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Am I On The Right Track?: Evaluating Nicole Clark Consulting

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I started this blog in 2011 as a way for me to share my thoughts and feelings on feminism, women and girls of color, and various aspects of reproductive justice. What I expected was an increase of clarity on my position. What I got instead was the ability to position myself as a thought leader, connect with like-minded individuals and with people who want to know more about my position, the challenge of staying up-to-date on the constant happenings within the reproductive justice movement, and to make a difference in my own way.

Last year, I reflected on how my activism has been the foundation for my roles as a social worker and as a program evaluator, and this has been my main focus for Nicole Clark Consulting. This year, I chose to delve more deeply into finding creative ways to help individuals, communities, and organizations create or improve their communities, programs and services in order to make a lasting impact.

In the spirit of evaluating my own services, I want to share with you what I feel has gone reasonably well with Nicole Clark Consulting, areas that I’ve been struggling with, and where I see myself headed into 2015:

The 9-to-5 struggle: Along with running Nicole Clark Consulting, I’ve been employed as full-time job social worker for a New York City-based HIV organization since 2010. This has been the biggest struggle since I made the transition from being a casual blogger to developing my business. Anyone who is building a business while working full- or even part-time for an employer can attest to this: It’s hard! Hard due to managing your time between your obligations to your employer while putting in even more hours for your own business, hard because there are times where you’d rather be working on your business while at work, and more. At any given time, my weekly schedule consists on waking up, going to the gym, going directly to my job, leaving at 5pm, going home, and working on my business. Or sometimes I get up early, work on my business before getting ready for work and save the gym for after 5pm. I used to get to work a half hour early or even stay later, but I found that this takes away time from working on my business and for taking time out for self care. I also use part of my weekend and some vacation time to work on my business. Whether it’s drafting my blog post for next week, editing my consulting contract template, or responding to business emails, there’s always something that needs to get done. As difficult as this has been, I’m still amazed at how much I get done for my business and for my employer. And through it all, not only am I grateful that my full-time employment provides me with additional income, I’m also grateful that I’ve found a schedule that works for me for now until it’s time to step into my business full-time. I used to be concerned that sharing that I have a full-time job would make me appear as a fraud entrepreneur. Now I realize more how many people are living this experience, and we will all get to where we need to be in time. (And if you’re having problems with finding time for your business in the midst of working a full-time job, check out these tips from entrepreneur Rosetta Thurman.)

Clarity gained: Last year, I mentioned that part of my focus has been on creating a balance between engaging with my activist side and connecting it with my social work and  evaluation skills. I feel I have been very successful in becoming clearer in who my services are intended for in terms of program design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation, as well as who I provide workshops and speaking opportunities for. I’ve made the necessary edits on my blog so that people coming to my blog know who my services are intended for. Because of this, I’ve been getting more leads and inquiries from individuals who are interested in me speaking to their audience (which are in alignment with what I want to speak on), as well as me assisting with their evaluation needs. I’ve also been getting more people pitching guest blog posts or promotional services that don’t align with the vision of my business, and I’ve been successful in turning them away. My biggest concern was that I would lose my audience who may not be interested in learning about social work stuff or evaluation practice, which is something I’ve been struggling with throughout this year. I’ve tried to balance out blog post ideas to discuss things that engage program evaluators, social workers, and activists. What I’ve learned is that as I gain more clarity, I’m going to lose people along the way. While I understand this, it’s still pretty hard to face.

Engagement versus marketing: Another focus I’ve had has been on creating a balance between being engaging and marketing my services. My main methods of engagement have been my blog, social media, and my newsletter. Unfortunately, I feel that while I’ve been doing what I can to promote my services, that’s all I’ve been doing. I read a recent blog post from entrepreneur Michael Hyatt on the dangers of placing more emphasis on building a larger social media platform than on building a powerful home base (such as a blog or website). I’ve found that social media has been great in terms of letting people know about my services, blog, and newsletter; however, with all of the changes that take place with social media in terms of algorithms, how many are seeing your posts/tweets, and the like, you’re never sure how engaging you really are. But I do enjoy connecting with everyone on social media. It’s very entertaining and informative.

And speaking of newsletters and email lists, I feel I’ve been too focused on my social media platforms and not much on building my Raise Your Voice email list. When I’m not consistent with connecting with others via social media, I try to remain in contact with my email list as much as possible. I’ve noticed my contact with my email list definitely waned over the past year, going from sending out a newsletter once a week to going weeks without engagement. What I’ve learned from this is the people who sign up for my newsletter are invested in hearing about the goings-on of what I do, and that an email lists is crucial for gaining someone’s attention. With social media, it moves so fast and it can be a lot of noise, but with an dedicated email list, I have a better chance of capturing someone’s attention.

Free exposure for free work: For a long time, I got offers to speak to audiences or facilitate workshops for free. I, like many others, believed that this was a great way to gain exposure. And it is, to a certain extent. When more exposure doesn’t translate to people paying for your services, it’s a no-win situation. This year, I’ve focused on only doing free work for organizations I have some kind of intimate connection to as a way to build up my portfolio and to gain testimonials. For example, I am going to start doing evaluation work gratis for The Doula Project because I am on the project’s board of directors and asking them to pay would be a conflict of interest. Or, if it’s a cause I truly believe in, I’ll consider focusing more on gratis speaking. Another aspect of exposure includes being able to travel to the places you’re being asked to share your knowledge with. While I love the opportunity to speak to an audience, it’s frustrating when you have to foot the bill for your travel and lodging, you have to speak for free AND you’re asked to pay full price for the registration fee. Even when an event is local, there’s a lot of time put into planning a workshop, getting the necessary materials, traveling to the venue, and so forth. If I have a workshop accepted for a conference, I don’t mind speaking for free, but I want to become more comfortable with requesting my travel and lodging be taken care of, especially when I’m invited to be a panelist or a keynote speaker. I had this fear that if I make these requests that I would be seen as being too difficult, but you have to make others pay you (or pay for you) what you’re worth.

What’s Next?

My goals for Year Four are:

*Upgrade my image by January 2015 (blog redesign, new head shots to use for social media platforms and promotional purposes, etc.)

*Increase my Raise Your Voice newsletter email list by 50% and increase my open rates (I can do this by being more consistent with sending out newsletters, developing a new freebie as gratitude for signing up, updating the current freebie that I have, etc.)

*Gain more exposure (promote availability for media requests, gain advice and insights on speaking to the media, speakers fees for conferences, demand for travel and lodging expenses to be paid for, etc.)

*Build up my clientele list to gain more leads and pay-for-service opportunities. (This will eventually replace my full-time employee income).

*Transition into Nicole Clark Consulting full-time by January 2016. (It feels scary to announce this in such an open space, but I need some accountability!)

I think I’m on the right track. I don’t feel like such a newborn anymore, and I’m no longer in the Terrible Twos of navigating life as an entrepreneur. I don’t feel as though I’m on shaking ground as much as I used to be, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for Nicole Clark Consulting.

RAISE YOUR VOICE: Do you have any advice or recommendations on what I can do to meet my goals for Nicole Clark Consulting? Share with me in the comments section below.

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By | 2016-10-25T01:48:02+00:00 August 6th, 2014|Categories: Reviews & Reflection|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments