How did founder Lindsey Allard Agnamba take her consultancy from a one-person venture to a growing and thriving company in just six years?
Lindsey Allard Agnamba founded School Readiness Consulting (SRC) to improve the lives of young children and their families. She accomplishes this by partnering with states, cities, school districts, non-profit organizations, and foundations in pursuit of improving school readiness. Her story is an example of how one consultant with an idea can lead to a 1) a successful business, 2) making the world a better place, and 3) a company that is mission driven and designed for and by the people who keep it going and growing.
Lindsey began her career teaching young children in Head Start, community based programs, and in public schools. Through her work at SRC, she is able to work with school, program, and district leaders to design and implement innovations in teaching and learning, strategic integration of pre-K into K-12 systems, and, and design and execution of the evaluation of education initiatives.
SRC, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, began in 2011 with Lindsey as a sole proprietor and grew into an organization that now has fourteen core team members. Explore SRC’s website and check out their offerings, some of which include coaching model design & implementation; instructional leadership development; strategic planning, research design, data analysis, interpretation and reporting. The following is based on an interview with Lindsey conducted by Alison LaRocca, Engagement Manager, Civitas Strategies. Throughout the interview Lindsey discusses her own experiences and offers “lessons learned” to those who are currently building a consulting business or are considering it.
Alison: How did you enter the consulting industry?
Lindsey: As a teacher, I knew I enjoyed the field of education, but wanted to make an impact through systems level change. I eventually decided to take the plunge and consult independently. I began my company from my home and eventually grew to add staff and offices. The best way to start is to get one solid client that creates a strong partnership. That way, you are focused on building quality engagement that serves as a “snowball” if you use it to leverage new relationships. Eventually, my work grew beyond my individual capacity and in 2011 School Readiness Consulting was formed.
Alison: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned since founding SRC?
1. “Capitalize on your strengths—When forming a consultancy, it’s important to focus on what you as an individual can bring to a client. It’s important to define what your strengths are and how they can provide specific value to your client.
2. Understand the ‘why’ —It’s critical to define your mission early and always lead with it in your work. There has to be something that people want to connect with about what you’re doing.
3. Cultivate a supportive work culture—The experience of work is as important as the work itself. In other words, it’s critical to ensure that team members are thriving in their positions and with the work they’re doing. A consultancy or growing organization should be a place that takes care of many different aspects of a person.
4. Always be a learner—Consultants have to be constantly evolving. This is true if it’s a sole proprietorship consultancy or a team. You always have to bring valuable expertise or current thinking and research to your clients and be in the space of ‘what’s next’.
Alison: What keeps you up at night?
Lindsey: This has evolved over time as SRC has grown and changed. During the first four to five years of the business, I was focused on building an organization that would survive. Now it doesn’t feel like we are in survival mode. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help people evolve with the organization. I don’t want our team to remain static. As the organization grows and more people are brought on, I want to maintain our culture and continue to evolve with the field.
Alison: What are the qualities that you believe help consultants to be successful?
1. Communicate a clear service or product—it’s important for your client to really understand the value you provide them and what they can expect to receive from you.
2. Be proactive and forward thinking—If I hire a consultant, I want to see a solid work plan and have the consultant bring ideas and innovative thinking to me.
3. Always be cognizant of “what keeps your client up at night”—Asking about this can help consultants stay relevant, current, and ensure that their work closely aligns with a client’s pressing needs. Consultants should help their clients use their resources on what they need the most.
Lindsey’s story and sage advice is an inspiration for consultants who are either looking to grow or start their business. Here are the major takaways from the conversation.
Takeaway #1 Consultants are often helping organizations that are at best complex and at worse turbulent. They need help that is responsive and adaptive.
Takeaway #2 Consulting is as much of a human process as it is a technical one. Build trust with your clients and show them through your work product that they can depend on you to deliver and guide them.
Takeaway #3 Never stop learning and evolving. Consulting is a fast-paced field where people are looking to you as the expert. Be sure you’re up to date on the latest resources and tools. (Visit Small But Mighty’s Tools to get started.)
What is your greatest advice to consultants looking to “get going” and “get growing” when it comes to their business? Share your comments below.
Don’t forget to purchase your copy of Small But Mighty, Changing the World through Consulting today to get more in depth help about how to move your business from concept to reality.
Alison LaRocca, Engagement Manager. Alison helps clients to increase their social impact through strategy design and implementation. She manages and offers support for multiple projects that focus on strategic visioning, planning, and program evaluation. Alison is a seasoned educator that draws upon her extensive practical experience with some of Massachusetts’ most vulnerable children. Prior to joining Civitas Strategies, Alison taught at the award-winning Community Day Charter Public School (CDCPS) located in Lawrence, MA. CDCPS is known for its innovative and research-based methods that serve a student population where 74% are low-income and 83% are English Language Learners. Alison holds a Masters of Education from Merrimack College and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Williams College.
While at Williams, Alison pursued numerous research endeavors, including a unique, senior project in collaboration with the History and Dance departments. Alison also attended the prestigious Williams in Exeter Programme at Exeter College, Oxford University, during which she participated in several research and writing intensive tutorials. As a senior, Alison was awarded the Hubbard Hutchinson Memorial Fellowship in support of her continued pursuit of excellence in dance and the creative arts as a student at the Tisch School at New York University and the Martha Graham School, both in New York City. Alison is also the President of the Board of Directors with the Albany Berkshire Ballet, headquartered in Pittsfield, MA.