2018 Round-Up: Challenges I didn’t expect!

Can you believe how fast 2018 flew by? The year is officially over, and 2019 is now a reality. Following that train of thought, it’s impossible not to reflect on all the challenges I faced, as well as the happy, difficult and bittersweet moments the past year brought with it, both personally and professionally.

Exactly one year ago, I was mulling over my personal New Year’s resolutions. I remember very distinctly how one of my priorities was to “help my members to find a job in the USA.” That was, without a doubt, one of the biggest challenges of 2018.

The end of 2018 came as a surprise! I wish I’d had far more time to devote to my followers. I’m unhappy I was not able to give them more!

So, if my biggest challenge in 2018 wasn’t the one I expected, what was it?

ACCOUNTING, LEGAL, AND TAX

As simple as that.

I created the company on January 30th, 2017, and launched the USponsor Me website in Oct. 2017. One can’t possibly imagine the number of issues I’ve been caught up in since that day… Unbelievable!

I’m not American. I’ve been here for 4 years now, and English is not my mother tongue. I started this company from scratch: no website, no subscribers, no funds, no experience with startup creation, marketing, accounting, tax, sales, fund raising, legal, recruitment experience or skills, nothing! It was just our visa and job search experience story (both of us, Max and I), and experience and skills as IT software engineer (Max) and IT product owner (me), that greatly helped us in creating this awesome USponsor Me web app together.

Now… I know how business works better in the USA than in my mother country! You will see why right now!

Some of you love what we have done, some of you hate us

In 2017, Max and I founded this company with our savings. Luckily, our family also helped us. And we found an investor, a man who has followed my French blog, Vivre au-delà des frontières, since 2014.

Given my limited funds and the little monthly revenue I garnered during the first year, I had to be superwoman, working six jobs at once.

I kid you not some few people sent me emails telling me they hated me because of my business “revenue” without even knowing what it actually was. Each time, my thought was, “Damn it! What do you really think I’m doing during my day? That I get paid for relaxing on the beach with a cocktail in hand?” If you have the audacity to believe that, you are completely wrong….

You cannot imagine how hard it is to start a business; it’s much, much harder than being a great employee with lots of responsibilities (I have done both).

Currently, I’m working 12 hours a day, almost 7/7 days a week, working on six jobs at the same time, and… basically for FREE.

I have gained 24 pounds (12 kg) sitting on my chair all day long, with no time for socializing, no time for extra activities, no time for sports, and no time to hang out.

I put my health and friends on a secondary level for this business!

I’m a long way from relaxing on the beach, don’t you think? I hope one day I will be able to retire on the beach; I think I will deserve that…

I chose my life, and I know what I’m doing. If I want to stop doing this, I will. So I’m not here to complain. I just want you to realize it’s not what you think.

So, let’s get started with these challenges I faced last year…

Denied Visa: 3 months stuck outside the USA and unable to go home

To summarize 2018, we started the year with a denied E2 investor visa in early January, followed by 3 months in which Max and I were stuck outside the USA.

Even our friends didn’t believe us when we told them; they thought we were joking at first!

It was a shock for us! This appointment at the embassy was the last step before receiving the visa. Our lawyer assured us it would not be denied. This possibility hadn’t even occurred to us.

We had to cancel our flight; we couldn’t go home. We had to manage our home and schedules from France.

Thank god, we have some friends in our neighborhood who help us tremendously during that time.

We found ourselves spending a massive amount of time on immigration paperwork to put it in the right order.

My advice on this: choose ONLY the lawyer you feel good about. You should first come to an agreement with your lawyer how you will present your E2 case.

After this issue was resolved, we finally went back home in March. We sent
an extra 2 months to put everything in order. All of that while I was trying to handle everything as a CEO!

Either way, on a happier note, I was so glad that I could now focus on my business.

Unfortunately, Again, I was wrong. 😥

Stock Distribution Headache

The tax return should be filled in April of each year in the USA. Once I got in contact with a CPA (Certified Public Accountant), he informed me that the initial stock distribution (with the help of a business lawyer) from the year before was not good at all!

