Working with a compliance consultant can save employers a lot of dollars in exposure. For over 15 years, Sarah Borders has been helping clients in this while working for other companies. In 2019, she burnt the bridges to corporate and built her own consulting business, Benefits Compliance Solutions, growing it to such a point that her husband was able to quit his own job to join her in business. She shares how this phenomenal growth came about in this conversation with Michael Zipursky. She also shares some insights and learning experiences on making the transition from corporate to independent consultant, handling rejection, her progress under momentum and clarity coaching, and the challenges of working with her spouse as business partner.
I’m here with Sarah Borders. Sarah, welcome.
It’s great to be here.
You are the Principal Consultant and Founder of your firm Benefits Compliance Solutions. You’re an authority in the employee benefits and compliance industry. You have many years of experience helping clients navigate the burden of compliance. Your expertise is about helping clients to as much as possible eliminate their compliance exposure, which can save them a lot of money. In some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential fines. Before we get into what you’re doing and how you’ve been building your business, and it’s been a real joy and pleasure to watch you building your business, take us back to the beginning. How did you get into the field of compliance?
It’s been an interesting ride, for sure. In 2006, I needed a job and I started working for an insurance broker. I worked there while I went to school at night and I moved up throughout the company. When the ACA came into law, the Affordable Care Act, I turned from helping clients with their benefits to working with them on becoming compliant under that law. Since about 2010, I have been strictly focused on compliance for employer clients.
It was in March of 2019 when you started BCS. What spurred that decision to leave the corporate world or the “safety and security” of a job to start your own business. Was that something that you were thinking about for a longtime or did this hit you one day and you’re like, “I want to do this?” Take us back to how did that come about?
My husband has always wanted to be a tech entrepreneur. He had a couple of startups that didn’t go anywhere. I was always going to be the one to have the job and let him launch into his software adventure. I started to get an idea for something I was seeing in the market that wasn’t being done within my corporate job. I also wanted to have a way to work from home where I wasn’t driving in traffic. I live in Austin and there’s a terrible traffic here. I wanted to find a way to be able to work from home and to be able to fill this niche that I kept seeing. I had this wild idea. I had a dream one night and I expressed it to my husband that I have this idea. He said, “I think that could work.” From there, I started talking to people in my network saying, “I had something here, is this something you would pay for? Is this a problem for you?” Lo and behold, I had an idea that seemed to be something people would purchase.
Take us through the transition. How long was it from the time that you first had that dream and you told Tyler to when you left your job?
It was short. It was about six months.
You fought through it for six months. You finally made the leap. Was there a reason that you made leap at that six month or so mark? Was it about building up a certain amount of cash in the bank or was it about what was going on in the work environment? How did you decide on that timeline?
The timeline had everything to do when our bonuses came out at work. It also aligned with how many interviews I wanted to do before I jumped ship. I met with many different possible clients and people that would ultimately purchase or work with me. I wanted to interview at least twenty of them. I ended up interviewing about 30 of them over coffee or lunch or phone call, whoever would talk to me. It aligned where my job was coming to a point where I could leave financially and I had done enough interviews to know that I had some business waiting for me to start.Consistent action leads to very impressive results. Click To Tweet
You hit on something saying this is important, yet very few people do, which is take the time to have those conversations with prospective clients before you even know exactly what you’re doing. You’re going out there and do it. I’ve enjoyed as we’ve worked together, seeing your spirit of taking action. You soak something up and then you start to apply it. Take us back to that time. You wanted to talk with twenty or so different potential clients, how did you do that? For someone who’s reading going, “How do I approach people that I don’t even know?” What do you do? Take us through that process.
I had somewhat of a network in my community here. I reached out to insurance brokers or my clients, ultimately. I reached out to people that I knew in my network because I am a part of a professional association, people that I had worked with before, people that I had interviewed with over the years for jobs. That was a nice size of people. What I did was I reached out to them whether it was on LinkedIn or by email. I said, “I’m thinking about leaving my job. I want to know if I could pick your brain. Would you be willing to meet me for coffee? I’d be happy to take you to lunch.”
