February 28th, 2021 marked our FOURTH anniversary. And boy, do things look differently now than they did then. Our initial focus of writing grants led us immediately into grant research, program development and objective & measures training. The results of the pandemic pushed us into new areas of virtual fundraising and small business coaching as we teamed up with experts in those areas. The growth has been both good and occasionally painful as we stretch ourselves in new ways. Here’s a quick glimpse of the growth we’ve seen in four years:
Line of services- 1 to 3
Clients- 3 to 40
Over 1.2 million dollars won
Staff- 2 to 6
Children- 4 to 14
(We built this company around our families, and we’re proud of that. But Work/Life Balance will be another blog post!)
So how did things look in 2017? Like two smart, determined women trying to find their way in a new-ish endeavor. While we’d both been writing grants and working in the nonprofit sector, running our own business was a new adventure. Thankfully, we came to the table with some relevant skills and experience, but we did not know the ins and outs of running a business. For the next 12 months, I’m going to flesh out 12 lessons we have learned as small business owners. Here’s to hoping they inspire some of you just starting out to persevere, soak up every piece of information possible, and take the next right step.
Lesson Number One: Find what works and make it work for you.
It’s all the rave after 2020 to hold Zoom conferences and work remotely. However, this concept was everyday life to us in 2017. Living in different cities and raising little ones at home pushed us to leverage technology as we hammered out our process and company culture from the start.
With both staff and clients in multiple states, we found that virtual platforms were necessary for us. As the world came to a halt a year ago, we were able to continue supporting our nonprofit clients and even expand because of cloud-based resources and communication.
Our goal is to make these resources work even better to meet our needs. Zoom staff meetings, Slack channels, Airtable, writing in real time on the same document, creation of marketing materials in an online platform as a team - all lead to a stronger sense of work community and create efficiency in our process.
What about when it doesn’t seem to work?
I (Ashley) used to hate Excel. HATE it. Now I can’t imagine life without it. Creating a budget in Word? It’d be like trying to drive a car with a badly cracked windshield - it’d be possible, but so unnecessarily difficult. Instead of paying the money for Quickbooks or another financial management software, we’ve built beautiful Excel worksheets that work for us. To be honest, we did dabble in Quickbooks and spent a little money, but for two work-from-home-moms of young children, that learning curve was too steep. With our not-so-simple accounting structure, we did not have the capacity then to take on one more thing. That might not be true of you and your current life/work situation. But Quickbooks was not for us.
Also to be honest, those beautiful Excel worksheets did not appear overnight! No, they were years in the making - trial by fire, really! End-of-month finances used to be so painstaking, like nails on a chalkboard. But that pain pushed us to make the process better and more suited to our needs. We refused to settle for 12+ hours of financial work every month.
Out of our blood, sweat, and tears rose a shimmering diamond. Sorry, not sorry, if that’s too cheesy because it’s how we feel! What we have created in Excel is exactly what we need now. We found what worked, and then with lots of time and practice, we made it work for us. Now we manage our company’s finances in our very own Excel-built system that functions exactly like we need it to. We drastically decreased time spent reconciling client accounts and our company accounts, thus decreasing our stress and increasing our sanity and capacity.
Is there an aspect of your company’s procedures that drives you crazy each month? Is there a service or product you’re trying to launch but the launch just hasn’t been smooth? Take a long hard look at whatever just came to mind and think about what would make it easier, more doable, more successful. Brainstorm several different approaches, make a plan for implementing, and go for it. You will most likely not hit it out of the park on the first try. But that’s ok - failure builds character (another lesson for another day). Just make sure you get back in the batter’s box. Your future self will thank you.
So let’s chat: What task do you dread having to do?