just resending the same email and then finally, they responded and saying, “Hey, can I talk with you? I got your email, thanks for this. It's a really good idea. We're looking to build out our customer support team and we don't have anything in place.” When I talk with them on the phone it's like, “Okay, our customer support team is everybody, from engineers to the products,” and they don't have time. A lot of times they don't know anything about customer service and they didn't have a job advertisement for that. They hadn't got to that point yet.
Even if you approach somebody, you just never know. Even if you see a job online and you want to apply to it, it's just having in mind, “How can I bring some value?” The one thing I wish companies would do in their job description, I've only seen this maybe one time is with a company called Superhuman.
I was in talks with them recently for a job, but they put in their job description what they're working on and what they hope to accomplish. If you are an applicant it gives you some ammunition to how to approach your resume, how to approach in the interview and creating some type of document. Like if you have experience that they saying that we want to build out our customer support team and if you've got some experience in that, or if you can tell them what Robox to avoid or whatever, any information that proofs valuable. Even if you can't put down your resume, it doesn't have to be nothing fancy, just something you bring to them and you can spread out to be two pages.
People really appreciate when you can bring something else even some ideas or asking questions. That's another thing asking questions to see what their issue is. If you can't find out, sometimes companies don't want to tell you what their problem is and you have to dig out from them and see which is your issue because that makes it much more better when you're applying for a job or contacting somebody when you know if there's a problem, because every company has a problem or something they want to accomplish.
Austin: Definitely. You mentioned tracking your emails which I think is super powerful and I'm a huge advocate for that. What program did you use? Do you remember?
Queen: I used Boomerang. I still use them.
Austin: Boomerang is awesome. What was your rule of thumb? You mentioned being persistent, but not being annoying. Did you give yourself like five days is my cutoff, or three days, or seven days, or did you find a sweet spot there that you personally were comfortable with that was on the line of not too annoying, but staying persistent?
Queen: I gave it a week in between emails. I didn't want to send– I don't know if that was the right thing. I could have done maybe every other day, but if they get in my head, I might be annoying to somebody. I said, “Let me just do once a week without seeming desperate or annoying, but keeping it in myself–” I didn't know, I was like, “Okay, I don't know how many I'm going to send. I don't know if I'm going to send five, I'm not going to send seven.” I just did whatever I feel. If I feel like I should keep going, then I'll keep going, but if I feel like, “Okay, this might be enough, this might be a day, they're not going to respond.”
Don't be afraid. I never did this, but don't be afraid to call somebody too. Call a company. Especially if its a small startup, if they have a phone number listed, but don't be afraid to call.
Austin: Awesome. You did all this amazing stuff, you got the interview, what was the interview process like and how did you personally prepare for it?
Queen: With that particular job, where I sent them some ideas and suggestions, the first interview was with the founder and the second one was other members of the team. It was like I did three rounds of three interviews. Well, first one was over the phone and the other one were remotes using, I think it might have been Google Hangouts we used, Google Hangouts. It was just basically questions. The actual interview was actually good, because it didn't feel like they were just interrogating me, it was more or less of a juror conversation, because they were very interested in my experience and how I could help them. Because, again, they had never worked with anybody in a contract type role.
Even if they could have been a full-time position, I would have still considered it, it was just my approach to them was in a contract way. It was just a series of just questions, but it was more or less of my experience and how I can help them in the areas of their managing of customer expectations, customer support, customer service. They were also in a growth period, so the actual account management piece wasn't there yet, but it was more or less of taking care and helping their customers. That is what the conversation, mostly interviews was about.
Austin: Awesome. One thing I really wanted to ask you about it's coming at this whole thing as a contractor. I know that a lot of people out there want to have a little bit more flexibility over their time, maybe they don't want to be stuck full-time somewhere, maybe they're transitioning. How did you pitch yourself as a contractor versus a full-time employee for some of these positions? What were some of the angles that you took and the value propositions that you focused on?
Queen: The main value propositions I focused on is the money that they can save. I'm not closed off to working full-time, I've been working freelance since maybe 2013 and I left my full-time job in 2014 so I've been doing contract work ever since.
Am I open to? I would consider a full-time if it was a white position with the right company, I would consider. I'm a full-time position, but a contract is also a good way to get your foot in the door, I find it easier to me. It could be different to somebody else, but I find it easier to me to get my foot in the door at a startup or a company that I'm interested in if I come at them in a contract way.
If I present myself as a consultant, independent consultant, I don't work with agencies, nothing against recruiters or a third-party agency, prefer to work on my own and that's the way I approach them. It's showing value and then the money that they can save. I find when they say phrases like the company I'm working with now it's like, “Well, how does this work? We never work with anybody. We've never worked a contract, this might help us.” I originally was supposed to be there for three months so it just kept going and going and then until they offered me a full-time position.
It's coming at them in two ways, the values that I have and experience, what I've done in my previous roles so if you looking to build out a customer support team or improve customer satisfaction, or they're looking to improve on-boarding for their products or improve trial conversions, just giving them some values of previous experience. Also the second way of coming at it is the money that they could save with me being as a contractor. It also is an advantage because it lets you try out the company, so to speak.
Austin: I love it.
Queen: I was like, “Maybe I could work with them for six months,” and they can offer you a position, you just never know. I know maybe not everybody might not be interested in doing that, but at least you can move into a full-time position if everything works out. If they like your work and you like working with the team, it could work to your advantage.