Almost every single person said, “Absolutely, of course. I love the entrepreneurial spirit.” They were more than willing to help. There were a lot of people that I didn’t know that were willing to speak with me. I found them on LinkedIn and also through introductions from the people that were willing to meet with me. I was able to get outside of my known network and meet with people over Zoom or a phone call that didn’t live in my area and I didn’t know previously. It was surprisingly easy to get people to talk to me.
That’s what’s always interesting. I’ve had the same experience. I remember when I was first getting this show started back in the day and reaching out to people who had in my mind at that time, and this is going back now many years, they are big name people. I was like, “Why would they want to talk to me?” You start reaching out and all of a sudden, people are saying yes, and then that leveraged to be able to talk to more people. It sounds like you were saying to people, “Can I pick your brain? Can I ask you a couple of questions?” Is that what you were doing or was there’s some fancier wording going on?
That’s literally the kind of language I used because I didn’t want them to think that I was trying to sell them something or that I had some ulterior motive. I was pretty clear about my intentions That I wanted their insight. I valued their insight and their expertise and what they were seeing out there. They were more than willing to provide that type of knowledge and expertise that they have.
You had some great feedback from those initial conversations. Was that the validation you needed to take the next step in terms of hearing from people that you’re onto something her?
It was very validating and encouraging. Through these interviews, I was able to identify needs that I didn’t know previously. Even with my idea, it has changed since that original idea. I am still doing some of the original idea, but it is also morphed into things that I didn’t understand that I need until they told me they were needed. A lot of information came out of those interviews.
Everyone, this is important. Whether it was interviews or conversations, this is why you got to have more of them. This is why you don’t want to hold back and wait to make everything perfect because as Sarah is sharing, you’re going to receive so much valuable feedback, whether it’s positive and it validates what you’re thinking, or it opens up your eyes to something different, or even it’s counter to what you’re thinking, but it’s better to know that sooner rather than later. Let’s fast forward a little bit now. You’re getting that validation. You’re deciding to make that leap. Now, you go on your own. It’s just you in the early days. How do you go and get your first clients? What do you do? Where does that first client come from?
The first client came from one of the interviews that I did because this guy told me, “If you do that, I will be your first client. I need your help.” I said, “Are you sure?” He said, “I promise,” and he did. He was my first client. This was an interesting idea. I had a conversation with someone that I didn’t think would be a client at first, but they were in the industry. They were a vendor. They were not an insurance broker but they were a vendor. They posted something on LinkedIn asking about a job for some position they were looking for. I said, “Would you like to have a conversation because I think I can help you fill the need without having to hire somebody to do it?” We had this conversation and it turns out that the solution they were looking for was a better fit to have me help them than to hire a full-time employee. It was a win-win for both of us. They were my second client. It came out of those conversations and trying things to see if they would stick.
In the early days of your business, what was the biggest challenge or the biggest concern or the hardest part for you?Continue doing things that make you uncomfortable. In time, you will not be as of them if you do them consistently. Click To Tweet
In the early days, the most challenging part was to be rejected. People are telling me, “This is not for us. We’ve selected some other solution. I like what you’re doing, but I don’t see the value in it.” Maybe they will not say it directly, but the rejection was the hardest part. It still is to this day something I struggle with from. That was definitely different than a full-time job.
Talk to us more about that. A lot of people have that exact same concern or fear like rubbing up or slamming into rejection in their face and it’s not fun. What would you say that you’ve learned about it? You mentioned that it’s still something that is maybe not the most comfortable for you to confront, but you’ve made progress with it. Your business has grown significantly since the early days. What would you say that you learned about rejection? How do you mentally process it or think about it that maybe is different from how you first thought about it?
From the way that I first thought about it is I tied a yes or a no to my worth as a person. I felt like I was a failure if they rejected me. If they hired me or decided to work with me, I was the greatest thing ever. It was a rollercoaster of emotions. It was exhausting from day-to-day having these highs and lows like that. I learned from that, that I’m not that good and I’m not that bad. Some people are going to want to work with me. If I talk to enough people, I’ll get some great clients. Some other people aren’t a fit and it’s not tied to my own worth. I have to keep going. I have to not let it slow me down. I have to continue doing the things that are uncomfortable and by doing things more often that are uncomfortable, they become normal and not as uncomfortable. I’m not as scared to do them if I do them consistently. Those are some big life lessons that I learned.
