Kristin O'Connell | From Freelance to Financial Freedom

Kristen O’Connell is an award-winning global business owner and keynote speaker. She is the founder of Superlative Recruitment, a recruitment advertising, consulting and coaching company that has worked with over 250 start-ups in 95 cities in 12 countries on four continents.

Superlative Recruitment make use of creative and innovative methods to assist their clients in finding the best prospective candidates in the shortest period possible; not only saving them time but also saving them money. In 2016, Superlative Recruitment was nominated for Best Client-Side Recruitment Team and Best Freelance Recruitment Team at the Marketing and Digital Recruitment Awards.

Kristen is a people-focused entrepreneur helping like-minded individuals achieve their full potential and find their true calling.

I was raised in New England, a region of the North East USA. Being the middle child, the only girl in the neighborhood, and born on the first of the month, it’s only natural that I became pretty competitive early on. I’m also an Aquarius, and we’ve been known to march to the beat of our own drums and be very open-minded to different people and varied opinions. This combination drove me to say yes to many experiences and opportunities including sport, travel, academic programs, and social engagements.

In addition to being competitive and independent, I’ve always had a natural leadership ability which I demonstrated in school, sports, work and social situations. My entrepreneurial journey officially began when was 23 years old and presented with the opportunity to become a self-employed field sales representative. There was rapid advancement potential, and I immediately accepted because I knew this was a means of being in control of my earnings and my future. I was nervous and excited, but I believed in myself, and I knew if I surrounded myself with the right people and did what they had done to succeed, I too would make it!

What are three business and life lessons you have learned?

1) Thinking Big and Goal Setting is a Cycle: My idea of “Thinking Big” when I was 23 is very different than my idea of thinking big now. And, it should be because that’s the nature of most things in life- the more you do them, the easier they get. The bigger I think, the more I achieve, the more I achieve, the more I believe is possible, and this causes me to think even bigger than before.

2) Surround yourself with the right people: Your circle of influence may just be the most important factor of your success. I believe in having a wide enough circle of influence where I’m both a student and a teacher. They say that “if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”, and I believe that to be true - as long as you’re also not the most uneducated person in the room either. It’s important to learn from others, and it’s equally important to share information with others. Let knowledge flow through you. I get more pleasure from seeing someone else succeed from my advice than achieving that same victory personally.

3) Accept the unexpected: I don’t mean “expect the unexpected”; that’s a contradiction of terms. Yes, I know it means to have a backup plan in case something goes wrong, and I agree with that methodology, but more importantly is to accept this unexpected event that has happened. As a business leader, presenter or coach, you’re setting the example for others to follow. How you react and respond to situations is how those around you will react and respond. The show must go on. Time stops for no woman. Accept what’s happened quickly so you can move on with a positive outlook as you productively solve the problem.

From your many achievements, what is your most significant achievement and why?

My biggest business achievement to date is my company’s recent win of the Federation of Small Business London Regional and UK National Micro-Business of the Year Award! This award recognises solo entrepreneurs, remote work forces and home-based businesses. I’m really proud to have been recognised for having the number one home-based business in the whole country. My biggest achievement overall, which ties into the award, is the fact that I’ve been able to provide opportunity and coaching for ten other people who work consistent, flexible hours as independent contractors. They’re all able to work remotely, able to set their own schedules, and able to pursue multiple income streams. Most of them are also mothers or mothers-to-be that are able to spend more time with their family. Being able to offer that level of financial freedom and work-life balance to others is what makes running my business so worthwhile.

What inspires and motivates you? Why do you wake up every morning, get the work done and do it all over again the next day?

My biggest motivator is, and probably always has been, fear. I know that might sound negative, but I’ll explain how it’s actually a massive positive. When I launched my current business, I was a freelance agent to ten clients. I had moved to the UK a year and a half earlier as a sales manager, but no longer wanted to pursue that route. I was so afraid that if my new venture didn’t work out, I’d be forced to go back to the US and become an employee again!

That’s what got out of bed every morning and pushed me to give 100%. 100% of the time. I worked seven days a week for seven years, including public holidays, while on vacation, and even while in labour with my children. Of course, it was my choice; I was the boss, so don’t feel sorry for me. I surely don’t feel sorry for me. I feel sorry for people who never give 100% and never achieve their potential.

That’s how fear can be a good motivator… I’m afraid of being average, I’m scared of settling for less, I’m afraid of denying my children opportunities, and I’m afraid of looking back when it’s too late, thinking “If only I’d given a little more…”

From your experience as a successful and influential entrepreneur, what is the best way to market your business or yourself?

In my experience, the best way to market your business is by managing your Reputation and your Relationships. I built my recruitment business from scratch, and as we approach our ten-year anniversary, I’ve still not paid to acquire a single client. All 250 of the businesses we’ve worked with over the years have come to us through referrals and recommendations. This is vastly due to the reputation my team and I have built and protected over the years, and from the relationships we’ve built with everyone I work with in every capacity including our clients, suppliers, team members and others within the industry. We take these two things very seriously.