Austin: Awesome. For the savings piece, how did you go about calculating that? I know you mentioned you might charge a higher hourly rate or a higher rate in general, but the bottom line would back out for the company. How did you do that math, what's the thought process behind that?
Queen: I did this online too, I did research online. When you bring on an employee, let's say they're $60,000, you're paying their insurance, that's just their salary, the base salary. If you're paying plus on top of that, you're paying overhead costs if you're in the office unless you're remote. Also, the insurance there's extra for insurance, the payroll cost. I send them invoices. There's payroll cost savings. I do my own insurance, so hey don't have to pay all the insurance and I have my own retirement. All that stuff that I do on my own versus if you go on full-time an employee, you're paying all of that.
Your expense could be 60,000 base salary, plus all the additional expenses for healthcare and all that. I'm just throwing out math. Maybe 80,000 that you end up paying for that one employee because there's a lot goes into it. It's not just the cost of the salary for an employee. I didn't know that until I was doing research. It's more or less of the additional cost and the flexibility as well. A lot of companies like the idea of being of being flexible.
I also learned how to do contract. That might be another conversation, but there's something that I didn't learn when I first started doing freelancing resulting in getting a lot of clients that wasn't paying or I wasn't screening people right to work. Just the cost savings of the pay role cost, the cost of medical, the flexibility, they don't have any overhead cost. I have my own equipment. They don't buy my own computer. If you get employee, a lot of startups, they give you a computer and all the stuff.
I didn't have a specific dollar amount, but I told them the ideas of, “Okay, this is what you can say.” In addition to adding value to your team and helping your team and your customers, also you gain a flexibility of, let's say if you need me for six months, because there're certain contracts I don't do anything less than six months. Say, “Okay, let's do six months,” and then you say, “This amount of money, you just pay me just the hourly rates.” If you negotiate the hourly rate, or a certain flat fee, or a monthly rate, it's however you negotiate your rate, but the cost savings is more of the administrative, HR, the equipment and also the healthcare expenses
Austin: Definitely. Thanks for laying that out because that's where I thought you were going with it, but for everybody listening, it's nice to hear the specific things that you thought of and the fact that a lot of it came from research. I'm always a big fan of really diving in and fully understanding what you're getting into. You've shared a ton with us. It's been incredibly valuable. Thank you so much, Queen. If you had one piece of advice for everybody listening out there who is not in a place that they want to be and they're trying to make that career move, they're in the job search, they're getting a little bit frustrated, what's your number one piece of advice for those people that they can take action on today to help them achieve their goals?
Queen: The biggest advice I can see and just tell somebody is, to me, it's 90% mental and 10% the actual work. What I mean by that is, I was in such a bad spot where I was feeling bad for myself, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I knew what I didn't want to do and I didn't know what's the charge of my worth. I think the biggest thing for people is to forgive yourself for all the mistakes that you think you made. I was like, “Okay, I left for a job for seven years and here I am doing contract work. Who does that?” I actually love what I'm doing. Even if I was doing it for a full-time employee, it's just finding what you like to do and what you're good at.
I know that I love working with people and helping people in solving problems. If I'm staring at spreadsheets all day, that bores me, but if I'm interacting with people, I come alive. I had to find work that aligns with what I'm good at and my personality and the lifestyle that I wanted. that's number one.
Then, also forgive yourself. If you feel like you're stuck in your job and you don't like your job, don't hate yourself for it, use it. That's actually a blessing because it gives birth to new ideas to where you're going next.
The third thing is to focus. Focus, focus, focus. Don't be distracted of where you're at. If your job, your situation, whatever it is, just focus on what you want. Make the goals to get there; the action. Just like you said, everything you do should be, “Okay, is this towards my goal ?” Write down your goals. I was sleeping on the floor, I wrote down my goals in my bathroom where I saw them every morning and also in the wall above where I slept. That was my goals that I wrote out and I sent you a picture of. I said these are my goals. I didn't worry about how I was going to get there, I just knew that it's going to happen.
Don't be afraid to do things differently. I know a lot of job, Career Resource people on LinkedIn, everybody else tell you to fill your resume with keywords, fill your LinkedIn profile with keywords, that's the only way you're going to get a job, and I'm here to tell you that all of my best jobs and experiences have been when I stepped outside of the box. Don't just rely on you doing your resumes and submitting stuff to the black hole and then waiting. You keep going until you get a job offer.
Don't be afraid to network. If you in the city, like when I came to California, there's so many on meetup.com , there's so many networking groups for customer success that you can join even if you don't want to work in customer sets. Say if you want to be a product manager or whatever or marketing, join those groups. Even if you don't work in or you don't have experience, join those groups because you can meet people there, your next job opportunity could come from that. Don't be afraid of doing things differently.
Austin: Awesome that's like a five for one value deal right there. I love it.
Queen: [off mic] – down to one, but it's like all of them together. It's doing all those things together and just really, don't be afraid to do things. If I had to sum it up in one, is don't be afraid to do things differently. That's it.
Austin: I like that one, that's my favorite too. I think thinking outside the box, stepping outside of the norms, what everybody else is doing is always good. Queen, thank you so much for joining me tonight, I really appreciate it. Thank you for sharing your story, your knowledge with everybody out there, I know it's going to help people benefit. We'll talk to you soon.
Queen: All right, thank you. Have a good night.
Austin: You too. Take care. Bye.
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