When opportunities present themselves, you have to seize them. Experts are experts because they have their expertise and the authority in their area, and that’s what creates the advantages. That’s what creates opportunities, like taking in eight figures in six months. Strategic brand advisor Jen Kem says your advantage comes from inside of you. Sometimes, you have to create the opportunity yourself and build around it.
After leaving a six-figure career at Verizon, Jen turned on her brand eye and saw an opportunity in the marketplace that’s being underserved while spending time at the airport. After noticing that women had no place to buy proper undergarments in Hawaii, she opened the first women’s undergarment boutique in Hawaii which could not keep one piece of anything in stock the minute she opened the doors. Jen takes us through the journey of building an eight-figure per year business.
Listen to the podcast here:
8 Figures In 6 Months: How To Become A Machine with Jen Kem
I had the interview with Jen Kem. We had so many excellent conversations. This ended up being a lot longer than I had anticipated. We only got to discuss about two years of her fourteen or fifteen-year entrepreneurial journey and we talked about so many different things. If you’re a coach or a consultant, if you are looking to start your own retail business, we talk about so much stuff inside of this episode.
You are absolutely going to love it. I focus on opportunities seekers, how people discover opportunities, and Jen has such an amazing story about how she was able to pivot and launch an eight-figure business within six months of leaving a multi six-figure career at a Fortune 500 company. You are going to love this episode. When you get to the end, connect with Jen and let her know that you heard this episode and that you appreciate it and let her know how much you loved it.
Jen, welcome to Experts Unleashed.
Joel, I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
We got introduced through a mutual connection, Selena Soo, who was our very first guest on our show. When she introduced the two of us and we had our first introduction call, we got to know each other, we talked about a couple of things. I’m like, “Jen, this is going to be a fantastic episode. I cannot wait until we have our own podcast show because this is going to be a lot of fun.” Let our audience know who is Jen? What is she doing? Tell us a little bit what your current business is.
I am speaking to you from my sunny perch here in Honolulu, Hawaii. I do run my companies from Hawaii, which is a little different. Most people choose the bigger areas to do what I do, but that’s because I am a bulky wife and mother of three children aged 21, seventeen, and three. I’m a pretty busy human and what I do is our company helps brands get seen, heard, and paid. Our three arms of our companies are, we have one arm that services just the corporate segment, so companies like Verizon, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Bank of Hawaii, bigger firms like that.
Then we have a training and development company that helps start-ups and entrepreneurs and business owners apply the same brand principles that bigger companies leverage into their business and right for their business. Right in between that, we have an agency in implementation arm that does full brand experience strategy for both sides of the business. We have done-for-you services, that’s the third arm of the company. I have three companies and two COOs who are amazing. You can tell I’m a little busy but I love to read, I love to shop, I love to travel the world, and I’m excited about how my life looks now. I worked hard to make it so that I could be a CEO and a present family member inside of my family. That’s who I am.
It’s so awesome to hear how other people run their lives and obviously, everybody’s busy. You are incredibly busy, incredibly successful, the mother of three children, and running multiple successful businesses throughout your career and your professional career. As my audience knows, this show is all about the opportunity, how experts have discovered opportunities throughout their careers to lead them to where they are today. I want to rewind. Here is Jen, super successful today. I want to rewind back to about 2006. You were a super successful executive working for Verizon. Tell me a little bit about when you decided to start to do things on your own. What was happening when you were still working at Verizon?
I loved my job at Verizon. This is the part that interests people a lot because I love my job. I ran business-to-business marketing and strategy for the office, the West Coast region of Verizon. I was in-charge of a billion-dollar budget. I had incredible people working for me. I’m not going to lie, I really liked my job. I didn’t love all the things that held me to the job because I can be quite a rebel in that way, but that also served me inside of the organization because in 2005, when I was doing that, we had a lot of initiatives that were coming to market, new ones. Verizon is a technology company. People think of it as telecommunications but it is a technology company. They wanted to bring new things to market.
What I’ve learned in my career prior to that is I was the gal who would always take the crappiest projects on purpose because number one, I love a challenge. I fed that motivator for me, but also it gets you noticed inside of the company. I did get to an elevated state pretty early in my career, which is not as likely, at least these people told me that. Part of that was because I took on projects that were new and risky inside of organizations. By the time in 2005, I had reached my goal, which was to lead up one of the major arms of strategy and marketing, which runs the company.
