Growing a global consulting firm in Lynchburg
I’m Jennifer Woofter, and I’m the founder and president of Strategic Sustainability Consulting. I moved to Lynchburg two years ago from Washington, D.C., bringing my consulting company with me. I’m here to talk today about how to run and grow a global consulting firm from Lynchburg.
A little bit about me: I’ve been doing consulting for the past ten years, and I have experience in sustainability, so environmental and social responsibility for big corporations, for 15 years, so this is not new for me. By the time I had moved to Lynchburg with my company, I had built up a network of international clients around the world that I help. A lot of that work is done remotely from wherever I am in the world, and a lot of the time I spend on site with clients. So when I think about a consulting company and what it takes to run one, I need to be thinking about two things: how do I do it from here, but then how do I get from here to my clients when necessary?
So I have four tips for growing a consulting company from Lynchburg.
The first one is all roads eventually lead to Lynchburg. You can get to Lynchburg from any place in the world, and you can get from any place in the world to Lynchburg, but it’s going to take time. Coming from Washington, D.C., I did not always appreciate how much time and effort I was going to have to add to my consulting projects to get back and forth. So, my first piece of advice is really think through how and when you’re going to need to get on-site with clients, or to get other places like conferences or events that you might be going to. I always budget in now a half day at least for travel on either end, in addition to any other travel I might’ve planned for from Washington, D.C. or another area. I also now charge for my travel time, which is something I didn’t used to do. When I was in D.C. and could be on a plane in 45 minutes, I didn’t charge for travel time. But now that I know I need to add an additional day, that is something that gets worked into the budget. I also look for other ways to be productive when I travel. I found that the AMTRAK coming in and out of Lynchburg, when I can make those schedules work, works tremendously. I can actually get 3-4 hours of work done on the train while I’m getting to the hub where I can travel from. I’ve also learned to group my trips together. So rather than a day trip there or a day trip here, I try to get a bunch of trips all together so that maybe I’m gone for a week or so, hitting multiple places away. I find that that is easier on my sanity for travel, and it also helps reduce my carbon footprint. In terms of airports, Lynchburg airport only flies to Charlotte at this time, so I’ve started looking at other options as well. I found that the drive out to Roanoke airport isn’t so bad, especially early in the morning, there’s no traffic. Be looking beyond just what’s immediately available in Lynchburg for your travel options into neighboring places like Charlottesville or Roanoke which both have regional airports that go to other locations besides Charlotte.
My second piece of advice is that while you may be growing a consulting company from Lynchburg, which has a bit of a smaller town feel, you will be competing against your global peers by dint of having a public face. Any company now must compete globally. And so my second piece of advice is to remember that you’re always on. Make sure that your website, that your social media, that your scheduling, that the receptionist that picks of the phone and takes your voicemail for you … Make sure that all of that is spot on professional. There are lots of tools that you can use even as a solopreneur or a very small boutique agency to look very professional and compete with the big guys. Things like Skype – Skype for business. Join.me for screen sharing. AssistantTo and SquareSpace are all cloud-based tools that allow you to look very professional very easily from anywhere in the world. So that way, my clients don’t need to know if I’m sitting in my office in Lynchburg, or logging in at an Internet cafe in China.
My third tip is play to your competitive advantages. There are some tremendous benefits of being a company in Lynchburg that I did not get at all when I was in Washington, D.C. And there are some trade-offs – things I gave up when I moved out of the big city. And I think part of being a really successful business in Lynchburg is knowing how to play to those competitive strengths.
First of all, real estate. Real estate is cheap here! Ask anyone who’s come from even Charlottesville, Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco. You get here and you just want to buy lots of real estate because it’s so inexpensive. Think about how you can use space to your advantage here.
Similarly, cost of living is significantly lower than it is in other major cities. And that means, one, that you can get away with a very comfortable life with a lot less, but it also means that when you’re out hiring people for full-time employment or for freelance contracts, that you will not need to be paying the same level of salaries that you would in a bigger city. We have great quality of life here, and that’s something that can really draw and keep employees here. And, although Lynchburg is quite sizable in numbers, it has a very small town feel. It’s really easy to connect with local leaders. Whether it’s the Economic Development Authority, whether it’s City Council, Lynchburg is one of the places where, even though I’ve only been here two years, I really felt immediately connected in with the local leadership and have felt very much that there is an open door policy and that people are interested, willing, and appreciative for you to get involved.
