Founded in 1981 by Mary Kaye Richter and 12 other families, the National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasias (NFED) is dedicated to empowering and connecting people touched by ectodermal dysplasias through education, support, and research. The Sollog Group’s Founder and CEO Nick Sollog will work to help NFED gain greater knowledge of their donor base, particularly knowledge of the giving capacities of those individuals “of-record”. This is a critical and time-appropriate first step in guaranteeing that NFED can successfully increase its fundraising outcomes.
At the beginning of 2017 I decided to get back into blogging. While I have toyed around with the idea for months, I knew that the new year would be as good a time as any. Over the course of the fall I thought about some topics for the blog, but when push came to shove, none of them really inspired me. When I sat down to brainstorm again I decided that maybe I should reach out to my network and to those who potentially would be my audience. The ideas that came in were great and really got those creative juices flowing.
To kick things off I am starting with a Top 10 of sorts. A friend and fellow board member said she wanted to hear about things I wish I knew before I started consulting. Below are the 10 things that came to my mind as I thought about this topic.
- Track expenses
- The first few years I was in business for myself I didn’t have many expenses so it didn’t occur to me that I needed to keep track of these things. Back in 2012 I dived into consulting full time and my expenses increased. Come tax time, I was struggling to pull everything together. Granted, keeping track is not just something that you would want to do for tax purposes. You also need to be able to realistically track and project costs for your business. By knowing your expenses you can factor this into how many billable hours are needed to cover your expenses and your desired salary. Things I track now are professional memberships/development, office supplies, mileage, food/beverages for meetings with clients, legal obligations, travel, & marketing.
- Have accountability partners
- When you work for yourself and/or work alone things can get lonely and if you don’t have fellow professionals to check in with once and a while, getting through those slower times can be rough. I have found several consultants and professionals that I check in with 2-3 times per year (minimum) to talk through things and get honest feedback. While I tend to reach out more during those slower times, I also make sure to reach out when things are going great because I want to make sure they can share in the successes. These are people who will be there for you when times get tough and help pick you up an dust you off AND will be there at your side to celebrate your successes. Don’t forget to steward these relationships just like your clients.
- Calculate all of your costs
- Don’t fall into the trap of calculating your billable hours based off just what you want to bring home. You need to take into consideration any professional development organizations and opportunities you want to be involved with, legal costs of doing business (each state has different regulations/costs), utilities (internet & phone), office products (paper, ink, pens, etc.), & industry resource tools.
- Set up a designated space
- At first I thought working from home and myself would be awesome. You can work anywhere and anytime. This however, gets complicated and after a while I spent more time searching my apartment for miscellaneous documents to complete work. If you cannot have a designated room to do all of your work in I recommend having a designated space. This way, if you live with others, they know when you are working and when you are not. It also helps cut down on time spent remembering where you left that sheet of paper that you took notes on during a call with a client. If you need it to look pretty check out Pinterest for some options but remember that it need to work for you more so then it needs to look pretty. I will admit I still struggle with this but I like to think that I am getting better.
- Keep it simple
- When I started out, I spent numerous hours thinking of ways and products to keep track of clients, workload, etc. All this time could have been put forth in to securing new clients. When starting out one does not need a fancy CRM. I would recommend keeping an excel file (if that is your thing) or using a folder system (for all you paper fans). I ended up going with a folder system. All current clients have a folder and I have one folder for all prospective clients. For the prospective client folder, I paper clip all documents (e-mails) together with a sticky note on top that indicates the next action, if any. After two attempts I consider it in their court and move on.
- Pay yourself AND your business
- This is probably self-explanatory, but I made the mistake of just paying myself in the beginning and then had nothing left over to grow the business. While you need to cover your bills and living expenses you also want to make sure that you are building up your business capital. I got to a point where I started putting 25% of every check that came in towards the business and the rest came to me. I recently have revamped this so that 25% still goes to the business but instead of the rest coming to me I pay myself a salary and if there is anything left over it goes into a savings account for when times are slower and a check can’t fully cover my salary. This is still a work in progress so I can’t and won’t claim that I am an expert. Do what is right for you and don’t forget to test different ways if things are not working out.
- Set boundaries
- If you are in business for yourself you might think that you need to be available all the time because you need to pay the bills. This was definitely me and it drove my family nuts. My wife never truly knew when I was working and when I wasn’t. I had a conversation with one of my accountability partners about how they address this. What they said floored me. They have strict rules and times when clients can get in touch with them or have them on-site. Given that they are pretty busy with client work it can’t be as harsh as it sounded to me. After that conversation I sat down and thought about how best to implement something like this for me and my family. Think work/life balance. I decided to have office hours three days a week. The other two days are for family obligations (i.e. taking care of my children and spending time together as a family). Once I set those boundaries things actually got better, not worse. I still mess up sometimes, but life at home and in the office is much better. We have three boys and my wife is a nurse so being flexible is key. She works 3 days a week. I do my best to not have office days on days that she works so that I can take care of our sons. We are lucky to have family close by who also have flexible schedules for the rare occasion when I have to work/travel when my wife is working. Communication is key in making it work for us.
