Lessons learned from my first year in business

A bit over a year ago I started my consulting business. I had a good first year and am grateful for all the support people gave me and for all the things I learned. In open source we often say “documentation is a love letter to the future”. So, I’m documenting what was useful in my first year of running my own diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consulting business in case it’s helpful for others in the future. 

Be clear about your strategy

The first big business decision I had to make was my own business strategy–what did I want to focus on? And, what was I not going to focus on? Given what I know about what moves the needle in an organization and the experience that I have, I chose to focus on data-informed DEI strategy. 

One of the things I said no to was offering DEI training. At first I questioned this decision as 95% of my calls with prospective clients started with “We’re looking for someone to lead an unconscious bias workshop.” Research shows that unconscious bias workshops on their own do not make lasting positive impacts on an organization. Now I ask prospective clients “How do you know unconscious bias is actually the first problem you need to address?” to see where we might partner. I’m also happy to refer people to consultants who specialize in workshops and training. 

Prepare your elevator pitch to communicate your services and ideal clients. There are many helpful connectors in my network who have asked me this and then sent potential clients my way. 

Find your people

I’ve built my network of other trusted consultants who do similar work. We share research links, and sometimes refer clients to each other. Some of us have partnered on project proposals and I hope we’ll get a chance to team up and serve clients together. DEI is a huge field and it’s impossible to be an expert on everything, but it is possible to be part of a generous and reciprocal community of experts. These relationships energize and inspire me. 

Ask for help

I am so grateful to the entrepreneurs and consultants in my network. I got great advice from people in the Mozilla alum network (thank you Marissa “Reese” Wood and Melissa and Johnathan Nightingale), the Vancouver tech world (thank you Boris Mann and Claire Atkin) and established DEI consultants, who shared things like their consulting rates, which helped me set mine. 

In addition to hiring a lawyer and accountant, I also hired Tall Poppy to audit my security and help me proactively make a plan about online harassment. I also subcontracted an amazing editor for a few projects where I was delivering a written report. 

Pay for useful tools

These are all tools that I spent money on and have renewed for another year. 

  • Calendly – ($144USD/year) Scheduling app that integrates with Google Calendar and Zoom so that it’s easy to book meetings with people and get the time zones right.
  • Timing.app ($144USD/year, referral link) – automatically tracks your time, I like how it tracks Zoom meetings. This has enabled me to see how long projects actually take vs how long I think they’re going to take. 
  • Google Workspace – I use Slides, Docs and Sheets all the time. I’ve also been using Jamboard as a virtual whiteboard with clients. 
  • Zoom ($200CAD/year) – My preferred video conferencing software. 
  • Microsoft Office subscription – A few of my clients have used Microsoft products. 
  • Block Party – ($120 USD/year, referral link) filters out unwanted mentions on Twitter 
  • Canva – ($204 CAD/year, referral link) for making images for social media. I didn’t start using this until a few months ago and it’s really useful. 
  • Ownr – (save $30 with referral code: RC-VEWXN39VRG) easiest and cheapest way to incorporate a business in Canada.

Define your own measures of success

The goals for my first year was to see if I could actually run a profitable business and to see if I liked working for myself. I loved the flexibility and freedom and all the opportunities to learn. I got to learn from working with different clients in different industries, from other consultants, and from figuring out how I want to do things in my business. 

Going into my second year my business goals are impact and joy. I’m still focused on DEI strategy as an integral part of an organization’s core business strategy and looking to partner with leaders who are hungry to make systemic change. I’m looking to partner with other consultants, especially other women of color, where we can come together like a giant Transformer to tackle more complex projects. I’ve also launched my coaching business to partner with leaders (especially DEI leaders!) to get unstuck and unlock transformation in their work and lives. If this resonates with you, get in touch