Name: Jessica Strong
Business: Strong Trainings, a provider of coaching and consulting services to nonprofits.
Type of Business: Coaching & Consulting
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,U.S.
Reason for starting: I help small non-profits raise money to fulfill their missions, by writing grants, planning trainings and conferences, and developing social enterprise models. I had worked at a mental health non-profit in Pittsburgh, PA for almost 6 years, and every year we saw budget cuts from the State and County. I saw several of my training and development colleagues at other organizations get laid off. I was worried about my own job security, and I also saw an opportunity: organizations may not need a grant-writer year-round, but they do need one for a few months to write and submit proposals when they are due. Or they may want to host a large conference but not have the staff to manage all of the details. At the same time I was planning this, my kids were 5 and 3 and I saw them growing up fast. I wanted to create a job on my own terms, where I would have the flexibility to help non-profits raise money, but also be able to block out time for volunteering at my kids’ school. I launched my business in June 2012 and have had a steady roster of clients and increasing income since then.
How do you define success? I define success by how balanced I feel my life is. By how happy I feel day in and day out; by how my kids are thriving knowing I can come help out at their school. Since starting my own business, I don’t feel nearly the same “mommy guilt” as I once did, mainly because I feel much more in control of my schedule and my time. I work many late nights after the kids are in bed, but that’s totally ok because of the work I’m doing (researching and writing grants can absolutely happen at midnight, and doesn’t need to take place from 9-5). We are financially worse off now – I make less than I did at my office job, but I’ve successfully raised my rates and feel like my income will grow. True, there has been some anxiety when waiting for a client to pay an invoice or when there’s been an expensive crisis pop up, but overall, I feel much more in control of my work and therefore my life.
Related: Women & Money: The Confidence Gap
Biggest Success? I pulled off a 50th anniversary gala dinner for a client, with only six months of prep time. The dinner was well attended in the community, had major corporate support, came in under budget, and was a tremendous success. The keynote speaker ended up in the hospital *the day before* she was supposed to speak. I’m so proud that I kept my cool, reached out to my network, found a suitable replacement speaker, and the whole evening went off without a hitch. It was my first major event for this particular client, and they were thrilled with my grace under fire in pulling off the event.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? Determining what is a fair amount to charge for my services. I work mainly with small non-profits (operating budget under $1 million) who are already working on razor-thin margins. I know I can’t charge exorbitant rates for my services, because they won’t be able to afford me. And yet, I need to get paid a fair rate. I have successfully told my existing clients that I was raising my hourly rates, which all accepted without hesitation (a major win for me!) I have also started charging more for project rates, which has helped increase revenue.
Who is your most important role model? Other female entrepreneurs are important – both big names like Marie Forleo, and ones that I’ve met since going out on my own. I’ve started a small meet-up of like-minded women, and it’s so encouraging to hear how they’ve faced and addressed challenges, and to know I’m not alone.