CNBC make it 2024-04-11 02:00:53

62-year-old started her business with $1,000—now it brings in $25M/year: ‘I just had to do this’

Deryl McKissack’s career is a culmination of effort from five generations.

The 62-year-old is the president and CEO of McKissack & McKissack, the Washington, D.C.-based construction management and design firm behind some of today’s most recognizable buildings — from building the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture to repairing the Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson memorials.

The firm’s legacy dates back to her great-great grandfather Moses, a skilled brick maker who originally came to the U.S. as a slave in 1790. His skills were passed down and cultivated from generation to generation, prompting two of his grandsons to create a construction company in Tennessee, also called McKissack & McKissack.

That company remains in the family, now based in New York and run by McKissack’s twin sister Cheryl. “My father always took us [to] job sites, took us to the office. We talked about it around the table,” says McKissack. “It was always a very integral part of our family.”

Motivated by a desire to strike out on her own, and to see more Black women CEOs in the construction industry, McKissack withdrew $1,000 from her savings account and launched her company in 1990. Today, it brings in between $25 million and $30 million per year, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It, and manages $15 billion in projects with offices in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Baltimore.

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“I remember in college, there were probably three women in my class, and my twin sister was one of them. So it’s very rare that women are in this industry, but we’re excelling,” McKissack says.

‘I had this burning passion … that I just had to do this’

McKissack left an engineering job with a six-figure salary to launch her company, and quickly learned that even with a Howard University civil engineering degree and relevant work experience, attracting clients was difficult.

Lugging an old projector around, she presented slides of work she’d done for family members to help “sell my wares.” She placed a job ad in the Washington Post, and hired an employee.

“It was touch and go because I didn’t have a bank that believed in me,” says McKissack. “It took me five years to get my first $10,000 line of credit. I probably went to 11 banks that told me ‘no’ … [but] I had this burning passion on the inside that I just had to do this, and it was going to work out for me.”

She used her networking skills to land her company’s first project: doing interior work at her alma mater. She and her lone employee did all the work themselves, with McKissack putting in 80 hours of labor per week, she says.

One successful job led to another, and McKissack built a portfolio of work to show prospective clients. She applied for jobs as a federal contractor, getting her foot in the door to work on construction projects at the White House and U.S. Treasury building. Larger federal projects followed.

McKissack only paid herself $7,200 her first year in business, she says. Her second, $18,000. She finally paid herself a $100,000 salary after roughly ten years, she adds, prioritizing paying her employees over herself along the way.

“I’m extremely proud of where we are and the projects that we’ve done … the impact that we’ve had in people’s lives,” says McKissack.

‘I haven’t made it until more Black [people] have made it’

The global construction industry is projected to be worth $13.9 trillion by 2037, according to a 2023 report from market research firm Oxford Economics. Yet women still make up only 1.4% of construction CEOs worldwide, and Black women account for a fraction of that.

Despite the identical company names, McKissack and her sister do run separate businesses — but they’ve collaborated on several projects, and often “trade notes” with each other, she says.

“We lean on each other in challenging times. And it’s great to have an identical twin that is doing the same thing that I’m doing in a bigger city like New York,” she says. “The challenges that she faces are different from mine, but they’re similar. So it’s good to have someone to talk to.”

A healthy support system is rare for most Black and women construction executives, largely because so few of them exist, McKissack says. Last year, she founded AEC Unites, a nonprofit that provides professional opportunities for Black talent in the architecture, engineering and construction industry.

“I haven’t made it until more Blacks and more women have made it,” she says, adding: “Once more people that look like me are in the industry and they’re dominating in parts of this industry, then I can sit back and say, ‘We’ve made it.’”

One of them, she hopes, will be her daughter — a bioengineering student at New York University who could become the sixth generation of McKissacks in the construction industry.

“I tell her all the time that all roads lead to McKissack,” she says. “And I don’t care how she gets there.”

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This is ‘the first step to building wealth,’ says financial planner—you can start today

“Save three to six months’ worth of expenses for emergencies.”

“Never put less than a 20% down payment on a house.”

“Make sure you have at least $1 million saved to retire.”

Americans are inundated with well-meaning financial advice that’s easier said than done. The trouble is, when the benchmark for success is so high, it can feel especially challenging or even pointless to start climbing toward it. 

But as the saying goes, every great journey starts with a single step. And when it comes to money, the little moves forward do add up over time. That’s why it’s often important to start as soon as you can. Even if you’re starting small.

“The first step to building wealth is to start creating strong habits to stay consistent with your saving and investing plans,” Chelsea Ransom-Cooper, a CFP with Zenith Wealth Partners in New Jersey, tells CNBC Make It.

Here are three of those habits you can start right away that can put you on a path toward building wealth.

1. Tracking your spending

Regardless of how much money you’re bringing in each month, keeping track of how much you need to spend on your essentials, and how much you wind up spending on everything else, is a crucial step to accomplishing virtually any financial goal.

“While saving or investing $5 a month can pay off over time, unchecked spending can easily cause all the progress made by saving bit-by-bit to go kaput,” Billy Hatton, a certified financial planner based in Los Angeles, tells CNBC Make It. “If you don’t know how much you can afford, you may bite off more than you can chew and still be stuck with the bill.”

As part of its National Financial Literacy Month efforts, CNBC will be featuring stories throughout the month dedicated to helping people manage, grow and protect their money so they can truly live ambitiously.

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You don’t need to track every single dollar you spend or make major cuts to your discretionary spending to get started. In fact, doing the latter may actually be counterproductive, given that many financial experts say restrictive budgets don’t work

Nevertheless, to make your money work for you, you need a basic understanding of what you’re spending it on.

“Budgeting doesn’t have to be a massive endeavor you take on all at once,” Nathan Mueller, a CFP based in Colorado says. “Start small [by] tracking just a few key areas: food, entertainment, gas, and clothes.”

2. Keeping an emergency fund

If there’s one guarantee in life when it comes to money, it’s that you’ll encounter financial surprises — likely several over the course of a lifetime.

Sometimes they’re relatively small, like getting a flat tire. Others, like losing your job, have the potential to drastically change your financial picture.

To prepare for unexpected expenses big and small, start setting aside emergency savings. You may not have enough cash on hand to get you through your next rainy day, but money experts agree something is better than nothing. After all, in the case of a financial emergency, any cash you have stashed away is money you don’t need to withdraw from retirement accounts or put on a credit card.

“While the conventional wisdom endorses three to six months of living expenses, I persistently advocate that any amount is superior to none,” Will Kellar, a CFP, partner and lead advisor at Human Investing, recently told CNBC Make It.

3. Investing for the future

It’s a common misconception that you need to already be rich to make money through investing. As with your emergency fund, having even a little bit of money invested wisely in the stock market can help you in the long run. Time invested in the market is almost as valuable as the amount of money you’re putting in, so it’s a good idea to start as soon as you can.

It’s true the larger your initial investment, the bigger your gains will be when they start coming. But small, consistent contributions can grow into large sums over time when you invest versus just saving the cash, thanks to the power of compound interest.

For example, if a 27-year-old put just $20 a month aside and saved it in cash, they’d have $9,600 at age 67. But if they invested that $20 a month instead, their balance would grow to $70,771 over the same amount of time, assuming an 8% annualized return.

“It is worth it to start investing a small amount like $5 or $20 a month, because you are building a habit,” says Ransom-Cooper.

Like any habit, investing regularly takes some time and repetition to really stick, so even if it’s a small amount, getting in that routine is a good place to start.

Want to make extra money outside of your day job? Sign up for CNBC’s new online course How to Earn Passive Income Online to learn about common passive income streams, tips to get started and real-life success stories. Register today and save 50% with discount code EARLYBIRD.

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27-year-old started side hustle to escape ‘windowless office’—now her business brings in $25K/month

It’s Tuesday night, and Liz Chick is in her studio in Brooklyn, New York watching Ella Emhoff — the stepdaughter of U.S. vice president Kamala Harris — teach 20-somethings to do something called knit painting.

Running the studio, called RecCreate Collective, is Chick’s dream job, she says. Multiple nights per week, Chick — often sporting a quilted jacket she dyed herself using avocado pits — hosts instructors who teach knitting, collaging, painting and sculpting classes of up to 45 people.

It’s also the most lucrative job she’s ever had, says Chick, 27. In January, just ten months after hosting its first class, the studio brought in $25,000 in revenue, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. RecCreate has been profitable since December, and Chick pays herself a salary of roughly $5,500 per month, she says.

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To get her business off the ground, Chick took on “windowless office” jobs, carted art supplies up and down her fourth-floor walk-up and trusted that she’d eventually get paid for her art.

She also got abnormally lucky. In 2022, Chick won $50,000 in a sweepstakes drawing she didn’t even realize she’d entered, providing the seed money she needed to rent the studio’s physical space and launch her business.

The unexpected cash infusion was a lifeline. “I would never go back to an office job … I hope to never have to,” says Chick. “It feels amazing to be able to make a living doing my dream job. I think are so few people who get to say that.”

Creating a balancing act

As a teenager in in the greater Chicago area, Chick thrifted, bleached and sold high-waisted denim shorts to YouTube influencers, she says. “I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” she says, adding: “I’ve been doing creative projects on the side, attempting to them into a business for, like, years and years and years.”

At age 18, she moved to New York to attend the Parsons School of Design. When she graduated in 2019, entry-level design strategy jobs were hard to come by, so she took a salaried desk job at a local park. The pay was scant and the office was dimly lit, Chick says.

Without a professional creative outlet, Chick created a personal one. She started dying fabrics, using natural items like avocado pits, onion skins and dried florals. She hosted a pop-up shop in her 12-by-14-foot bedroom, selling dyed beeswax wraps — like saran wrap, but made from wax-coated fabric — to her friends.

Soon, Chick was selling dyed patchwork jackets and bags at pop-up flea markets around New York on weekends. She job-hopped to fund those artistic endeavors — first working in marketing, then as an environmental educator, tutor and nanny.

“I really needed to work because I’ve always pretty much supported myself,” Chick says. ”[But] it was just so clear to me … I felt like I had to find the jobs with the least resistance while I worked on my own stuff.”

Lucky breaks

Chick’s artistic side hustle cost most of her free time and salary, and required manual labor. At night, she dyed fabrics in 20-quart stock pots, which were so heavy that she had to ladle the water out instead of dumping it into a strainer, she says.

After a pop-up event in 2022, she reached a breaking point. “I hauled all of my stuff up my fourth-floor walk-up and I was just laughing ridiculously,” she says. “When I walked into my apartment, my roommate was like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I [realized] the amount of hours of unpaid labor I had been doing for years.”

Chick needed a physical space. Around the time she started looking for studios to rent, she caught a huge break: She got an email saying she’d won $50,000 in a sweepstakes hosted by Earnest, a San Francisco-based private student loan provider and refinancer.

She’d unwittingly entered the competition while researching prospective rates for a student loan refinance, she says. After taxes, she pocketed roughly $30,000, which she calls a “life-changing amount of money.”

The funds came in handy when, nine months later, she found her perfect studio space. She started renting it for $2,800 per month in March 2023, subleasing it out while she built a plan for RecCreate Collective.

“I had never had jobs that allowed me to have any savings at all, let alone a hefty fund to invest into something,” Chick says.  

‘Vibes are expensive’

Back in the studio, Chick watches Emhoff teach attendees how to use duplicate stitches, which go on top of existing ones, to embed images onto knitwear. They sit in folding chairs across from brightly-colored tapered candles, sip tea and chat over music while they work.

It was costly to make the space feel cozy and creative. “Vibes are expensive,” Chick jokes.

Of the $25,000 RecCreate brought in in January, $9,000 went to rent, supplies, contractors, insurance and more. The remaining $16,000 was profit, which Chick used to pay herself and reinvest into the business. Some of RecCreate’s profits go into a fund that subsidizes low-cost tickets for people who can’t afford the classes — which typically range from $20 to $50 per session, says Chick, but can occasionally rise to $130.

She credits RecCreate’s growing popularity to a single factor, the same one that drove her to find a creative outlet in the first place: “In a post-Covid digital age … a lot of people who are working on their computers all day [are] really looking for a tactile experience.”

“People are really craving spaces to be in person with one another,” Chick adds. “Everyone can sit at home and knit a sweater, but it’s really special to be able to come into a room with a bunch of strangers and connect with them.”

Want to make extra money outside of your day job? Sign up for CNBC’s new online course How to Earn Passive Income Online to learn about common passive income streams, tips to get started and real-life success stories. Register today and save 50% with discount code EARLYBIRD.

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The 3 biggest red flags hiring managers look for in resumes, according to new research

If you use artificial intelligence to write your resume — or get a bit too creative with the design — you could be hurting your chances of landing a job. 

The biggest red flag hiring managers look for in job candidates is an AI-generated resume, according to new research from Resume Genius, which surveyed 625 hiring managers across the U.S. Other resume faux pas include poor formatting and typos.

Here are the three biggest resume red flags that could cost you a job offer, and how to avoid them, according to a hiring expert:

AI-generated resumes 

More than half (53%) of hiring managers say they have reservations about resumes that include AI-generated content, with 20% calling it a “critical issue” that might prevent them from hiring someone.

