Be the Boss

This 33-year-old brought in $2 million making PowerPoints: Now she works just 25 hours a week

Courtney Allen.
Photo courtesy Courtney Allen

Courtney Allen, 33, had a hunch PowerPoint presentations could be a full-time job.

Allen grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and got her degree in graphic design from Boise State University in 2012. Passionate about presentation design and having used the software in the past, when it came time to present her senior portfolio, "it was all PowerPoint," she says. "And people thought that was a bit weird. 'What sort of job are you going to get just doing PowerPoints for a living?'" they asked. But she was determined to figure it out.

Allen spent the first few years out of college traveling the world and contracting as a dedicated PowerPoint presentation designer for companies like Cisco. Decks were anywhere from 10 to 50 slides. In 2015, she decided to buckle down on finding projects on work marketplace Upwork (she'd created a profile on an earlier version of the site, Elance). Within a year, the work started pouring in, and in May 2017, she founded her presentation-making company, 16X9.

Her personal contracts and those of her company have now brought in more than $2 million on Upwork.

Here's how Allen built her PowerPoint-centric career.  

'It's hard to break in when you don't have any reviews'

When it came to her first months on Upwork, gigs were slow to pick up.

"It's hard to break in when you don't have any reviews or experience on the platform," she says. But she applied to as many job postings as she could, tweaked her cover letters and, eventually, started booking clients.

Her first major gig was making presentations for Adobe. It was "ad-hoc, ongoing work" for execs in the finance department, she says. That same year she booked Yelp as a client as well. By August 2016, she was bringing in five figures per month from the site.

But she was also working overtime — some weeks as much as 80 hours in total. "That's when I decided I needed to start bringing in contractors," she says.

'70% of our clients are long term'

When it came to finding talent to help her tackle the workload, she'd kept in touch with people from her Cisco days and reached out to gauge their interest. Five agreed, and she's since brought on four other people. All are now working full-time as either contractors or employees.

These days, 16X9's clients include major names like Bloomberg and Microsoft, and "70% of our clients are long term," she says. They've expanded past PowerPoint and now make presentations on Keynote and Google Slides as well.

Allen, who's currently based in Seoul, Korea, is down to about 25 to 30 hours of work per week herself.

When it comes to potential new directions for the company, "we've gotten a lot of requests for training" on how to use PowerPoint more effectively, she says. They hope to build a new arm offering educational material to help people hone their own presentation-making skills.

When it launches, it will be called What the Deck.

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