ByRecruiters · Ana Colak-Fustin

From Croatia to corporate coach: Discover how Ana Colak-Fustin turned her HR expertise into a thriving $40K business

April 25, 2024
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  • Ana Colak-Fustin
  • Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Started in 2018
  • $40K ARR
  • 2k+ Monthly visitors
  • Bootstrapped

What's your backstory?

I was born and raised in Croatia. When I was 13, I read "The Power of Your Subconscious Mind" by Joseph Murphy. (It's not a typical teen read, but it was on my older sister's reading list, so I had to read it, too.)

I was so inspired by that book that it motivated me to study psychology. I completed my bachelor's degree in psychology in my hometown and at the age of 22, I moved to Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia, to pursue my master's degree. During that time, I also started my first internship in recruitment and began building my career in HR.

Living abroad was always on my bucket list, and in 2017, I was finally able to cross it off. I moved to Poland to work as a corporate career coach. At the end of 2022, I moved again, this time to Sweden. However, my corporate job in career coaching got me thinking about using my 9-5 skills to start a business of my own, which ultimately led to the launch of ByRecruiters.

What does your company do and how did you come up with the idea?

ByRecruiters is a career blog and resume shop for corporate job seekers, HR professionals, and career service providers. My core products are resume templates and job search toolkits for personal and commercial use.

In 2018, I used my corporate HR experience and 9-5 skills to create my first template designed to help corporate professionals write their best resumes - faster and easier than starting from scratch. Since then, I've supported over 9,000 job seekers in over 80 countries worldwide through my products and helped dozens of resume writers, career experts, and HR professionals scale their businesses with digital products.

Having worked in HR as a recruiter and career coach, I realized that everyone can use a helping hand in their job search.

At first, job search coaching seemed like the only option. But when I accidentally stumbled upon digital products on Etsy, I decided to use my recruitment and career coaching expertise to create strategic, easy-to-use, DIY templates and job search toolkits. And that's how the ByRecruiters idea was born.

How did you get your first 10 customers/subscribers?

I launched my business on Etsy and got my first 10 customers there.

As this was my first attempt at entrepreneurship and I didn't have any entrepreneurs in my circle to seek advice from, my main goal was to make the process of launching, testing the idea, and determining its feasibility as simple and quick as possible.

At that time, launching a shop on Etsy seemed the best way to do it. Back then, Etsy had over 40 million buyers per year (this number has doubled since), it was free to open a shop, the whole process was straightforward, and it only cost me $4 to list my first 20 products. So, for the low cost, I was able to put my products out there and start attracting customers.

It took me a while to figure out the Etsy SEO and improve my product photos, but I was surprised to receive my first ten customers within the first two months. This was relatively fast compared to my initial expectations. From there, I continued learning more about Etsy SEO, creating new products to expand my shop, and improving the overall customer experience, which helped me attract my first 100 customers, too.

How did you align your product or service with your target customers' needs?

To confirm my product was a good match for my customers, I did something many new founders, particularly those starting a small side hustle, tend to miss out on - I conducted in-depth market research.

Now, saying "market research" makes it sound abstract and more complex than it was. In reality, it looked like 7-10 days of googling, finding competitors, reviewing their products, reading their reviews, identifying ways to create better products that can bridge the gap in the market, and noting down everything I learned in the process.

Through market research, I learned that most resume templates:
- were created by graphic designers without any hiring background, so most templates were excessively designed, leaving little room for the most crucial part of a resume - the content,
- were often filled with "lorem ipsum" content, offering no real guidance or substance for customers looking to craft their resumes,
- were overly complex and time-consuming to edit, primarily because they were designed using Photoshop or other designer-specific software,
- fell short for corporate job seekers and jobs as the focus was more on making the resume look aesthetically pleasing, rather than creating space for what recruiters and hiring managers actually look for - high-quality content, qualifications, and achievements

When I first got the idea to start ByRecruiters resume template shop, I wrongly assumed that creating a resume template or any other job search resource would be as simple as putting together the insider hiring information in a nicely formatted document.

However, after conducting market research, I realized that to create products that can actually solve my customers' problems, i.e., crafting a resume that stands out and puts them at the top of the candidate list, I must enhance my skills in various areas, including design, copywriting, product functionality, etc. Additionally, I wanted to provide foolproof resume-writing resources to make the process easier for my customers.

It took me almost two months to develop the first resume template that was ready for sale. But I didn't stop optimizing my products after that.

I've continuously improved my products based on the feedback I received from customers. As a result, the current version of my products is significantly different from the initial version. Every aspect of the product has been upgraded, including the design, guidance, and supporting resources. I'm committed to continuously learning and improving my products, so this process is ongoing and never-ending. And I've learned along the way that continuously improving products is key to any business's success.

How did you gain your first 100 customers and what platforms or methods did you use?