“It’s extremely important that your resume is a truthful, authentic reflection of the skills and experience you bring to the table,” says Michelle Reisdorf, district director at recruitment firm Robert Half. “If you use AI to write a resume for you in minutes, it tells me you didn’t put a lot of time and thought into applying to my job.”

Reisdorf, who has worked in recruiting and hiring for over 30 years, still encourages jobseekers to use AI to review and edit their resume — but says you should write the first draft.

“AI is great for proofreading and enhancing what you’ve already written, but it’s not a one-stop shop to generate the perfect resume,” she adds. “Recruiters will be able to tell if you’re not including specific details from your past jobs or writing in a personal, human voice.”

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Frequent job-hopping

Similarly, resumes showing a pattern of frequent job-hopping make 50% of hiring managers hesitant to move forward with a candidate, Resume Genius found. 

This red flag is trickier to avoid: If you’ve switched jobs a lot, you can’t lie about your employment history. Plus, hiring managers have different definitions of what constitutes excessive job-hopping. 

For some, it might be changing jobs every 1-2 years, while others would argue it’s a shorter timeframe (opting to move after less than a year). 

You don’t have to explain every time you switched roles, “as most recruiters aren’t looking for that on the first pass,” Reisdorf says. “They want to know if you have the skills and the experience to do the job well — your past experiences and commitment to work are usually saved for the interview.”

If you have several short stints on your resume, however, Reisdorf recommends including a brief context (1-2 sentences) of your job changes elsewhere on your application. 

“Most online applications will have text fields for additional comments or ‘reasons for leaving’ after you upload your resume,” she explains. “That’s a good place to acknowledge any job-hopping without drawing too much attention to it.”

Otherwise, save any explanations of your career choices for the interview.

Poor formatting

Another red flag hiring managers look out for on resumes is poor formatting, whether it’s a disorganized layout, using an obscure font or simply forgetting to spell-check. 

Reisdorf says clean, simple resumes are the most effective as they’re easy for anyone to read and understand. That means using a basic black font, trimming it to one page and having clearly labeled, organized sections. 

Put simply, you want a recruiter’s attention to be focused on your accomplishments — not a bold typeface choice or cluttered layout. 

Proofreading for any spelling or grammar mistakes before submitting your resume is important, too, Reisdorf says, because it shows your potential employer that you’re detail-oriented and conscientious. 

“Ultimately, you want the hiring manager to focus on you, as the candidate, versus the mistakes on your resume,” says Reisdorf. “Your resume should make them excited to interview and, hopefully, hire you.”

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay. CNBC Make It readers can save 25% with discount code 25OFF.

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‘Reacher’ star Alan Ritchson lived ‘behind a grocery store in my truck’ well before finding success

Alan Ritchson is one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood, but his journey to the A-List has been anything but easy. 

In a profile published in the Hollywood Reporter last week, the 41-year-old reflected on the path that led him to “Reacher,” Guy Ritchie and beyond. 

The actor said he grew up in a strict home, with parents who kept a close eye on him and sent him to daily mass. As a high school student, Ritchson said his sense of independence led him to run away.

“I was fiercely independent and didn’t want my parents paying for anything for me because I felt like it gave them power over me,” he said. “I wanted to make my own decisions.”

He took the money he earned working odd jobs and bought himself a “crappy” used Toyota truck. He also bought an air mattress so he could sleep in the truck bed.

“I felt like I deserved it because I paid for my phone, insurance and I put gas in my car,” he said. “I went and lived behind a grocery store in my truck. I slept out there for a long time.” 

Eventually Ritchson moved back home. He earned a full ride to Northwest Florida State College but dropped out after just two years. 

He struggled to get steady work as an actor for years. He’d supplement his income with side hustles including a “nightmare” gig managing an apartment building. 

“I’d be running out of cash and then some episode I’d filmed nine months earlier would air,” he said. But “Every time I thought I should get a different career, something would come.” 

These days Ritchson is busier than ever, with “Reacher” and a slew of film roles keeping him booked “for at least the next couple of years with, at most, six days off in between projects including travel.” 

And while Ritchson says that financially he’s “very well taken care of,” making money is no longer one of this top priorities. 

“I’ve come to learn that it’s not what matters most,” he said. “I try to keep my eyes fixed on opportunities to serve others.”

Want to make extra money outside of your day job? Sign up for CNBC’s new online course How to Earn Passive Income Online to learn about common passive income streams, tips to get started and real-life success stories. Register today and save 50% with discount code EARLYBIRD.

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