USponsor Me had to pay $92,540 in taxes… It would literally liquidate the company as we didn’t have enough funds to pay it even with the revenue made in 2017 and 2018 together.

So, I contacted my business lawyer who had advised me to do the shared distribution like that, and she replied that she was not responsible for her impact on our taxes. Fine!

I had to ask the IRS for a time extension to file my taxes. I spent an incredible amount of time on the phone with multiple business lawyers to choose a good one who could help me with this awful mess I was in.

We had lots of member meetings, lots of back and forth between lawyers and CPAs. Lots of headaches from calculating and recalculating how to prove the stock share with the company value. We tried to think of every possible solution.

And one day… I remember this call with my lawyer vividly when she told me that all the headaches were mainly for… nothing!

The business value is one thing, the shared distribution is another. That’s it!

I wasn’t sure if we could do it like this. At first, we could not, and then it
changed.

It took until the end of July to resolve this issue!! I was sooo tired of all of this; you cannot imagine. I resolved the issue in time, and the company is still here, not liquidated. 🙂

And advice? Before working with a CPA and a business lawyer, be sure they contact each other to make sure they are on the same page legally and fiscally!

By the end of July, I was tired, but happy to now be able to focus on my real job: making sure my subscribers find their job in the USA!

And again, I was wrong… I was not finished with the tax return!  AAAAAHHHH!!!!

Payroll Mistake

I made plenty of mistakes myself, I assume. But some people around me helped me to make it much worse! Once I opened my bank account for my business, a sales representative of ADP (a payroll tool) caught me and assured me I had to be paid through payroll.

“It’s the law! It’s an obligation!” she told me.

I asked her to confirm if she was really sure it was the case for me because I owned an LLC. She confirmed, and insisted several times!!

I also asked around with my entrepreneur friends who told me the contrary: with an LLC, it’s not mandatory to get paid through payroll in California…

Hum, so was she lying?

Anyway, I needed to be paid a minimum for my work. So I went with them, I subscribed to their software and started to be paid.

And you know what?

With an LLC, it’s not mandatory to get paid through payroll in California, NO, it’s actually NOT ALLOWED! Can you believe it?

I discovered that two months after my first payroll, from the CPA I had just found to work with.

I was devastated!!

We had to fiscally change the company status to a C Corp. No big deal in the end, but I definitely canceled my ADP subscription.

A piece of advice? Don’t trust sales representatives, and don’t only ask your friends (they are so sweet to help, but they are not experts); find and ask your CPA before doing anything!!!

Ready to continue? Because we’re not finished yet…

Accounting, The Nightmare!

You cannot imagine how hard it was for me to find the right accounting software and get used to it, especially without knowing how American accounting works at all!

My mom helped me with this. She is an accountant in France, but not in the USA unfortunately. We tried to manage that. As we were both beginners on the matter, I hired a CPA to help us and teach us with the bookkeeping.

We changed the software three times. I started with a free European accounting software called: Wave. I got stuck with it shortly after as it was not designed for the American taxes.

To make sure I chose the most appropriate software, I picked an American software this time: Quickbooks, apparently the best one on the US market for small businesses. So, I switched to the Self-Employed QuickBooks. I asked my CPA who just nodded: take the software you want! Thanks for the advice, but it didn’t help me!

Unfortunately, four months after, we noticed that this Quickbooks plan was not appropriate for USponsor Me…

I remember when I told my mother that we needed to change the plan, she was utterly devastated!! I contacted the QuickBooks support, and it was not possible to transfer the data for this plan to another one. We had to start over a second time!!! Hundreds of work hours were wasted…

We spent a huge amount of time with the QuickBooks support and the CPA who wasn’t actually very helpful on the subject. However, on their invoice, they charged the time we spent describing the issue, and they spent with us just telling:  “I actually cannot help you”. It was literally a waste of time.

