This week our guest is SaraEllen Hutchison, a consumer protection lawyer and entrepreneur from Seattle who opened her own law practice. Let’s jump right in to learn more about this unique combination.
What is your business?
My practice focuses on consumer credit issues– credit reporting errors, identity theft, debt collection abuse, and credit card billing errors. I run a low-overhead, frugal law office.
What did you do before you started your own consumer protection practice?
I worked in nonprofits and, prior to that, I worked in criminal law.
I have a big heart, but a frugal head, and so I had to start my own business (even with no business experience) because I was tired of seeing how inefficient and dysfunctional many workplaces are in law and nonprofits.
Who were some influencers in your decision to be an entrepreneur?
I’m a “cusper” — a late gen-Xer born in ’78.
I got all the eye-rolling, reality bites cynicism of the X generation, combined with the individualism of the millennials.
I’m unsuited to work for others. My dad also changed careers several times in his life even though that’s unusual for his generation.
How did you prepare to take the leap both financially and in your business?
I practically lived on popcorn and paid off the ~$5k credit card debt built up from my broke-ass nonprofit days.
Then, with only some student loan debt left, I opened a practice.
I took cases in Seattle while living in Spokane and did a lot remotely and virtually.
Now I have no student loans, and save money by living in Tacoma, while still doing a lot virtually and remotely…and I still eat a lot of popcorn.
Were you already making money on the side before you decided to quit your job to start a solo law practice? Tell us about that.
It was October 2010. I went cold-turkey on working for others. Gave a notice and quit.
It still feels good when I think about it.
Who else works in your practice with you? Did you hire anyone to help? When did you decide to bring that person on and how did you find them?
I occasionally have co-counsel because it is fun and smart to team-up on bigger cases.
Can you share any financial details about your business?
I make a good living and can afford to be selective with the clients I take.
What was your worst day so far as an entrepreneur and what was your best day? What happened on those days?
Best day was getting a $200k verdict against a collection agency.
Worst time was when I was running it while my mom had cancer (and only a couple weeks left).
I can’t remember the details, but someone was hard on me about my not getting back to them as fast as they wanted. Some people are difficult.
What is one small “trick” or piece of advice that you have learned about reaching customers or making sales? Please be specific and provide something actionable for us.
Find a niche within a niche!
And occasionally team up with someone more experienced and visible, as that will get you a bit of a running start.
Give us two truths and a lie about yourself so we can get to know you better personally!
I’m a double black diamond skier.
I used to be a competitive ballroom dancer.
I never watch cat videos.
Thanks to SaraEllen for taking the time to share her story! I don’t know about everyone else, but I think the lie is the cat videos; she definitely must watch them 😉
Stay tuned for the next Feature Friday. If you’d like to share your story, sign up on our ‘Get Featured’ page!
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