My strategy for growing my customer base from 0 to 100 was to optimize my product listings, photos, and SEO on Etsy.

However, to get to the first 1000 customers, I needed something that goes beyond Etsy. After a year of being on that platform, I launched my blog and website, started writing blog posts, and started driving traffic to my site and Etsy shop with Pinterest.

Combining long-form SEO blog posts with an evergreen marketing channel such as Pinterest has been a game-changer. It significantly increased my traffic and sales by bringing in the first thousand customers while providing them with additional value through free, high-quality content.

What distribution channels did you try that didn’t work?

I've experimented with several social media platforms, such as TikTok, Instagram, and LinkedIn, for the past 3-4 years. However, I've never been able to stick with any of them for too long. None of them has significantly moved the needle or fully clicked for me yet.  

For some reason, they feel all-consuming. Whenever I try to regularly post content on social media platforms, creating content, engaging with my audience, and—in full transparency—chasing the algorithm completely takes over everything else.

My biggest challenge is finding the right way to consistently and sustainably create content for social media while creating content, writing, supporting customers, managing finances, and balancing all the other things I do as a solopreneur.

So far, I've learned that batching content creation and scheduling posts works much better for me than doing it every day.

For example, I usually write several blog posts per week and schedule them for publishing over the coming weeks or months. I follow the same approach for Pinterest, where I create new designs and write fresh content in just 2-3 days and then schedule them for the next 3 months. The best part is that even after 3-4 years, my old pins still drive traffic to my site. Now, I am looking for a way to apply the same batching technique to my social media strategy, especially on LinkedIn and Instagram.

What tools, software, or resources have been crucial in scaling your business?

Tailwind! It's a social media and marketing tool that allows me to schedule all my pins for a few weeks or months in advance. This tool has helped me streamline my process with Pinterest and saved me approximately 20-40 hours per month. It keeps publishing all my pins on autopilot and it helps me confidently drive traffic to my website and Etsy shop. I highly recommend it!

Who do you recommend to follow for business growth insights?

For HR business owners, I recommend Ben Geoghegan's "A Better HR Business" podcast and his GetMoreHRClients site. I also love business tips from Pat Walls (Starter Story), Tim Ferris, and Alex and Leila Hormozi. I've learned a lot from their content and stories.

How did you shift from a side hustle to full-time entrepreneurship?

I juggled my full-time job and building ByRecruiters as a side hustle for three years, from 2018 until 2021. During that period, I worked from 9 to 5 in HR. All my spare time and weekends were focused on creating new products, improving existing ones, learning about digital marketing, and trying and testing things I learned along the way.

I prioritized having a financial safety net, so I didn't quit my 9-5 job until ByRecruiters' earnings surpassed it.

In full transparency, this wasn't my ultimate goal when I started building ByRecruiters. I initially just hoped to learn a bit about earning online and help job seekers with my experience as a recruiter and career coach. But in terms of my time and effort, I went all in, which, in hindsight, was the key to taking it from a side hustle level to full-time entrepreneurship.

What drives you to do what you do?

I've thought about this a lot and realized that I'm driven by three things — learning, impact, and freedom. I’m motivated by learning new things every day, making a difference by helping others on their career and business journey and doing all that with the total freedom to work when and where I want.

Beyond that, I'm driven and inspired by the results my clients get. Waking up to messages from job seekers who landed interviews and job offers or fellow business owners who have sold their first digital products inspires me and it's my biggest motivation.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned in entrepreneurship so far?

As a solopreneur, I've learned that life and business are inseparable, and I am still trying to find the best way to balance them.

For example, last year, life bureaucracy got the better of me. I spent months just trying to set up my company in the country I moved to. So, product creation, custom projects, client work, and everything else was on hold because I didn't have any time or mental energy for that. I also took the longest breaks since I started running my business. For instance, I took 5-6 weeks completely off in the summer and haven't gotten back to working until September.

Everything I earned last year was mostly on autopilot, which is the most powerful thing about building a digital product business. But, ultimately, my revenue decreased in 2023 compared to 2022. So, as a solopreneur, I'm learning to accept that there are seasons for everything, and it's challenging to keep a business always on the growing side, as life sometimes completely takes over — and that's okay.

Any quotes you live by?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."

I came across this quote a few years ago, and it has stayed with me ever since. As a small business owner, I was often overwhelmed by big opportunities, especially without a large entrepreneurial network to rely on.

Now, I see that most actions require only a few seconds of courage - sending that email, pitching that opportunity, or publishing something. The best opportunities often arise from taking that leap of faith. This quote reminds me that the growth I'm looking for is on the other side of fear, and it encourages me to step out of my comfort zone.

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Any promotions you would like to add for Founderoo readers?

With the promo code FOUNDEROO, Founderoo readers get 10% off all my resume templates and bundles on my website

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