Business 30 June 2018
20 years ago I was a one-woman shop, juggling face-time with clients, managing finances and boosting publicity. My brand centered on myself, yet I didn’t see it that way. Even in the infancy of my company, I was a global business owner. I never viewed myself as a sole proprietor, even though I was one, because I was so focused on building an international brand. In order to create a global company that was innovative and groundbreaking, I knew I needed to think big and plan ahead even if it required adapting in the future. As an entrepreneur I decided to create a twenty-year plan for my company in order to strategize and map my steps towards success. Planning so far in the future was audacious, but it also empowered and inspired me to take risks in order to meet these goals.
While creating an ambitious long-term plan enabled me to develop my brand, it is the ability to refine it that has powered IvyWise’s success. Every entrepreneur needs large-scale goals that they can chase and aspire to. But the most successful business owners are the ones who are able to balance these long-term dreams with immediate realities. Running a brand means being able to shift seamlessly from thinking big picture to planning for the next week, from envisioning the day you have clients on every continent to troubleshooting for the five people you are currently working with.
I wanted to create a one-stop shop where students could not only receive college admissions advice from a team of former deans and directors of admissions at elite universities, but also work with tutors who are experts at what they teach - Dr. Kat Cohen
Reaching long-term aspirations requires insight, creativity and adaptability. There’s no simple set of steps to take or script you can stick to. Instead, you have to write your company’s own path to success and start refining it almost immediately.
Learn how to adapt quickly so you can maximize efficiency and ensure that your business remains relevant, even as times and trends change.
I launched IvyWise at a time when there were few options for independent college admissions counselors. Most of my competitors named their businesses after themselves and, for the most part, their services consisted of personal consultations with a handful of clients. IvyWise began this way, but even on day one I was thinking twenty years ahead. My goal was to create a global educational consultancy that would support students and families worldwide as they pursued their academic and personal goals with the expertise of a team of counselors, tutors and researchers.
Previously, I worked in admissions at Yale University, during which time I learned a universal truth within the college admissions industry: gaining admittance into your best-fit school is a journey. I decided to use my prior admissions experience to optimize the application experience for my clients by providing them with every resource needed to navigate this process. A top–tier admissions counselor can help applicants unearth their passions and develop a strong list of best-fit colleges, but many clients need additional resources if they want to be competitive candidates at their first choice schools.
I wanted to create a one-stop shop where students could not only receive college admissions advice from a team of former deans and directors of admissions at elite universities, but also work with tutors who are experts at what they teach, and research consultants who can provide them with crucial information about every college on an application list. Immediately, IvyWise was about tackling the school admission process holistically and multi-dimensionally, which enabled my company to grow into an aspirational brand with a global reach.
Rewriting the 20-year plan you’ve created for your company can be challenging, but it’s essential if you want your business to reach the two-decade mark. Consumers seek out brands that feel fresh and relevant, so it’s important for business owners to keep tabs on generational preferences, micro and macro economic factors and changes and new developments in technology. Since it is near impossible to anticipate what the digital and economic landscape will look like twenty years down the line, entrepreneurs must stay updated on the cultural climate and adapt business plans accordingly.
I launched my company before digital communications services like Skype and Zoom existed. IvyWise preceded the trend of web-based learning and virtual payment processing developments.
But by keeping my finger on the pulse of technological advances, particularly in the digital space, I was able to use these innovations to optimize and expand my brand. While utilizing technology to facilitate virtual consultations was not originally part of my twenty-year business plan, adapting and embracing this opportunity has enabled IvyWise to reach an international audience.
Instead of waiting for web-based learning services to become mainstream, I was able to make use of this model early on because I had been monitoring digital developments. I saw virtual consultations as an opportunity to rapidly expand IvyWise’s scale and to recruit the best admissions experts worldwide because digitalization enabled us to eliminate geographical confines.
I learned a universal truth within the college admissions industry: gaining admittance into your best-fit school is a journey - Dr. Kat Cohen
Of course, I didn’t just piggyback off of the technology that was already in place; instead I worked with a team to create a customized portal system specifically designed to facilitate our services. Clients are able to create accounts and share application materials with my team and our counselors and tutors can converse with them seamlessly, from any location in the world. As a result of these innovations, IvyWise now works with students in over 40 countries who are able to access our resources on a 24-7 basis and benefit from the expertise of all of our counselors, tutors and consultants.
This year marks twenty years since I launched IvyWise. I frequently reflect upon the first set of large-scale plans I created, long before I had a team to bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with. My company has reached the international scale I envisioned, although the path to hitting this milestone was far different from what I originally anticipated. Had I adhered strictly to the processes I put in place twenty years ago, IvyWise wouldn’t have achieved the large-scale goals I knew were possible.
Most importantly, never stop creating these large-scale goals you want to reach twenty years down the line, even once you have surpassed your first set of milestones. I have a clear vision for what IvyWise will look like in 2038, and I am already adapting the processes I will need to get us there.
Three years ago, I made a deal with myself - I wanted to have $100,000 saved when I'm 25. But I didn't mind if it didn't happen until the day before my 26th birthday.
One of my biggest priorities in life has always been to save as much money as possible — and I owe much of that to my parents, who made sure I had a strong financial education at a young age.
My dad even helped me start a vending machine business when I was nine. The experience taught me essential skills like how to pitch a business, cope with rejection and open a checking and savings account.
For the past three years, I've never made more than $80,000. About a year ago, I reviewed my rate of savings and investments and realized that I was on track to save $100,000. With only a car loan away from being debt free, I've got another year and $10K to go!
I want to acknowledge that privilege is a key part of my story. I'm white, I come from a middle-class family, and I was able to graduate college without any debt. All these things helped a great deal.
But my parents didn't raise me with a silver spoon. Paying for college was a collaborative process. We'd sit down at least twice a year to discuss how we were going to pay for the next semester. The first question they'd always ask me was: "How much can you contribute?"
I've been fortunate. But it also takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and responsibility to save and maximize your earnings. Feeling motivated and knowing that I'll be prepared for whatever life throws my way fuels my drive to keep making smart financial decisions. Here's how I'm getting to $100K.
- I side-hustled
This kick-started my journey towards six-figures. In addition to saving the majority of my 9-5 salary, my first year of freelance social media marketing made me quite a bit of cash that I could immediately save. I was able to establish both a SEP IRA and a fully-funded emergency fund with my earnings.
2. I started investing early
Knowing that compound interest is so important, I wanted to start investing early to have my money work for me. Once I started my first big-girl job, I opened my first Roth IRA. Starting to save for retirement at age 22, I was able to max out my Roth each year and also contribute to aSEP IRA and a non-retirement investment account. My first job out of school had a 401(k), but you couldn't contribute until you were there at least a year. Knowing I wasn't planning on staying long — I was at that job for a year and a few months — I opened a Roth 401(k) and then rolled my earnings to my Roth IRA.
3. I negotiated salary offers and raises
Negotiating should be a collaboration, not a confrontation. Growing up, I watched my father sit on hold, patiently waiting to negotiate our cable and phone bills. Negotiation was always part of my life, and I grew up with parents who knew how to do it. So when I was offered my first social media freelance gig, I negotiated over $10k more than they offered. And after achieving a 20% bump at my first 9-5, I negotiated $20k more than what was offered at my next job. And $10k more at the next job. If negotiating for raises freaks you out, here's a guide that can help.
4. I've automated my savings
Automating your money not only makes your life easier, but it makes you feel like the percentage you're saving just doesn't exist. I have 26% of each paycheck automatically deposited into a high-yield savings account. This savings account is purposefully at a different bank than my day-to-day checking account, so I'm less likely to withdraw from it and less likely to think about it. This "set it and forget it" level of financial freedom was something I worked hard for -- through money diarying, budgeting, and conscious spending. So now, my savings amount is completely on autopilot.
At the age of 24, I know that I am on the right track to make my goal a reality. Inspired by my own journey, I wanted to help women everywhere to have that same feeling of confidence that financial education gives — and get information from someone who isn't an old, rich white dude. As a money speaker and coach, I run Her First $100K, a financial literacy platform for millennial women on the path to get their first $100K too.
It's possible to achieve your first $100K — whether that's debt paid off, earned, saved, invested, or something else. With intentional strategies and focus, you've got this!