And if that’s not enough…

Originally, I offered my services and products in Euro. As Quickbooks doesn’t adequately manage multi-currency, the accounting for USponsor Me was a complete nightmare!!!! We had to manually enter each original
receipt and match it with the bank transaction. We spent HOURS, WEEKS even, on these tasks!!

I finally hired a third person to help us with this, a new bookkeeper. It was hard for me to trust her after all of the fake help we got. But, really, I’m so glad I found her!!!! She has taught me a lot, and I felt very supported by her. We (Tiffany, my mom and I) went through a lot of issues. A team only for the accounting!!!

The whole ordeal with finding the right people and tools caused lots of stress and frustration, and cost us lots of time.

We finally made it!

We filed the tax return as expected with clean accounting in October. And the solution I found for the coming year was to offer all the services only in USD! This resolves a lot of issues and the accounting is now almost in auto pilot thanks to all of our efforts!

Good news, right? But in the meantime… It was impossible for me to focus on the real job I was supposed to do: helping my subscribers to get a job!!

A piece of advice? If you don’t know anything about American accounting, don’t count on your CPA to help you; hire a bookkeeper you can trust who is expert on the US market!!

Mid October, once I was finally finished with this damn accounting and tax return, I was really wondering wether or not I could now focus on my real job??

New Competitors and Brand Stealing Risk

I was tired of all of that and was ready to pursue my job as I would like to. But I guess this startup is not on a long and quiet river at all anymore…

Competitors started to appear; one replicated my concept: the same description pages, exact same product, and exact same offer… Another took almost the same company name as me and offered a similar service!!!

Stress came up again. I have been trying so hard to get here that it’s not possible to let it go as easily!!! Can you imagine? My subscribers would get confused, thinking my company is the same as those! And what if one those was not respectable? I couldn’t be part of their cheat…

NO WAY!!

After I contacted a business lawyer again (as you can imagine, I spent a lot of time and money on lawyers), I finally filed a trademark request to the USPTO in the right categories so nobody else could use my brand. I also spent the time to understand copyright and how use it as it should be used. It took two months with the back and forth!

A piece of advice? Don’t neglect filling a trademark. I know it’s boring, but you will thank yourself for doing it sooner…

I could count hundreds, even thousands of issues I dealt with this year… But I will end it here. This article is already long enough as it is.

It’s really hard to find the right tool for one’s own business, and hard to find the right people to get help… But, once you have trustworthy people around you and the right tools for the job, life is so much better and easier!!

Now, let’s get down to business!

As I told you, I worked 12 hours a day, because I couldn’t let the time go by without writing any articles for the expat community I created.

Of course, I responded to all my subscribers’ emails I received every day, thank god! I receive around 50 emails per day from my subscribers alone, and many more besides. It often totals 100 emails per day. I try to reply to all people in within 48 hours – or two business days. It was not easy sometimes, and I definitely had some hard days this past year.

I made some decisions myself, bad and good. But the fact is, I always searched for help before making my choice. I got help from a coach for the first 2018 semester. I recreated my business plan following his advice, but it didn’t end as I was expecting. I don’t blame him, however. He really helped me getting my foot in the business as I had a full time job at the beginning.

I noticed that even with the videos I offered and the database with only sponsor companies, I had very few people who really got interviews thanks to the sponsor companies list. So, I started to think it would be better to make certain concessions…

If I cannot help everyone, can I help a small percentage of them?

With more than 50,000 subscribers and more than 60 new subscribers per day now, I continued helping my followers as much as I could with the time I had (not much). But on the other hand, I decided to focus on only a few subscribers, only six at the same time to teach them and guide them in a better way, to be sure they got their job in the USA with visa sponsorship.

They learned a lot from me, and I learned a lot from them! And I got much better results with this practice. But still, not the result I expected.

All my students, 100% of them, got informational interviews with internal contacts from targeted companies on the phone!! 😀

I was so happy at first that everyone had landed an interview or more.

But my excitement ended a few weeks after.