Most companies, their strategy and marketing department normally is the one that sets all the, all the goals for the company and the KPIs. I was proud of that. I was running B2B and I had a counterpart who was running B2C, business-to-consumer and he’s awesome. We’re still friends. What got me to decide that I needed to leave was I found out by accident that he was making $100,000 more than me. It was devastating internally for me because it felt unfair. One of my motivating brand values is justice.
My five-brand values are autonomy, justice, generosity, love and excellence. It offended every part of my value system, but I knew that I didn’t want to leave without a proper strategy in hand because I didn’t want to burn my bridge because I had worked so hard for that. I wasn’t mad at my counterpart. It wasn’t his fault with this form of injustice or unfairness that happened. Did I try to get paid at the same? Of course, I did. It didn’t happen. My whole thing was if I can’t control this, then the only thing I can control is myself and my own value system.
Back to autonomy being my leading value, I said, “I have more autonomy here. I don’t have the freedom to control my future.” Therefore, I made a nine-month plan to exit and I did that. A lot of people either get pissed off if they’re working in a company and then they either burn their bridge or they stay in the fear of never leaving because they have too many obligations. I had two young daughters at the time and so there were a lot of reasons for me not to leave. I went to make sure that I was doing it as smartly as I could, so I took nine months with an exit plan.
I know what you do now in your business when you described what your current company is, but the reason why you left to become an entrepreneur, your own business person, is not necessarily because you wanted more. I didn’t ever hear those words, but you left because it was a violation of values. What I know about branding experts is they are big on establishing what your core values are because that translates into the language of your marketing. That translates into everything. I saw that connection. I thought it was important to point out, that you left because of a violation of your values and that’s what you’re doing today for other companies.
I feel like the most successful entrepreneurs or business owners, if you’re going to go and do this which is one of the bravest things I believe anyone can do, if you live in your values, then it’s hard to be wrong with the massive action you have to take to live in those values. Realizing that autonomy was my top value, it was like, “I’m not meant to work for someone,” because autonomy is your highest value, like anybody telling you what to do.
In 2005, you discover that your counterpart is making $100,000 more per year than you are. You attempt to go get that same salary, doesn’t work. You’re like, “Red Flag. I got to start to look for something else.” What ended up being that leap that you took and how did you get there? How did you discover this opportunity that you took?
It comes back to my brand eye, the ability to see opportunity in the marketplace that’s being under served and deciding to step into it even if you fully don’t know the answer. I flew on planes a lot at the time. I still do, but for different reasons, but between Dallas and where I was because Dallas is where their headquarters are. My nine-month exit plan, all I thought about was I need to open my eyes and start looking at what’s happening around me because I was still myopic in the business that I was in, the company I was in and my KPIs and goals there, that I started forgetting to look at the market outside of that. I gave myself a little exercise to notice things, but especially on planes.
People show a lot on planes and in airports. I said, “I’m going to look at that and see what’s going on.” What I noticed was women, in particular, were coming off planes with one very symbolic thing. I was like, “That’s interesting.” It was a pink bag. This pink bag represents Victoria’s Secret and I was like, “Why are so many people getting off the plane in Hawaii with these pink bags?” Because there was no place to buy proper undergarments in Hawaii for women. You’d have to go to Walmart. We didn’t have Target at the time. We could have Macy’s at the time. We didn’t have Nordstrom at the time. This was not that long ago, but we didn’t have that. We had Costco and things like that. What it meant was when women get on planes, they would go to New York, LA, Las Vegas, Dallas and they would go and buy underwear. I said, “That’s true. I never buy underwear here.” I have two young daughters and I’m like, “Okay.”
I started doing my research and I started getting obsessed. I didn’t have a retail background, but I didn’t know how to bring products to market. The head of strategy and marketing is the go-to market person in a company. I know how to launch product. I knew how to brand product. I knew how to P and L a product to see if it had worth to become a minimum viable product.
I also knew, because I lived in such a geographically isolated place like Hawaii, that anybody who was the first mover here does very well. I was like, “I don’t know anything about women’s undergarments, except for the fact that I am a woman and I purchase those things, and I don’t want anything about retail, but what I do know are the basic how to bring a product to market.”
Notice what I do today, it’s all the same even though I’m a small business owner now or a smaller business owner because it’s all the same. It’s just right sized for the size of business in your market. That’s what happened. I made the decisive move to open up the first boutique around women’s undergarments and specialize in that. I studied the heck out of Leslie Wexner, who is the CEO of Limited Brands who owns Victoria’s Secret.