I have created a Relationship Management Formula in which I share my secrets for establishing, developing and nurturing relationships. And, I’ve developed a Reputation Management Process where I educate people on knowing what’s said about you behind your back and how to make sure it’s the message you want to be heard. Managing these two elements have saved tremendous amounts of money that we’ve then been able to re-invest in our people and our personal/professional development.

What is the secret to your success?

My secret to success is a combination of all the things we’ve been talking about. Essentially, my business is so successful because we avoided three of the most common pitfalls of starting and running a business. I made strategic choices about the way I built my business so that we were chasing profits, not debts and investing in assets, not liabilities. I now run a global seven-figure business with low-to-no overhead, with no marketing or advertising costs, and without paying a single salary. In 2018, no one should be living someone else’s dream, so I’m hosting courses for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs on how they can do the same.

What quote do you live by and why?

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” There are different variations of this quote, and the origin is disputed, but the principle remains. Lots of unpleasant things will happen to everyone during their lifetime.

No matter how hard you work or how much money you have, you’ll still experience injustice and pain. It’s how you respond and react to the uncontrollable in life that determines the quality of your life. I first saw this quote in a friend’s office a few days before moving to the UK, and it’s stuck with me ever since.

There have been many times since then where I was afraid of my next step, but I remembered this phrase and realised it’s never about what happens, but about how I respond and react to that which has happened. Looking back, it’s so evident that it’s my mentality and my attitude towards situations that have helped me the most along my journey.

What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs on the same journey as you who want to achieve the same success?

Women are incredible. Historically, we’re the hunter-gatherers of the tribe; we’re the ones growing and nurturing off-spring, we’re the multi-tasking queens who can listen to three different conversations while also doing the ironing and cooking and keeping the kids safe… It’s great that we’re capable of so much, but at what cost? Who are we trying to prove what to?

You know what’s better than a strong, independent woman who gets it all done? A team of strong independent women who get much more done! How do I know this? Because I spent too many years as a stressed-out control-freak trying to do it all on my own to prove how amazing I was. The problem is, no one thought I was amazing until I built a team of self-sufficient, empowered women and we started taking over the world together!

So, my best advice is to stop trying to do everything on your own. Please allow other people to help you. Let your team make educated decisions, take risks and provide you with feedback. I made far too many decisions on my own without consulting others because didn’t want to appear ignorant (but I was ignorant, I’ve never run a business like this before!) I now ask my team their opinions regularly and I work with several business coaches from different backgrounds.

Everyone brings different perspectives and potential solutions to the situation, which allows me to get expert advice and still maintain the freedom and control of running my business my way.

What is the hardest thing about entrepreneurship that no one told you?

No one tells you that everything is always your fault. Most entrepreneurs have had at least one job before starting their own company. As an employee, nothing is ever your fault… if the pizza restaurant I worked at ran out of an ingredient, it certainly wasn’t my fault. And I didn’t particularly care if the customer was annoyed- what was I supposed to do about it and how was it going to affect my life? I’d do nothing and feel no effects at all.

It’s the complete opposite when running a business. You feel everything deeply! It’s fun and exciting to envision and accept the compliments and recognition, and accolades, but it’s not so easy to envision and accept the complaints, failures, and blame that come along with it. This is why it’s so important to have a strong, clear vision and long-term goals. And why it’s essential to run your business in a smart, new economy fashion. Money can’t solve all problems, but lack of cash flow definitely leads to unnecessary stress!

What has been your biggest challenge to date? How did you overcome that, and what did you learn from that?

Running a business is full of unexpected challenges, but my most significant challenge to date was one that affected me on both a personal and professional level. Two years ago, my husband and I split up, and it made me seriously doubt and question everything I’d worked towards for the past several years. My home life was now more challenging as I had to learn to manage my time differently as a single parent, and how to manage a household budget differently as a single-income earner.

This affected me professionally because not only was he my life partner, but he was also a business partner of mine. He’s Regional Director and a major influencer in the sales organisation my company recruits for, and one of my longest-standing clients. Once I evaluated the situation logically, I realised I never started or maintained the business for him, so I shouldn’t stop running my business because of him. I overcame this by refusing to back down and refusing to hide in the shadows.

It would have been easy for me to hide behind the scenes, but I put myself in the spotlight to show my clients and my team that we’re here to stay and that I won’t allow a setback in my personal life derail my business. The number one thing I learned is that we never realise how strong we are until we’re put in a position to have our strength tested. I now take more risks, make decisions faster without fear, and embrace challenges for their lessons.

If you could do it all over again, what will you change and why?

If I could turn back time, I’d tell my rookie-entrepreneur self that mistakes and failure are an important part of the process because that’s how we grow! I wish the version of me starting out had more confidence and more self-belief. Since I lacked these two things, I developed a tendency to wait until things were perfect before launching new services, increasing our fees, and diversifying our client portfolio.

I would also get a coach and a confidant much sooner. I made a lot of excuses for a lot of years without seeing it that way. I spent a lot of time justifying my mistakes by saying it was bound to happen since I was forging my own path. However, I should have looked for the guidance I was missing instead of using it as a reason for not achieving my goals. It seems so simple and silly in retrospect.



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