- Create and follow a marketing plan
- There are so many great and extensive marketing plans out on the web these days that it can be hard to pick one. At first I just winged it and business growth was horrible. I also spent more time focusing on the clients I had than the clients I wanted to bring in. Just like when I worked in the Annual Fund, I now create a year long plan (with a budget) to follow. It’s pretty basic and low budget – I aim to do 12 speaking opportunities a year and write 52 blog posts. I am in the process of developing an e-mail list that will come out either monthly or bi-weekly. I also use social media as a way to connect with other professionals in my field as well as share the content that goes on my blog.
- Be realistic about your timelines
- It all starts with good intentions but in the end it can burn you and that reputation can be hard to overcome. In the beginning I over-promised and under-delivered a few times and word got out. When projecting timelines, I start with that perfect world situation then tack on 2 days minimum and sometimes more depending on the scope of the project. Always better to be early than late.
- Don’t be afraid to fail
- When you go out on your own it can be scary. Whatever your field of expertise is in you most likely are not an expert in business and it can be a steep learning curve. As I mentioned above I focused on my current clients and not new business in the beginning. This lead to me having no income for over 6 months and having to hop back into the full time job world to get back on track. I did not let this set-back keep me down. Instead I used it a fuel to come back stronger than ever. I now spend time each week on things that grow my business in addition to work for current clients.
These were mine. If you are a consultant/self-employed individual would what you add or change???
When I first got out of college I had the pleasure of working for a very reputable institution of Higher Education in development. My first job was in their prospect research office and while I had no previous experience in the field I was excited for the opportunity. I had the benefit of having a manager who had many years in the field and had built the office from the ground up. The resources at our disposal were numerous and I once I got engrossed in the field I realized that I had died and gone to researcher heaven. Not only did we have an extensive paper file system (yes, I know what you are thinking — old school!) but we had subscriptions to WealthEngine, ResearchPoint, iWave, Hoovers, LexisNexis, Noza, & AlumniFinder to name a few.
Now that I am on my own, I appreciate what we had even more. My budget for resources might not be that of my former employer but after years of searching I went with DonorSearch. While the other big firms are great and they each have their own strengths. What sold me on DonorSearch was their extensive focus on philanthropy. While I am looking for wealth on the prospects that I am researching for my clients, I know that just because someone has wealth does not mean that they are philanthropic. As their website states “DonorSearch is the only prospect research company that starts with proven philanthropy to provide more accurate, more comprehensive, and more actionable data to help nonprofits achieve better fundraising and outreach results. Our research has shown that past giving to nonprofits is a much better indicator of future giving than wealth alone.”
Since most of my clients do not have their own internal prospect research team they need to be able to take the information that is returned and use it to make actionable steps to secure a gift. I truly believe that this focus on proven philanthropy allows for them to do just that. Pairing this resource with my experience I am able to create robust profiles that allow clients to make intelligent and strategic solicitations for the betterment of their organization.
Recently a group of independent researchers got together to talk about a purchasing cooperative and being the researcher I am I thought it was a great idea to take part in. I can’t wait to see what the outcomes of the survey is but in the mean time I want to know what are your favorite resources, you know the ones you could not live without???
The other week I attended the APRA-VA Fall Chapter meeting. We had two phenomenal speakers. Both brought a unique perspective and both spoke on different yet compatible topics. Jennifer Shimp-Bowerman spoke on Relationship Management and Lawrence Henze spoke on Predictive Modeling. Both topics are personal favorites and of ours here at The Sollog Group, not just because they are part of our bread and butter, but because we see the importance of both as key tools in a development office’s toolkit.
All too many times we hear the cries that the back of the house (i.e. research, analytics, gift processing, etc.) aren’t being brought to the table. While this may be true, at times it can be attributed to the fact that the organization does not have an effective relationship management process in place. This process is geared more towards the front of the house (VP, D.O.’s, Annual Fund, etc.), but it needs the involvement of the back of the house. Before more “bloodshed” happens we believe that organizations need to take a moment to look at what is at the root of the problem. As Jenn mentioned during her presentation, a big part of this process being successful relies on communication. Our front of the house folks are (or should be) great at building relationships with our organizations’ donors, yet our back of the house (not in all cases) tend to have some room for improvement in this area. This being said, we strongly believe and encourage our clients to start building those relationships across departments. We find it best if this is done through personal interaction (i.e. coffee or lunch). It does not need to be fancy but it does need to be done. All too many times we see folks jump right into business with little or no success. If we start by getting to know our colleagues and their likes and dislikes we create a strong foundation and partnership.
Once you have the in-house relationship management in place (or on the right track) you can really create effective change in your organization. Those relationships will come in handy when you start to look at data modeling. Gone are the days, in our opinion, of multi-page profiles and screenings of your entire database. Both can be costly in time and money, but they are also not the most effective way to raise funds for your organization. If you know who is more likely to support your organization you can spend your time building a relationship with them and less time on those individuals who will least likely be willing to support your organization. Sounds like common sense, right? Well, true, it is. Sadly this is still a relatively new concept in the fundraising field. Lawrence spoke about the many aspects and benefits to data modeling. For me, the item that stuck out the most was that data modeling does not have to be complicated. Yes; there are software and vendors that can do this for you, but every shop can do some aspect of data modeling on its own. While each database has its own challenges, they are usually able to provide some basic information to build some likelihood models. Once you have these models in place you can think about screening those donors who have strong likelihood scores so you know their capacity. Once you have these two items you can use this information to partner with your front of the house colleagues to create successful strategies for your donors to take your organization to new heights.