He’s a brand genius in the retail world. I thought he was missing the mark by not being in Hawaii. In their business plan, they’re a publicly traded company, so I read their SEC filings. They had no plans to ever come to Hawaii or Alaska, at least in the next ten years because they considered that international. They wanted to dominate the US and I thought that was hilarious because Alaska and Hawaii are part of the US.
[bctt tweet=”If you live in your values, then it’s hard to be wrong.” username=””]
I’ll just be here and when they do come to town because I knew that they would someday, I would have my foothold and there’s always room for two in the market even in a small geographical location. I would have been the first mover and I was like, “My brand experience is going to be epic.” I made the decision and I thought to myself, “Do I have this nine-month plan right?” I didn’t have the resources financially. I was making great money at Verizon and like I said, I had no reason to leave. I even had a parking spot with my name on it, for goodness’ sakes. I had all the ego things. The money was great, so I knew that if I was going to fund this thing, even a lot of people think that getting business loans are easy, they’re not.
Getting a small business loan is not as easy as people think and the only way to do it was to put up collateral, which was my house. I decided, “Why would I do that? Why don’t I just bootstrap and fund it myself without the loan?” Instead I sold my house and I took the proceeds from that and I put it into this first business. I opened the first ladies’ underwear shop in Hawaii.
The minute that I opened my doors, I could not keep it in stock. I could not keep one piece of anything in stock. I was literally stripped bare. The first week we’re in business, I underestimated how much inventory we needed. I underestimated how popular would it be, but I have created this buzz around it that it was opening because I know how to do all of those things. It was crazy.
I learned a big lesson in like, “I need inventory controls. I need somebody to help me buy the product. I need better connections to bring the product in. I need to find better economies as scale to ship it,” because it was very costly to ship anything over here. It’s a big part of why people don’t start businesses here because of just that alone. Then I quickly opened up two more stores. In six months, it made me a millionaire in my pocket, in addition to it being a multimillion-dollar business. If it was an eight-figure business in six to twelve months because literally, all I did is spend my time reading inventory. I felt like I spent all my time accepting stuff.
You’re telling me that the underwear business in just the state of Hawaii is an eight-figure per year business?
Yeah, at that time. It was perfect time, perfect place. Nobody’s selling it. Sure, it is now for Victoria’s Secret because they are here now and we also have Nordstrom and we also have Macy’s now. Twelve years later we have a ton of competition.
Eight figures in boutique underwear.
We need underwear. We wear them every day. Here’s the thing. I also had a lot of stuff going for me. Oprah Winfrey did a special on bra fitting and underwear the same year that I decided to go into the market. I was like, “This is divine. This is all perfect.” It was this perfect intersection. I felt that this is serendipity. I’m one of those people that I couldn’t believe it. I was overwhelmed. I don’t want it to paint this pretty picture of like, “You’ve got the luck factor. You’ve got it going for you.” It was extremely overwhelming. I had panic attacks, I had all kinds of things going on because the growth was so hard for me to control that I started to chip away.
I want to point out a couple of things and I want to dive deeper into one specific thing that you had mentioned. I focus so much on the entrepreneurs that I work with, business owners that I work with. In most of the people who are just starting out and getting their feet wet, focus on what you’re great at.
What is your expertise? How can you monetize your expertise, whether you’re selling your expertise as a coach or a consultant or you’re launching your own product-based business, but you’re still leveraging your skill set that you already know? You saw this opportunity from getting off a plane. People were importing their own underwear. They were traveling and importing their own underwear, so a huge red flag, huge green flag opportunity came up, not to mention all the other skill sets, like you’ve researched the SEC filings of your competitors.
You saw the opportunity, but there’s one thing that I wanted to focus on is you said that you knew how to bring a product to market. How did you know that? That’s what I’m seeing is probably your expertise that you brought from the corporate world and applied it into this brand. What did you mean by that?
Different industries and different products have different strategies for my tactics perspective, but not an overall underlying of what I call basic brands go to market strategy that is applicable whether you’re selling widgets or you’re selling vaporware. What I mean by vaporware is services. The basic principles of bringing a product to market are the same.
For example, Verizon, one of my biggest things that we have to sell the most were VoIP, voice over IP to businesses, managed services, security, all those types of things. In putting together a go-to market strategy for any product, we also supplied CPE or customer premise equipment to customers, businesses, whether it was their actual phones or even devices, modems, all the things to run companies’ technological backbone.
The go-to market strategy to do that is very similar to what you could do in a retail setting. It’s creating the relationships. Marketing and sales strategy inside of a company, their main partner inside of the company is the sales team. For me, it was always coming together and understanding what the sales team needs to be super successful with our customers and then providing scripts and strategies and incentives to make them happier.
For me, I took that same lesson and go-to market and I brought it to the retail. My first nine months, while I was doing my exit plan, who are the key partners inside of this marketplace I need to become friends with? Who are other business owners that are doing similar things that we could partner with? If they’re selling, let’s say women’s clothing or they’re selling women’s accessories, how can I become part of their ecosystem? Creating that relationship, they become quasi ambassadors/salespeople for me and were willing to become part of the hype of the go-to market.
Then secondly, who is the media? For example, in my job at Verizon, we had the marketing and sales departments. One of our main partners in go-to market is the media. How do we create a non-salesy way to get the media to cover topics, like why security matters in your organization? What are the breaches that are happening in the marketplace? We talked a lot about that, so we could sell our vantage services.
Then they would bring us on as experts, your experts podcast here, Experts Unleashed. They would invite people like me and the director of sales to come and talk about what are ways companies and people can protect their IP, protect their secure systems, things like that. For me, it was my relationship with the media, I went back to them and said, “I’m going to be doing this. Who’s the reporter or the journalist that I can become friends with there and make that happen?”
Then you have to look at the supply chain. Go-to market is not just about what’s on the surface, especially in internet marketing, which I notice that’s so interesting. It’s just about lead generation, which is absolutely important, but it’s taking it all the way through. That’s why brand experience matters because the brand is the true ecosystem of the business. It’s not just the marketing or even the visual representation of the front. It’s the way that people experience the crime and the stakeholders inside of that. The stakeholders include your suppliers. My whole goal with this go-to market strategy is in the execution of a great GTM, go-to market, it’s 75% of this planning that I’m speaking of. The rest is just doing it.
The next piece was the supply chain and being able to establish that I could get product when I needed it. What were the products that I knew would fly off the shelves? I did a little focus group and test group with a few of my friends who knew that I was up to this and I knew they were ideal clients because they all watched Oprah. They all were women executives.
I wasn’t looking for the basic consumer because I knew that my product was not going to be a cheap product. If they want cheap, they could go to Walmart and buy a six-pack of underwear. This is not the Hanes woman. She’s not the Hanes or a frugal woman. She’s the woman that goes to Victoria’s Secret and still feels like, “I buy it here because I have to.” I knew that I could come up with that premium conversation if I could test it out, and Oprah helped me with that.
That’s a proper go-to market plan, the right size for a small retail business. I took all the elements and then I said, “For this business, how do I warm the market up so that when I open my doors, at least we’ll sell at 50%?” My goal was just 50% of the store. I didn’t realize I’d be to the bones the first week we were in business. I was like, “I didn’t realize people wanted this so bad.” After you do a proper go-to market, you have to sustain. It’s like how you then maintain the momentum and that’s through advertising, brand partnerships, all those types of things.
When you launched, did you even think this was eight-figure potential within twelve months? Was that your goal or was it something different?
It wasn’t my goal.
Was it a lot smaller or was it bigger?
It was a lot smaller. I just thought, “If I can make $250,000 in sales this year, I’d be happy.” Back to my nine-month plan, I thought, “Because I know if I can do $250,000, I could probably 2x or 4x that the next year.” I had very conservative goals.
This is between 2006 and 2008 when you did your retail shop. What happened because you’re not doing retail anymore? 2008, what happened?
The economy crashed. Anyone who was especially in either real estate or retail probably felt the pain more than any other type of business owner at the time. If you weren’t a big company, even companies like the Limited Brands and other companies filed for bankruptcy during that time. You can imagine how hard it hit the small business owner who didn’t have the cash reserves that these other businesses had. I was at the pinnacle of my growth and my problem was is that I didn’t have enough financial depth because literally it was in and out. It’s a ten-figure business, at the time, three stores now.
I opened to them very quickly. I was on a path to open four more stores so that I could dominate this market and possibly even license it to go to other states because now we have a system, but I was in the right place at the wrong time in 2008 because I didn’t have the cash reserves. All my money was going to inventory. We couldn’t keep stuff in the store. It was crazy. My business definitely got affected severely by the 2008 recession of what was happening in the US at the time.