Now, some of the challenges and the trade-offs of coming to Lynchburg are ones you need to manage. The first one, revitalization is ongoing. Revitalization doesn’t happen overnight. You need to be prepared to be dealing with revitalization initiatives. There’s lots of construction going on downtown that will precede into the coming years. If you’re thinking of having clients down or lots of business here, be prepared for disruptions to business. There’s also sometimes a negative perception about Lynchburg by outsiders. I think, coming from outside of Lynchburg, before we moved here, Lynchburg when it hits the news, it’s often because of controversial statements by some of our local leaders. And outside people who may not know Lynchburg or the diversity that is in Lynchburg may come with a preconceived notion of what Lynchburg is all about. And as a consultancy, as someone who’s dealing with global clients, you need to be ready and prepared to address any misconceptions about Lynchburg. And the third is that the local talent pool, for a small city, we don’t have the same talent pool that a larger city would have. You may need to be more creative or give it more time to find the right people to join your team.
Which brings me to my fourth and final point, which is know where to find your local talent. There are lots of free sources if you know where to look. The first place especially if you’re looking for younger or more junior staff is to look to the local colleges and universities. We have Randolph and Lynchburg College, but look just beyond the colleges and universities. We have CVCC and they have a great workforce development program. Look to the larger central Virginia region. We’re not very far from Virginia Tech, and they’re a deep and rich base of engineers and architects and urban planners. It’s not as easy as just putting an ad in the newspaper. Sometimes you might need to get creative about where you look and how you cultivate those employee relationships.
There’s also a lot of places to look as well. For example, there’s Lynchburg Innovation Week, which was an opportunity for people all around the city, both city leaders, nonprofits, and business leaders, to talk about specific issues like innovation and technology. So be on the lookout for those type of specialty events which can be a unique place to find your people, or people that you’d like to work with. I also want to leave you with a thought of expanding your horizons beyond Lynchburg. Very likely if you’re trying to build a global consulting business, very few of your clients will be headquartered in Lynchburg. You may need to have a coworking space in Washington, D.C. or New York or San Francisco – some sort of third location that, when you’re not in Lynchburg and not on-site in Lynchburg, people can meet with you. I encourage you to think about that. They’re relatively inexpensive, and they can be used almost on a membership basis for drop-ins. You only pay for them when you need them. Something like that can really up your professionalism, and make it easier for clients who don’t want to make the trek all the way into Lynchburg to meet in a mutually agreeable third-party location. You may also want to consider getting a virtual staff. So virtual assistants, project managers… I work with a network of more than 650 sustainability professionals around the world, pulling them in on a project-by-project basis when we need them. My feeling is that’s the future of employment – a group of freelancers coming together, meeting, forming, and dispersing and coming back in different configurations. One of the benefits of living in Lynchburg is that I get all of the quality of life, but I’m still connected to my global networking partners. Find ways to make technology work for you in a way that meets your business goals but also your personal and work-life balance goals.
Those are my tips! I’m always happy to be contacted. If you’d like to network with me or find out more about my company, please visit our website at sustainabilityconsulting.com.
About Jennifer Woofter
Jennifer is a recognized sustainability expert, specializing in sustainability strategy and implementation. She draws upon more than 15 years in the fields of corporate social responsibility, ethical investing, and organizational accountability systems to help companies make the leap between good intentions and long-term sustainable performance. Over her career, she has worked with more than 100 companies on corporate sustainability projects including Sustainability Planning, Carbon Footprint Analysis, Stakeholder Engagement, Training and Facilitation, Life Cycle Assessment, and Sustainability Reporting.
|Date Added||June 30, 2016|
What does it take to grow a global consulting business in Lynchburg, Virginia? As a seasoned entrepreneur and accomplished consultant, Jennifer shares four important pieces of advice for local consultants:
- All roads eventually lead to Lynchburg
- Be local, act global
- Play to your competitive advantage
- Know where to find talent
Strategic Sustainability Consulting
Strategic Sustainability Consulting provides organizations with the tools and expertise they need to actively manage their social and environmental impacts. We specialize in helping under-resourced organizations implement sustainable solutions usually reserved for large, multinational companies.