I want to encourage everyone to go back and read that again because it’s true. Figuring out how to detach yourself from what the outcome is and rather getting focused more on the process and the journey. As you do that, then you’re able to take more action. As you take more action and you apply the learning and lessons of what you’re encountering to optimize and to strengthen, then you start seeing better results. People who can’t detach themselves and who are essentially thinking, “Whether I’m successful or not is about me as a person,” that holds them back from continuing to take action. That holds them back from growing their business. I’m glad that you shared that. Before coming to our Clarity Coaching Program, you went through the Momentum Program. I’d love for you to talk a little bit about, where were you at as a business person and as an entrepreneur? What was your mindset? What were you looking for before deciding to sign up for the Momentum Program?
I was looking for how to charge hourly fees. I remember doing an internet search about, “How much to charge? How do you know?” Your website came up and described a lot of how I was feeling at the moment, lost and unsure of myself. How do you charge? I’ve read one of your blogs about value-based fees. I thought, “That’s brilliant.” I don’t like being charged by the hour for things, like our CPA charges by the hour. We try to use him as little as possible because of it. Immediately, I was drawn to that. I started the Momentum Program. I think I was one of your first client in Momentum. I was able to get a good foundation and sit there and almost take the course. I write notes and go through some exercises in my mind about how to start this business, how it would make money, how I would be successful, and how I would make my clients successful. It was powerful for me to get that foundation before I started coaching.
When you transitioned from Momentum into Clarity coaching, I remember one of our first conversations. I don’t think it was the first, it might have been second or the third. I was asking you like, “Give me some progress and how has things been going?” You started telling me about you were making phone calls and reaching out to people. I remember thinking like, “Sarah’s going to be successful.” There’s no doubt in my mind because you’re committed to taking action. Many people learn. They want information, but they don’t implement on that information.
You’ve done that so well and your business continues to grow and it will continue to grow even from here and beyond. What I’m interested in asking this question is, where does that come from? Where is that hunger or commitment or dedication or the ability to implement and to face fears? You mentioned that rejection is not something that you enjoy and very few people do, but yet you are still making phone calls. A lot of people are scared of the cold call, but you were picking up the phone and calling people, you were sending emails, you were doing lots of follow-up. Where does that come from inside of you? Is that something you’ve always had? Is that something that you’ve cultivated since you started your business?
It comes from one is I burned the boats. I’m not going back to a corporate job. I have to make myself do these things that are uncomfortable. We have to understand the why. We hear about that with Simon Sinek, understanding the why. Why am I doing these things? Why do I want this business? Why am I willing to work hard for it? It’s the combination of wanting that lifestyle, wanting my family secure, wanting to make sure that I bring that to the table for the people that depend on me like my son and my husband. I’ve learned in my life through many hard trials that consistent action leads to very impressive results. I’m not saying impressive for me, but consistent small action over and over again creates successful outcomes. It’s not the big giant actions, the little small everyday actions that add up and become the things that you dream about. That is what it is. I know that somehow. I have internalized that principle.
You start off making the transition from corporate to consultant. You went through the Momentum Program and started to get some of the foundational components of building a successful consulting business. You came into Clarity. It still was just you and now, you’re starting to get clear on your messaging, pricing, offerings, marketing piece, but then something else happened not too long ago which is that your husband, Tyler left his job and join you in the business. This is something that I’ve seen multiple times with clients over the years. It always makes me smile because it’s a sign of success of progress, but also the ability to work with a spouse or a partner or whatever it might be in that manner. Can you talk a little bit about the goal or how that happened and why it happened? Why did Tyler want to leave his job to join you? Share a bit about that.
I mentioned before the he was supposed to be the entrepreneur and the next tech big thing. I was the one that started the business. He had this drive to be in business for himself and an entrepreneur. When I started the company, it was always in our future for him to leave his job. He would give me a bit of a runway. She started up and then he would leave his job at the right time and we would be in business together. He would take over some aspects of it. We have always been very goal-oriented people and have been taking goal to action and little small actions like that. We decided in April of 2020, right during when COVID hit that it was time for him to leave his job. We decided to go ahead with it because in my industry, fortunately, my skillset is needed in this pandemic type of world with employers. He jumped ship in April, and it’s been an amazing decision. It’s been hard but it’s been the right decision for sure.You typically don’t think you have closed mindset when you do. Click To Tweet
Share a little bit more about that. What’s it been like working with your husband for everyone else out there who might also be thinking about bringing in a family member in whatever format that is. What have been some of the challenges that have popped up? In terms of working with my cousin, we run a family business here. When you have family working closely together, there’s always a bit of a dynamic that you’ve got to work through and learn. For you, what has come up? What have you guys encountered that’s been a bit of a challenge and had a bit of a learning curve?
What comes to mind is receiving constructive criticism on your work, especially for something that you’re supposed to be the expert in and that you’ve been doing by yourself for a year. The constructive criticism can be hard to take. It’s delineating like we’re business right now and at 5:00 we become husband and wife and parents to our son. That’s been a challenge to create that business relationship with somebody that I live with and share my life with. The other thing is that we have a small condo and we have been on top of each other during this time. Finding ways that we can work quietly and have that time alone to think, to plan, and to dream has been a challenge but we’ve been working through it.
On the constructive feedback or some people call it constructive criticism, what’s been the mindset shift that you’ve adopted that maybe helped you to process that feedback better?
We’ve had a lot of conversations about it. One of the things that was helpful was your speaker that you introduced us to, Ryan Gottfredson who talked about open and close mindsets. We typically don’t think that we have a closed mindset when we do. I took that little quiz and I was able to see that I have a closed mindset, especially when this is my baby. I have the contacts and they’re paying for the work that’s in my head. I’m trying to realize, “I’m being very close-minded. He has ideas that are awesome and I need to listen to him.” Being aware of that and I have a card on my desk here that says, “Are you being close-minded or open-minded?” I can remind myself to check my attitude and my behavior, and be willing to listen to great things that I’m never going to think of. It’s taking some discipline and a little bit of a soul searching for myself.
A lot of people run up against that even when you’re not working with a family member. Being open to receiving feedback when that feedback isn’t positive and processing it can be a challenge. It’s pretty liberating once you make peace with it because then you can improve a lot more. I’m glad you shared that. On that learning and teaching from Ryan, we’ve gotten such great feedback from many clients like yourself. For everyone reading, we ran a virtual mastermind for some of our clients and we brought in a few different speakers that were amazing and Ryan was one of them. His work around mindset is so powerful. I’m glad to hear that you put it to action. Sarah, talk to me a little bit about where you are right now with the business? If you compare the stage where you’re at to the early days, what do you feel like you’ve made the most progress on? What to you is a lot clearer? What do you feel more confident compared to the earlier days?
I am more confident in asking for the business than I used to be. I know that I have a valuable service that people can use, save time, save a lot of heartache and expenditure by working with me because I’ve seen it play out. I’ve seen it work for others. I have that confidence to be more bold and ask for the business when maybe I would have shied away from it a year ago. I’ve also been much more willing to fail fast to try something, see that it’s not working, it’s not resonating, and to either drop it or change it up a little bit. I’m also a lot more confident in our process because we’ve spent the last eighteen months trying to figure out what is our process. What is the thing that people want? What is helpful? What is different than the market then everybody else is doing? We also are looking ahead to possibly selling our business one day and what that process would be that would be valuable.
I’m looking forward to talk with you about that, and have some ideas and thoughts for you that we can chat about later, but that’s great. You mentioned that you burn the ships and there was no going back. Based on where you are right now in your business, the growth that you’ve had, the success, the learning, the experience, do you ever think at all about, “It’d be nice to go back?”
No, almost never. The one thing though that I do think about and miss is working with a team that’s doing the same thing I’m doing and having those people to bounce things off of. I have tried to recreate that with my network and get on the phone with people that I don’t necessarily work with hand-in-hand, but we do similar things and we can bounce things off one another.
Sarah, thank you for coming on here. I want to make sure that people can learn more about you and your work and what you and Tyler are up to over at BCS. Where’s the best place for people to go?
Please look me up on LinkedIn. I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn, Sarah Borders, CEBS and I have a little light bulb behind my name. I’m easy to find. You can also check out my website at BenefitsComplianceSolutions.com.
Thank you, Sarah.