Tell me what happened. Did you realize you had to get out of retail?
It was a full meltdown, meaning I have to shut everything down. Everybody around me was shutting down. I was one of the last people that shut down. I was doing it based on my ego, not based on my business acumen. I was so stubborn around it. All of my advisors told me, “You need to shut it down before you lose more money.” I was losing money every day, like bleeding and hemorrhaging like everybody else was. Two years before that, sure, a woman’s going to buy a pair of underwear for $30. Do you think she’s going to buy that right now when she’s worried that her job’s going to go away or her husband’s job is going to go away? That was not happening.
It felt like I was in abundance and then literally the driest desert. I was in the Mojave. I was the same as many other people, and not just small business but go to the mall, it was the ghost town, like big businesses. I finally shut it down, liquidate and claim bankruptcy in the business, against my own ego but under the advisement of my advisors. It was the worst moment of my adult life. My ego was completely offended. I felt like a failure. I went through a period of six months after that happened feeling depressed. I’d never even knew what depression felt like until that moment. For six months I stewed in my depression or just being very mean to myself, “How could you make this not work? You’re smarter than that.” It’s a cultural thing for me.
When I tell people about my story, I had a lot of success. When you don’t have success, it’s sometimes harder because then you’re like, “What happened?” It was my first entrepreneurial venture. Even though I had all this experience in corporate and then I had such success in two years, that was my first big pill and it was a big pill to swallow. It wasn’t like I have a lot of counterparts who are clients and friends who are small business owners. They got to iterate their failure and success, what I call the rubber band effect, like, “This didn’t work. We pivot here,” I didn’t have to pivot up until that point. My big pivot was I got to lose everything, so it felt really depressing.
For six months I stood in my own pity party. It was my daughter, who at the time was ten years old, who came out because I literally sat on the front step of my grandmother’s house. I lost everything. I lost my gorgeous house, all my luxury things, and I had to go back and ask for a room to stay at my grandma’s house. We’re talking about full, straight up bottoms down. My daughter came outside, and she put her hand on my shoulder and she said, “Mommy, it’s time to wake up. You’re Jen Kem. You know what to do.”
Sometimes even now, I think about that moment and I get a little bit emotional about it because all the things that I’d done up to that point, I did base on my intellect and my gumption and my business acumen. In entrepreneurship, you have to remember that we’re human beings. Failure doesn’t feel good. That was the lesson I had to learn in that moment. From back then, the rest is history from that moment because that moment caused where I am now, CEO of three companies, service faced, very happy. This is not BS. I’m a happy person. I feel really good about my life. At that time in 2008 for that six months, going into 2009, I was the opposite of what this feels like.
During that six-month reflection, was your business shut down during these six months or was this all part of the process, like it took six months to wind everything down?
It was about three months that I just didn’t do anything. I just sat in my pity party.
What was going through your mind in terms of your next steps? What were you contemplating? You might not even have been planning. I can’t say I’ve been in such an extreme situation, but as an entrepreneur, I’ve gone through some amazing lows so I can definitely relate. During those three months when you weren’t “doing anything,” were you exploring? Were you brainstorming? What were you thinking about in terms of your next steps?
I wasn’t doing any of those things. I was vacant but is was that moment with my daughter that literally the machine went back on inside of my body. I’m not even joking. I needed the reflection from an outsider that cared about me. I was in reflection. My reflection was, “I suck.” That was my reflection. When she said that, the machine turned on again, the same machine that turned on when I was told that or found out by accident that that was making $100,000 less than my male counterpart and then that created my retail business. That moment literally made the machine go back and go, “If I did this over again, what would I do?”
The same process that I had described earlier about my nine-month exit plan, I did for basically the next six months after the first six months of depression. The next six months, my plan was this. I need to go back to basics and one of my first decision in that moment was I’m never going to retail again. Retail, I have mad respect for people in retail, especially small business owners. Unless you own the commercial property, it’s like having a job because the landlord is who you owe everything to. You’re bound into these really complex contracts and you have a lot of inventory that comes in and out, so you’re holding a lot of cashflow.
