Five lessons learned while building a small service business


I cannot believe my company is celebrating five years this month. When I first started, I was apprehensive about pulling it off. I hate marketing myself and have a fear of rejection. Both marketing and getting used to “no” are required for a successful business. I still struggle with both and am also getting better at acknowledging my value.

I have reflected on the past five years and what it took to get here. These are five things I encourage anyone building a small business to consider.

Utilize what is available

I had a few things in my favor. I applied for and was accepted as part of the DEED program for dislocated workers here in Minnesota. Through the program, I could develop my business with the help of seasoned professionals. I gained access to business coaching and other services and took full advantage. My coach helped me with a business plan and provided website development advice. Furthermore, a personal coach helped me refine and clarify my purpose, mission, and passion.

I saved well in the past and had a financial cushion to focus on development and networking. Through contacts from my last job, I was able to secure several contract projects. A friend and former coworker suggested writing and put me in touch with an industry magazine. I authored several articles. Besides a little income, it also gave me more confidence in writing.

What do you already have and who do you already know that can help you develop and grow your business? Take time to take stock. List your networks. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Most people want to help. For those not having the kind of cushion I had, start with a nearby small business development organization that has great advice and many free services.

Continue learning

I am a forever learner so am rarely without a book, participating in online learning, or attending workshops. Early in the development of my business, I completed Cornell University’s Executive Leadership Certificate. I also worked with a local trainer to complete a series on Organizational Development with an Adlerian psychology focus. The latter included an amazing group of women who remain my greatest encouragers today.

Over the past five years, I’ve also earned a certificate in Wellness Coaching. A huge benefit of that program was receiving feedback while I learned. Because of this training, I was able to co-teach a wellness session with my instructor.

For every topic I’ve developed, I read at least two other sources to enhance the content. Luckily, if my local library doesn’t have a book, I can use the MN link library system to get almost any book on loan. I am a superuser. My personal library at home is also extensive.

What could you learn today? Or better yet; what can you unlearn? What gaps exist? I didn’t have great leadership examples so sought out new sources. Don’t be afraid to challenge your belief system. Be curious.


Be prepared that not all clients will appreciate your work. Accept that some of your work may not be fully ready to release either. Over the past five years, I’ve had more than a dozen proposals fall flat with clients. One especially disappointing project involved a youth wellness program. I think both the client and I realized that neither of us was fully ready to implement at that time. I spent months developing the models I was planning on using. I don’t think I fully understood the details of how the client might implement. I don’t believe it was about the content. I learned a lot from the process, and proposals are much easier for me now.

I collect data during my presentations (I am a huge user). I use the data I collect, questions, and comments from participants during each session, along with feedback gathered from surveys after each workshop, to develop additional content. Over the past two years, one of my human-nature workshops has evolved into a 4-part series that helps participants rethink what nature means for them and the people around them. I love it because when done in multiple sessions, it is easier to create a co-learning environment.

I believe co-creation is the way of the future. All of us will have to evolve, deeply listen, and seek out creative partnerships as we tackle the giant problems of today; diversity/inclusion, consumerism/climate, political unrest, and more. As I learn more about trauma, I also try to utilize/incorporate a trauma-informed lens in my work and make necessary changes so that I am minimizing harm.

When is the last time you reviewed your work? How inclusive is your work and what can you do to make it more inclusive? How is your work evolving to consider its impact on Earth?

Maintain networks

This past year, I got to the point where I could no longer keep up with all my contacts. I purchased a customer relationship management system (CRM), which will make reaching out to leads and participants much easier. Now, my leads and contacts are all in one place, with a system for tracking opportunities, invoices, and more. This was a much-needed upgrade from spreadsheets.

Send thank you cards or notes with updates to former clients and participants, especially if your work does evolve. If they’ve had a good experience with you, there’s a good chance they’ll look at your work again.

I highly recommend a well-done LinkedIn profile. I have maintained mine well over the years and actually gained work from several posts. I used a coach to update my latest profile, and she gave me tips on keeping my network updated and growing. After every workshop, I try to connect with participants on this platform, and I have grown my network substantially this year.

When was the last time you thought about your various networks? How could you reach out to past networks with your current work? What networks do you need to grow? What messages would be useful to send to various networks? If you do not have an established network, consider joining some LinkedIn groups or Facebook groups via a simple search.

Be Bold

Overcoming my fear of rejection will be life-long work. Building a business has taught me that most of the time, people are not rejecting me, they are usually not ready for what I have to offer. Most often, I have leads who want to engage but do not have the budget or authority. I have learned just to keep asking. I have had several projects come to fruition because I kept reaching out and adjusting until someone was ready to say yes.

Asking for recommendations after an event is getting easier for me. My LinkedIn coach suggested asking frequently and even offering to write up a draft for consideration. I have yet to have someone turn me down. Even for the people who did not actually write a final recommendation, in the ask I have learned what they value when working with me.

Bold was my “word of the year” last year. Being bold in demonstrating my value and asking for business resulted in being added as an adjunct faculty at Adler Graduate School and the development of several new workshops. I gained more client-specific projects by suggesting I have the expertise to help them fill a gap. I have also developed several new partnerships. Know and own your value. Do not sell yourself short.

What value do you bring? What experience do you have that is unique? Take stock of your value and offerings at least quarterly. Be clear on your unique proposition and don’t be afraid to tell that story.

What’s next?

As I move into the next 5 years, my goal is to transform self-care into capacity building and help organizations put it at the forefront of their work. I intend to further my message of why conservation needs to be trauma-informed. The field needs less othering and more curiosity about the human-nature connections of all. I want to move organizations from a mechanistic approach to a humanistic one and from doing to being. I want to bring more ANAVAH (strength and humility) to the work of people and planet.

I did not get where I am today by myself, and I am privileged to have a wide network. The Adlerian communities have helped me grow as a person and professional. My networks in the conservation community continue to encourage me and help me advance my mission. Friends and family will always be there when things do not quite work out how I’d hoped. They also celebrate with me when the work goes well. I feel like I am doing the work I’ve been meant to do, and people have noticed my spirit.
I look forward to bringing my gifts to the world. I hope you will be a part of my work in the next five years! Please check out my workshops and coaching pages for more information. Browse my blog posts and let me know if anything resonates with you and where I can help.

Contact me at

Shout outs

Thanks to my early clients that helped me build solo confidence; National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Conservation Training Center, Airgun Shooting Association, and Archery Business Magazine.

Thanks to my Adlerian community who makes me a better person and community builder; Phoenix Process Consultants, Adlerian Network, and Adler Graduate School.

Thanks to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for continuously growing with me in the work of leadership in conservation.

Thanks to the many individuals who support me and are too many to name here; friends, family, colleagues, Lean In circle, and spiritual community. Cheers to my contractors; coaches, web developers, editors, social media assistants, and software gurus who help me keep my business in order.



If you are building your own business, here are some of the businesses and resources I used: (business development) (website development) (LinkedIn coach) (Social media assistant) (editor) (graphic design) (customer relationship management system)

Tags: #Building business #Business growth
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