As a senior editor at FORTUNE Small Business, where she worked for eight years, Elaine was twice nominated for the National Magazine Award for her features and ran the magazine’s annual business plan completion. Elaine graduated from Yale University with a BA in English. She lives in in New Jersey with her husband and their four children and in her free time enjoys taekwondo, yoga and running.
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The following is an adapted excerpt from “The Million-Dollar One-Person Business: Make Great Money. Work the Way You Live. Have the Life You Want” (Random House, 2018).
When Joey Healy, 31, started his eyebrow styling business, he traveled on foot to the apartments of well-heeled Manhattanites to style their brows. While his customers had the means to pay him well—actresses such as Kyra Sedgwick have been clients—there was only so much he could charge for a styling, and his business model, built on traveling to clients’ locations in New York City, was not particularly efficient. He soon found himself working very long hours as he tried to grow the business.
“I would book my day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Park Avenue,” he told me when we first spoke; he was then 27.
Healy eventually decided to open a private studio, Joey Healy Eyebrow Studio, where he charged $115 for a brow styling, and clients started coming to him. That made a difference, but his big breakthrough came when he negotiated a profit-sharing arrangement with a spa chain with four New York locations; he trained the chain’s stylists to use his methodology. Between the money he brought in from the spa chain and from selling his own line of brow makeup made through an outsourced manufacturer, Healy broke $1 million a year without hiring any employees.
Healy embodies a fast-growing trend: the rise of businesses that are breaking $1 million in revenue at a stage in which they have no employees except the owners themselves.
In 2016, there were 36,161 non-employer firms—a number that increased 35.2 percent since 2011, according to new data released in June by the U.S. Census Bureau.
While some of these entrepreneurs opt to keep their businesses ultra-lean, others find that their success running million-dollar, one-person businesses or partnerships is a great platform for scaling up the traditional way.
Healy could have easily kept his operation very small, like many freelancers in the beauty and fashion industry, simply by limiting the number of customers he served. But, like many entrepreneurs running personal or professional services firms, time is the commodity he is ultimately selling. Healy realized he could scale his revenue by thinking creatively.
Not long after he broke $1 million, Healy made the decision to continue growing his business and expanded his line of products to 20 items sold through his website and retail stores. His business began to take off so quickly that he hired an assistant to handle tasks such as filling web and wholesale orders, creating marketing newsletters and scheduling. He soon moved his private studio to a much larger, 1,000 square-foot ground level location in prime real estate at University Place in Manhattan, where it has been based since late 2015.
“This was a big go-big-or-go-home moment for me,” Healy said.
His rent was six times higher than in his previous location. To make the most of his investment, he expanded his current staff to include six other people—a process that was not without bumps.
“Many came and went before we got the ideal staff combination down,” he told me.
Although his costs rose substantially, Healy said his business has remained profitable every single month. Because he is offering a luxury service, he has experimented with adding special touches, such as offering customers tea served in fine China. These experiments take time and effort, but he says they are well worth it.
“The brow business is a money machine, and I’m happy to have scaled my business so it has the potential to grow further,” he said. “Especially since I have retained 100 percent of our business, I now have a model that can attract investors who can replicate our operation.”
Healy is also relieved that he no longer has to worry that if he goes skiing, he might break his wrist and render himself unable to see clients.
“Now having a space that is open seven days a week with a diverse staff of service providers and support administration, I can take a mental break and know that my one-time little operation has a life of its own and a future ahead of it.”
“The Million-Dollar One-Person Business” is available at fine bookstores, and can be purchased via StartupNation.com.
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