Christy Johnson is an entrepreneur and strategist currently building her fourth start-up, Artemis Connection and facilitating courses at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She also teaches entrepreneurship at the University of Washington.
Ultimately she believes people are an organization's most important asset and by having a diverse workforce, organizations will have the most innovative solutions. She has seven years of experience working in corporate strategy, including 3 ½ years at McKinsey & Co. Before this, Christy was an award-winning economics and mathematics teacher and in 2005, Junior Achievement recognized Christy as its National Teacher of the Year.
Christy holds an MBA from Stanford's Graduate School of Business with a certificate in public management. She also has a Master's in Education from Stanford's School of Education. Her undergraduate degree is in Economics from Western Washington University. Christy resides in Mukilteo, Washington with her husband, Kyle Johnson, her daughter and her twin boys.
The Upside: What did you do in your past life before going out on your own?
Christy: I've always been interested in start-ups, so I've been involved in three (mostly as an early stage employee).
What's your current elevator pitch?
I focus on strategy definition, process redesign, and team effectiveness, working with small to mid-sized companies that are focused on growth.
You've been out on your own now since 2013. What originally made you pull the trigger?
Serendipity. I had twins who were born 7 weeks early. Our pediatrician strongly recommended we keep them out of childcare until age 2 so their lungs could develop. People figured I'd be bored while home with small children and started giving me project work. I loved being able to help out behind the scenes. The variety of work was incredible and my clients were happy. So I decided to build a firm.
What's been your biggest *win* as an independent contractor?
So many! Landing some major Fortune 500 companies. Getting projects where I feel I can truly help them build a robust strategy they can actually implement.
What's been your biggest challenge as an independent contractor?
It's such a simple business but is is so lumpy. The challenge has been doing the work, leading business development and building the business at the same time.
What was your biggest stumble and what did you learn from it?
Hiring. Everyone says they want to do project work, they're okay with the remote environment, they love working in teams, they love serving clients but when the rubber meets the road, it's actually a small percentage that really loves the client services aspect and the rigorous problem solving. I've made some mistakes in hiring.
What do you love most about being an independent contractor?
Serving clients, solving hard problems, coaching clients (especially when it is something they're doing for the first time), variety of the work, getting to build teams, open sourcing key learnings we're having (e.g., in diversity, equity, inclusion).
How did you land your first clients?
Referrals. A classmate of mine from business school knew someone who might need what I could do.
Who helped you along the way and how did they help?
So many people. First and foremost my husband. He's super direct with me and he knows my weakness, the traps I continually play out (namely being too trusting) and takes care of our kiddos when I'm traveling or pushing to meet a deadline.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about independent contractors and freelancers?
That you'll just be doing projects.
What steps do you think one should take when first starting a consulting career of their own?
1) Do your homework. Consulting is a broad term with a lot of noise. Decide what type of consultant you want to be.
2) Have grit. You'll hear a lot of nos before you hear a yes.
3) Practice. Make sure your contracts are tight, your accounting is right, use data, practice your pitch.
4) Find support. Seek networks, find advisors / mentors / champions, read a lot. Everything you can about the industry you want to be in, technical updates, etc.
5) Enjoy the journey. It will probably unfold totally differently from what you expect. The sooner you release the desire to control all of it, the more enjoyable your journey will be.
What advice would you give someone who's interested in going out on their own?
Focus, Do your homework, share what you're thinking, practice, set goals and look at your numbers on a regular basis.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What's next for you?
Still doing this but at a much larger scale. I'd love for my firm Artemis to be the top destination for mid-market companies that want hard problems solved with no drama. Then for talent, I'd love to be the top destination for consultants who love the team problem solving, love serving clients and want more flexibility. I'd love to opensource more of research and be a proof point for the future of work.
Ok Christy, now give us some of your insider tips:
My favorite app is Slack because it lets me communicate with the team, start phone calls (even Zoom), has amazing search functionality and is easy to upload articles, photos, videos to even from my phone.
The technology that has changed the way I do business is the cloud because we can share documents and brainstorm even if we aren't in the same location.
The future of work is the trend that excites me most because work needs to get disrupted. There are so many people that want to contribute in a meaningful way but can't because of the geography they live in or the flexibility they need. The movement towards more distributed and flexible workplaces is exciting. Hopefully this will help distribute opportunities beyond just the hi-tech hubs.
On the future of work:
Human sustainability is the future of work because as we move to a knowledge economy we'll have to make sure we aren't burning out people. Fostering an environment that enables creativity is very different from a more rote workplace.
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