Cashflow in every business is king and all that stuff. In retail specifically, I wouldn’t choose that business model for me again even though it was a great moment in my life. That was one of the big decision points I made so I said, “I need to go back to services. If I could just make $100,000 in my pocket as a consultant, I would be happy.” I was making four times that as an executive at Verizon and then the light bulb went on. I was like, “I could get Verizon to pay me $100,000.”
[bctt tweet=”Brand experience matters because the brand is the true ecosystem of the business.” username=””]
This is all important stuff, but the whole goal of why I originally wanted Jen to come on was to have her explain how she landed her first service-based client, consulting client. Her previous employer was her first client and now is her best client. Let’s talk about that now. You spent six months planning after your six months of reflection and self-wallowing and hitting the bottom of the barrel.
The machine kicked on when your daughter woke you up and you’re like, “I’m never going to retail again.” That past is behind you and you said, “I’m going into services. I’m going into going into consulting.” You landed Verizon as your first client, but how did that process come about? What was going through your mind like, “I’ll just go pitch to my previous employer that I gave notice to two years ago?”
Here’s the thing about resistance. She or he, whatever you want to name it, is an interesting and funny friend in the business conversation. In my head, I said I could get them to pay me that, but instead of asking or putting my plans together to ask them for it, I said, “Let me go try it differently and try to get another client so I could show them how legitimate I am because I had this failure behind me with a business setting. They’re not going to think I suck.”
All this silly little lies I was telling myself. I hit the streets. I knocked on doors. I asked for any contract that gets to be a go-to market brand strategist inside their company and helping them. I said, “I’ll even do it for $5,000 just to get the first contract.” That wasn’t working very well because nobody knew me, and I tried that as a resistor point to ask Verizon, even though I had it in my head that I’m going to get them to be my first or my biggest client.
When I got past knocking on doors and getting rejected a lot, either way it was in the middle of the year so you might know that a lot of times, people make decisions around consultants or new projects, they’ll do it in the beginning of the year all the way up to about June. The only reason I consultant comes in in any time after that is because there’s a crisis that a company has overcome and a part of their business. I was at that place where I was a nice to have versus a need to have in terms of my services. I was like, “You’re making this too hard.”
After deciding I needed to prove that I was worth for three months of knocking on doors, I said, “I should just go back in Verizon and have a conversation with one of my allies there.” Sure enough, I picked up the phone, called one of my allies and said, “What’s rocking over there right now? What’s happening? How are you guys doing?” He was like, “You know how it is, Jen. We’ve got projects, we’ve got this, we’ve got that. We’re still struggling in this area. I wish you were still here.”
I said, “Okay.” They’re like, “You’d never come back, right?” I said, “To be honest with you guys, now that I have the taste of entrepreneurship, I’m not keen on taking a job,” but in the back of my head, being a mother, I knew that if I had to go back to work, I would. I had this plan B. My plan B was I’ll go take a job. I knew I was hirable but the question was, “Could I get them to pay me without being an employee?”
If you have an audience that are employees or former employees, one of the things that probably violated your values was that consultants always listened to more than employees. I was like, “I’m going to get all the things I want and get paid and I’ll get listened to, which feels really good, if I get it this way.” I said, “I’d like to come in and help with that,” and he was surprised. He was like, “You’d come back for that?” I said, “I’d come back as a consultant if you thought that that would support this project that seems to be not getting the momentum you want.” He said, “I’m going to go talk to the decision maker. I’m going to go talk to the business owner inside of a company and I’m going to talk to him. It may be stupid not to bring you back for a limited time.” I was like, “Yeah, perfect.”
I took the six-month project. I made the contract $100,000 exactly. Six months, $100,000, just to see if it would work and they said, “Deal.” They were like, what a deal given that I had all of that experience, that expertise before, and they had a gap. I didn’t have this elaborate plan to get back in, but I did use some of my context and some people will go, “I burned my bridge.” You might not have. A lot of people think they’ve burned bridges unless you went out completely in a blaze of glory that could have made the news or something. You have friends inside of a business and if you would just reach out to them and say, “I’m available. Who do you know inside the company that I could support?” It’s amazing what will turn on for you.
There are a couple parts of the story that I love. Number one was how you had this limiting belief like, “I don’t have the expertise yet to go land other clients.” What you were trying to do was go prove to your former employer that you had this expertise that your former employer was already paying you for. “I was making $400,000 a year at Verizon. We couldn’t see the forest, the trees, which was, “I must have had well over $400,000 worth of value because that’s what they were paying me,” but you took a step out. You’re out on your own. You’re a consultant.