Only 30% of them got a job in the USA. For me, that was a little bit hard to take, as I was hoping for more than 80% success on finding a job.

I also didn’t think only 10 people could actually take 100% of my daytime hours for 6 months… I got so many help requests from them, and I wanted to do the best job I could guiding them.

So, I hired someone full time to help me with this. I lost money doing it this way, and I actually couldn’t pay myself or pay for the web app maintenance costs.

After this poor result, I shut down this service. I was disappointed: I thought “I can’t even help 10 people, and the first semester of 2018 is now gone.”

Sometimes, be alone facing all those stressful challenges can be very hard
for morally talking. Hopefully, Max did a great job to support me during all
this time.

Because even if I only got a 30% success rate with my 10 VIP students, I
got several other success stories during this first semester among my Stand
Out plan members, more than 20 people who found their jobs! The majority of
them found, not thanks to the companies list database, but thanks to the Visa Simulator, and the advice I offer regarding the resume and cover letter building. Additionally, they appreciated the direct approach strategy and the coaching group I organize weekly.

This period taught me a lot. It was not that bad after all. Those candidates got interviews; the method I taught in finding and approaching people to get them on the phone works for sure! It is the direct approach, by the way. However, the target of the company was still not the right one.

A candidate cannot be sponsored for all existing types of visa. On the contrary, the company (even sponsor) can not sponsor all types of visa. Both sides should match! If not, it’s a waste of time getting people on the phone. However, targeting like this is still not enough!

A candidate should target companies that need him and are willing to sponsor the visa he is eligible for.

I was operating based on the fact that 80% of jobs are not posted on job boards, so we targeted companies without considering if they had open jobs or not in the concerned field. This was a mistake I made, I assume. My students got lots of answers like: “We don’t need to fill this position at the moment.” It was not a good way to do it, I guess.

The second wave: focus on companies that have openings in the searched field

The second semester, I got back on track thinking there was still a solution to help people, guaranteeing I could definitely get them interviews with companies that needed them, and without any visa barrier.

Max and I hired a data scientist, and we worked pretty hard on the V2.0 of the web app. They really did a great job! On October the 30th, USponsor Me, which had started as simple companies list database, became a real job board! A job board that matches between companies and candidates with the job title and the visa.

And you know what?? IT NOW WORKS!!!! For the two months it’s been live, we have already had several people who got their job and job interview from open jobs on USponsor Me! 😀 It’s a HUGE improvement!

Yes, this is definitely a happy ending, born from much sweating. 🙂 Unbelievable, right? After all we went through this year, I’m really proud and happy to end it that way.

I really want to thank all of you who send me amazing emails to thank us for our work. I received a lot of them every day, and it really support me to continue this projet even during the bad moment. And I also want to thank you people who really trust us and use USponsor Me for their job search. Thanks for your contribution to this project!

Oh god, what a tumultuous year! But so much learning during this time… Now, what’s next for 2019?

We really tried to do our best for 2018, and believe me, we now have a solid base so that we can focus on the future of the USponsor Me app. 🙂

We notice now that members who land job interviews on our platform are the one who use it correctly. Now our focus is to be sure that everyone who lands on USponsor Me is strongly and personally guided to match with the right companies in order to get job interviews, because each of you are different! With that, we hope 2019 will be a year with plenty of success stories.

What do you think of that?

The only thing slowing us down right now is that before going further and reaching this objective, we need more funds, so that we can hire a guidance team.

Have you any desire to invest your money in a great cause? Let me know!

If you are interested in helping us build this awesome web app that will revolutionize the job search process for international candidates that need a work visa in the USA, I want to hear from you.

Currently there are over 12,000,000 international candidates looking for work in the USA every year facing the same problem we had, with a perpetual fight with few success. We envision that within a few years, this problem won’t exist anymore, done away with by intelligently matching between candidates and companies we are working one.

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Sarah Papasodaro

Expat in the USA, creator of the blog Vivre au-delà des frontières, and founder of USponsor me. My goal is to help you achieving your American Dream: living and working in the USA. :)