Amber Christian had visited all 50 states by the time she was 31.
Amber Christian is an entrepreneur out to reshape the IT consulting world with a new and exciting business model. But this is not how she became a millionaire. Rather, she took what is today a more nontraditional route: “I lived below my means.”
Christian, 38, grew up on a farm near Beardsley, a town of about 300 people in far west-central Minnesota. She says hard work and “Midwest farm-kid ethics” gave her a scrimp-and-save ethos that has carried on throughout her life, including after she embarked on a career in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) areas of accounts payable and treasury at local corporate giants, including General Mills, Carlson and the Mosaic Co.
While some use the fruits of their labor to buy large homes and expensive cars, Christian and her husband bought a townhome on a 15-year mortgage and paid it off within five years. “Getting rid of the mortgage was amazing,” she says. “What can you do when you don’t owe anyone any money? Anything you want.”
Having shed their largest debt, Christian began to look at what she really wanted to do with her life. She had an MBA in finance from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota and an impressive resume working in corporate settings. But she wanted something more. The answer at first was to become a consultant, working for Phoenix Endeavors—work that both paid better and allowed her to use her skills and experiences in more advanced ways. By 2009, with her aggressive savings mentality still in full force, she became a millionaire.
“Hitting the million-dollar mark was very important,” she says. “I knew getting that was going to allow me and my husband to try new things”—mainly investing. Though she kept on consulting, the newly acquired wealth meant that the Christians could become accredited investors—a Securities and Exchange Commission status that imposes income and net worth requirements for higher-risk investments—to angel invest and get businesses off the ground. She says she likes investing in businesses she “can wrap her mind around,” and has dabbled across industries, including as small health care startups.
“I realized along the way that despite loving my day job, I love businesses and helping people build them up just as much,” Christian says.
By 2013, she was itching to start her own business. In many cases, consulting firms seem to her to be cold, one-size-fits-all enterprises based on contracts that guarantee a certain amount of work for a certain period of time. For Christian that left a lot to be desired—and a business opportunity. In December 2013, she launched Ace LLC, a consultancy that helps companies implement SAP software that tracks finances, and began serving clients after the new year with a fresh model.
“Our key is client relationships,” Christian says. “Once the contract ends, it’s not like you won’t hear from me again. I want them to bounce ideas off me or ask questions. It’s meant to be a flexible, familial relationship.” That means sometimes stepping outside the traditional boundaries of a consultant contract.
Christian regularly checks in with clients after a project ends, even if it’s just to see how they’re doing. Those same clients are encouraged to call—free of charge—to find out how Christian might approach a problem they’re facing or for quick clarifications. “Sometimes that leads to a new contract,” she says. “But often it’s just a courtesy service.”
For Christian, the company is a labor of love that she’s been able to foster over the past year thanks to her millionaire status. And revenue is growing quickly, topping $250,000 in 2014 and estimated to surpass $1 million in 2016.
While hard work and pinching pennies have helped get Christian to where she is today, her success can’t be chalked up to just that. She stresses the importance of building and maintaining a network, even when you’re incredibly busy, to help when bumps in the road occur. “You’ll never just find a network,” she says matter-of-factly. “You make it.”
Becoming a millionaire at a young age has been a liberating experience for Christian. She has no debt, started her own consultancy and has been able choose a clientele and business model that suits her passions. “I wasn’t expecting all of the freedom,” she says. “It took my heart a while to internalize what my head knew right away: I had choices.”