You felt like you had to go prove to them that you were worth just $100,000 a year, so 25% of your value, you booked the contract for six months, so that was still 50%. These limiting beliefs like, “How do I go land my first client?” Quite literally, you just flip the script and turned into a consultant versus an employee and there it is. It can’t always happen as easily as that, but sometimes the opportunities are so close to us. They’re much closer than we think.
We make up a lot of stories that put barriers. If you’re an expert in any area, you are so smart, you outsmart yourself and then you make it harder. I certainly did for me. What’s interesting is I forgot that one of my super powers as a brand strategist is I always unpack and turn things on its side. That was my job. Here I was doing it naturally and didn’t even honor that that was one of my superpowers. I don’t want to come off like I was some type of like, “Look at me. Look at this like genius move that Jen made.” It was natural to me because I did that in my job. I’d always look at a different way like, “How do you launch something? How do you put it in front of people in a different way that they can’t see? How do I turn the old model on its side?”
For example, in the internet marketing world, how Jeff Walker turn the sales launch formula on its side. Instead of doing what the three-part video series, it’s the same idea that I have. I could see things like that whenever I was inside of company, but I couldn’t see it as well when I was trying to do it for myself. That was a big eyeopener for me that I basically shifted this on its side and still got what I’m good at and what I wanted because I just honored my expertise in that.
You said that experts are too smart for their own good. I call it the expert’s curse. We talk about it all the time. We have a hard time communicating what our real value is. A lot of times, the opportunity is closer than you think. It’s so amazing because the things that you told me that in the beginning about when you were working at Verizon, you were in charge of a billion-dollar budget, they were paying you $400,000 a year, you had all of this inside knowledge, you’re providing tremendous value to their company. Yet when you took a step outside, you’re like, “I hope I can go land a $5,000 client so I can get the right foot back in the door to go speak to Verizon again and hopefully make half of what I was making when I left, life would be so awesome.” It was a lot simpler than what you ended up thinking, right?
What people don’t realize is that they have goals inside of them. The goal is inside of you. You don’t remember it until you replay those moments and go, “I did that.” Things that you don’t think are extraordinary to you sometimes people say, “That’s extraordinary.” Sometimes I go, “That did happen to me,” and I just kept leaning into my plan. It wasn’t even this manifesting or visual thing for me. I thought that was a little win when I did the contract for six months and got $100,000.
I didn’t even know if I could do that. I would’ve been happy to get $50,000 for the year. I was ready to work my way back up. I had that attitude around it because I was like, “Who am I to try to break into this when I don’t have a company yet?” People get surprised if you asked for what you stretch yourself on the ask and as long as you’ve got legitimate background to back it up, how much you’ll get them return is amazing,
Especially as consultants, whatever we try to do as entrepreneurs or small business owners launching our own consultancy, launching our own service-based business. I’ve seen it so many times, we feel like we’re starting from scratch and we just want to neglect all of our previous background that we’ve already worked for in the professional development space. It’s like we just want to throw it out the window and be like, “I can’t use that.” It’s like, “Why can’t you use it? Why can’t you use that previous experience?” When you landed that first six-month contract with Verizon because I have some experience with B2B mega corporate sales, like Fortune 100 companies, Fortune 500 companies, sometimes that can take a long time. How long did it take for you when you made that initial phone call to when you received your first payment and they said, “Yes, it’s a go?”
It was a 30-day process. The difference is it’s colder or lukewarm relationship. The corporate dance is longer, but it’s very lucrative. Even entrepreneurs who sell to other entrepreneurs, it’s faster, but you have to put up a lot to get a lot of return. The ROI in a corporate engagement is high if you stay in it. The reason I know that it only took 30 days as they were hurting in this area, this project that I had expertise in, so I was the perfect person. They could have hired somebody from their normal consulting firms that they use on the regular, like Deloitte, IBM, Tata.
These are all big consulting firms who come in and bring in professionals. One of the barriers was I wasn’t set up in their supply chain process, their vendor process and they made concessions for me because the first they were like, “Would you work through Deloitte?” I was like, “No,” because I don’t want to be in that system. I said, “Right now I’m available and I don’t know what my next step is, but I’d like to be added as a vendor.”
That’s my point. Turn on the machine and I’m unstoppable. I was like, “I knew every question to ask because I’ve had that happen to me when I was in their place of making a decision that I wanted someone faster than the machine there would take.” It took 30 days to get my deposit and then it took her two weeks for me to get in there. It’s about a two-week process. Then it was six months of consulting and then I turned that into a now a ten-year relationship with them as one of my biggest clients.
I don’t want to downplay the fact that you said that you had an advantage. That’s the whole purpose of this podcast, is to realize when opportunities present themselves and to be able to seize them. That’s what we have as experts because experts have their expertise in an area and that’s what creates the advantages. That’s what creates opportunities. I don’t want you to downplay because that’s the whole purpose of this podcast is being able to see what your superpower is and to be able to seize that opportunity.
I love that you’re celebrating that. When we talk about advantages, it sounds a lot less like you have to do something that’s outside of you to do it, but your advantage comes from inside of you.
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People want to say it’s luck. It does play some part of it, but good opportunists, they create their own luck because they’re seeing opportunities that they have created for themselves and they just have to have the awareness around themselves to build it, to see it, and maybe put that extra effort to create the opportunity, like what you did with Verizon. The opportunity was always there. All you had to do was make the phone call and see it come to life.
This episode was fantastic. Jen, we might need to do a follow-up episode if you’re open to it, but I do want to quickly recap everything that we’ve talked about. You’re still working with Verizon today in that six-month, $100,000 contract that has turned into well over or at least seven figures per year now. It’s a seven-figure per year contract that you have developed. You are now probably making way more than your counterpart.
He doesn’t work for Verizon anymore but he’s like, “You turned that one into a good one.”
You turned a six-month, $100,000 contract into seven figures per year with just one client and that is enough for most entrepreneurs to be very happy with. We’ve talked about so much stuff. We didn’t even get to the three businesses that you currently operate and own. I’m sure there are tons of opportunities and stories to talk about there, but rewinding all the way back to 2005, 2006 when you ran into that revelation that your counterpart was making much more than you, that was probably a blessing in disguise that led you on your journey to open up your retail store, which incredibly did eight figures in the first twelve months. You blew that up because you saw an opportunity to provide underwear in the state of Hawaii. You want to talk about going niche. That is niche.
That’s an incredible story itself, which you discovered just by witnessing people get off the plane in Hawaii and you saw them importing their own bags. You did that until 2008 and the economy crashed. The bigger that you are, the harder they fall and that is such a true statement on almost anything in life.
That put you on a six-month downturn and then a six-month upturn when your daughter re-woke the machine inside of you and that led you down the world of consulting and service-based businesses and then you’ve landed your first six-figure contract by going back to your previous employer. It’s an incredible story.
Jen, thank you so much for sharing that journey and sharing that story. There’s so much value that people can listen to and extract from this episode. Where can people find you? Where can people follow you? Where can people connect with you?
You can find me at JenniferKem.com. In today’s world, that’s where I like to connect. I have my company websites but if you want to get to know each other, please go there. I have a great resource for you there called the Brand Map and I also have something called the Brand Archetype Quiz, which all the things that I talked about as an advantage that I have, finding out the advantage that I have has a lot to do with psychology-based rant understanding of yourself as a CEO, as a thought leader, as an expert. I’m happy to take that BrandArchetypeQuiz.com, so you can find out what your unique advantages and that you can then amplify that in the business dealings.
Go check that out. Go connect with Jen. Let her know that you heard her interview on Experts Unleashed and give her some love, connect with her, and let her know what you thought about this podcast. This was such an amazing interview. Jen, thank you so much for being a part of it. I had a blast. I always loved diving deep into these stories. We take a lot of pivots in the interview itself, and so thank you so much for being on the show and for all of you listening right now. We’ll see you on the next episode. Take care.
About Jen Kem
Hi, I’m Jen – I love brands because brands make the world-go-round. People have called me a marketing mastermind, a success strategist and a brand expert.
What I do is simply this: I teach entrepreneurs how to master and monetize their businesses, create an unforgettable personality brand and dominate their niches by turning their ideas – their brilliant, world-changing ideas – into CASH and MEANING.
This happens when you are willing to master the art and science of building a lust-worthy brand that matters to the people who are waiting for you.
See, I’ve got a not-so-secret superpower: a sixth sense for turning your juicy purpose into a profitable, fabulous lifestyle.
I can hear the cha-chings hiding in your concepts, sniff out every gorgeous greenback you should be making, and spot growth opportunities from 100 paces.