As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel K. Cross.
Rachel K. Cross is a globally-accomplished marketer, brand strategist, writer, speaker, and the Chief Business Sherpa of Rachel K Group, a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in helping organizations and individuals become the fully-aligned, world-changing brands they were meant to be.
Rachel has over 20 years of experience working with domestic and international brands spanning a variety of industries including Qualcomm, AT&T, Intuit, World Vision, NBC, LG Electronics, Virgin Mobile, Pizza Hut, American Airlines, Sony, and more. She successfully launched her own business with the simple idea that she could create a career that empowered her to live an extraordinary life.
Rachel’s Career Freedom Program is a groundbreaking online course that helps busy provide professionals with a clear roadmap and first, basic steps to start a new business.
She considers herself a Business Sherpa because whether it’s related to brand strategy or helping a client launch their dream career, she enjoys the challenge of guiding her clients to where they want to go while helping to “carry their packs.” Plus, Sherpas get to wear warm, fuzzy hats!
She was named a Top Speaker at the Innovation Women Summit and has been a guest on numerous podcasts around the world from the U.K. to Bangladesh.
In her free time, Rachel loves globe-trotting, snowboarding, scuba diving, and cooking. She’s trying to stretch her way into being a yogi and finds meditation an essential part of her day. The thing that makes her life most extraordinary is spending time with her “plus one” and an incredible community of friends.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started my career in marketing working for Fortune 500 companies, but after 12 years, grew disillusioned with the politics, lack of flexibility, and the fact that I couldn’t pick my projects. When the division of the company I was working for decided to shut its doors, I took a leap of faith and started my own boutique marketing consulting firm. That was a decade ago and I have never looked back!
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
When I found myself dissatisfied with my job around year 10 of my corporate career, I started asking myself a very powerful question: “What would I do without fear of failure?” I loved marketing and knew it was a good fit for my dual left-right-brained wiring, but I wanted to work on projects I believed in and for companies doing good in the world. So, the answer to that question became, “I want to start my own marketing company.” When my company division shut down, I knew I had to at least try, so instead of applying for another corporate job, I started my business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
There were a lot of mistakes because there was no clear roadmap to start a business. The first one that comes to mind is focusing on what my logo would look like before I even knew exactly what my business services would be. I was so worried about the colors and details since I was a brand expert. Instead, I wish I had spent more time in the beginning on the most critical building blocks — my mindset, Soul Boomerang, life vision, values, and strengths — rather that what my logo looked like. And I’ve done a complete brand identity refresh since then, so looking back, I can laugh at how much effort I put into that process.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I am grateful that I had a purpose beyond making money when I first started. It was to help companies do more good in the world by telling their stories through brand and marketing communications strategies. A big part of leaving corporate America came with a desire to work on projects that were positively impacting the world in some way.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
I have three values that span across all areas of my life, business and personal: Connection, “Life-Giving,” and Curiosity. I try to live these out every day in my client interactions, the level of excellence I try to serve them with, and how I show up in all areas of my life.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The number one principle for successful entrepreneurship is cultivating a healthy mindset. The journey of starting your own business is not linear, so when you feel frustrated, discouraged, stressed, or want to give up, you need to be able to tap into the essence of who you are, stay positive, remain grounded, and stay committed to your “why” — the thing that drove you to jump on the cliff and start a business in the first place. There are lots of ways to cultivate a healthy mindset, but my three favorite practices include gratitude, meditation, and a self-awareness exercise I call Lies & Truth.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
One of the hardest things about a service-based business, especially when you first start, is the lack of predictable income. I launched with a few clients and found early success, but every month, I had different revenue amounts coming in, so it was hard to plan. I was making enough money that I didn’t want to give up, but also knew something had to change, which is when I started offering value-based pricing and retainer models. My drive came from the belief that I was doing something I was meant to do that brought me joy. That, practicing a lot of gratitude for the work I did have and continuing to cultivate relationships that encouraged me were the keys to staying on course.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Today, I am more committed than ever to my original purpose and vision. I love working with clients making a difference in the world, and also launched a curriculum to help other new solopreneurs start their service-based businesses. I feel very connected to what I call my Soul Boomerang — the unique way I’m designed and meant to serve the world. Most of my business has come through referrals, so my value of Connection directly correlates to building and maintaining relationships with clients, friends, and former colleagues. My “Life-Giving” value means I do work that feels invigorating and meaningful to me but also ensures my working relationships feel the same for my clients. And finally, my Curiosity value has helped me continually ask, “What’s next?” and “What are other ways I can serve?” which has allowed me to expand my services and launch an online course to help people with the first, basic steps for starting a new business.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- A healthy mindset. In 2018, my business experienced a four-month slump after a big project got canceled. I only had a few small projects and had to rely on savings to pay my monthly bills. But digging into a positive belief in myself and what I was doing helped me stay motivated and in-action. I continued reaching out to my network, dreaming up new ways I could serve them, and staying productive (I launched some personal projects, including a blog, I had been wanting to complete). Through those actions, I landed two retainer clients that I still serve today.
- Knowing your Soul Boomerang. I believe each of us comes into this world with a purpose based on the unique way we’re wired. Some people call this your spiritual mission or unique genius, but I like the idea of a boomerang that has a starting place, travels around collecting experiences and sometimes dirt, and then makes the journey back home. I feel called to be a light, helping people find their freedom and joy and remind myself of this daily.
- Having a clear life vision. One of the things I wanted when I started my business was more than the three weeks of vacation my corporate job offered. I wanted the freedom and flexibility to travel and take at least six weeks of vacation a year. I’ve structured my business and client work in a way to help make this life vision a reality. I make sure to get six weeks off, sometimes in month-long blocks. Make sure you understand the kind of lifestyle you want to lead before starting your business so that you can shape your business to fit that vision.
- Clearly-defined values. As we’ve discussed already, I try to live into my values in all areas. They have served as filters to make decisions about clients, projects, and more, and I’m so grateful I have them to serve as my north star. I have operationalized my values so I know exactly what behaviors support them and what potential traps will not. A leader must know their values so they can be courageous and stay true to themselves in the midst of challenges.
- Understanding your Strengths. I love knowing my strengths so I can build upon them. There is a lot of research that shows improving your strengths is more effective than working on your weaknesses. I love the assessment tool CliftonStrengths and have worked with Gallup-certified coaches to help turn my natural abilities into talents. Knowing my strengths also helps me identify the areas I need help in order to bring in other experts. It’s a much more joyful way to build a business!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I couldn’t agree more — no one is successful in a vacuum. The truth is we need others to help guide and encourage us. Right now, I am particularly thankful for my business mentor, Steve Morris. He is a whole-hearted leader helping me step into more of my gifts and he challenges me to show up as my most authentic, daring self in business and in life. For example, he encouraged me to boldly state my mission right on my website home page in a way that would attract the clients I really want to work with. It felt strange at first to have, “We help organizations and individuals become the fully-aligned, world-changing brands they were meant to be” so front and center, but now I can’t imagine not declaring that!
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I believe that understanding ourselves and loving ourselves is the foundation for authentically loving others. Any ugliness we see from others stems from a lack of self-awareness and self-love. After all, we can’t give what we don’t have. So, having an education paradigm, starting in elementary schools, that focuses on emotional intelligence, the power of beliefs, and a healthy mindset could be a powerful catalyst for real change in how we treat each other and could bring about a more unified, loving world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can find me online at rachelkgroup.com, LinkedIn at @rachelkcross, and Facebook at @rachelkgroup.