I wanted to take a beat from our normal marketing messaging to talk about entrepreneurship in general and my experience as a woman-owned business. I believe there are many members of ACEC who have contemplated starting their own consulting business and might be interested in the story. In addition; I’d like to be a resource for the entrepreneurs out there. If you want to talk more about how A3E got started, how we grew, and how we plan to continue to grow, please don’t hesitate to call me @ 630-507-9002 x100
In the Beginning, Darkness.
I came up through the ranks of the Chicagoland environmental consulting scene. I did every job and learned all I could. At the time it was quite obvious that there were not very many women in the environmental consulting field. I can’t say that bothered me, I always felt more comfortable with the boys growing up. My parents had more pictures of me as a child sitting in mud puddles than in dresses. Sometimes I was in mud puddles while dressed in dresses.
I worked for four consulting companies in my formative years. The best company, with my favorite manager, pushed me to get my Professional Geologist (PG) certification. At this company, I got to work on interesting projects with the Department of Defense. But when they asked me to move to Lawrence, Kansas to continue my career, I balked. I’m a Chi-Girl, born and raised. My hotdogs have no catchup (or Katsup for that matter).
So I took a job in the city, taking the train in the dark, both ways. My new employer, while giving me a title and (a lot) more money, didn’t take my talents or experience seriously. I was profoundly depressed but stuck it out for nine months.
From Darkness, Light.
One day I called my husband from work. I was emotionally done with this job but my upbringing had instilled both a ridiculously strict work ethic and a penchant for loyalty. I think he realized I was calling him to ask him permission to quit my job.
He had been a lifelong entrepreneur and was working on his third company. His advice, possibly a command, was; Quit. Come home. You’re starting an Environmental Consulting company today.
That was 7 years ago.
What I’ve Learned As an Entrepreneur
I could take up the next hour with thoughts on entrepreneurship and starting a business. Some of my thoughts are exactly what you’d expect. But I’d prefer to talk about some of the things you never hear when reading about entrepreneurship.
Never Hide the Real You
The great Canadian philosopher Geddy Lee said; “All the world’s indeed a stage, we are merely players, performers and portrayers, each another’s audience outside the gilded cage.”
I felt suffocated by corporate America and wondered what it would be like to build a business where I could live my business values, preserve my scientific integrity and remain the comfortably quirky person that I really am. I wanted to build an atmosphere where I could be the real me and encourage others to be authentically themselves so work never became an exhausting performance of Potemkin personalities.
I believe I’ve achieved this goal. I also feel it has been my superpower in attracting and retaining amazing talented employees to work with me.
Ride the Roller Coaster
There are successes and failures in all careers. As a startup, you see higher highs and lower lows. We make huge bets on the roulette table of life with both time and money. We try to control the outcomes as best we can. Enjoy the roller coaster ride, as hard as it may be. No matter if you are in the peaks or troughs, this too shall pass.
Your Employees are Your Business
Companies either sell products or services. Our industry (Architecture, Engineering, Environmental) is all service-based. The quality of the services we sell and the reputation our quality imputes on our brand name is inextricably linked to the skills and talents of our employees. Our ability to win work is profoundly related to how the industry perceives the work we do.
In order to keep our quality high, our brand equity powerful, we work hard to keep our employees happy, well trained, cross-trained and hyper-focused on customer service.
Collect Industry Friends
My education was in geology for both undergrad and graduate school. Picking up business skills for classes I never took has been challenging and a steeper learning curve than I expected. Popular culture would have you believe that adversarial competition is the best way to run a business.
In my experience, finding ways to “win” and hoping competitors lose is a completely wrong way to go about building a business. We partner and collaborate with direct competitors to provide backup capabilities. We provide adjacent services. We purchase subcontractors’ time and talents all the time. If it weren’t for our cultivated team of accounting, legal, human resources subs, I’m not sure we would have made it this far.
(shout out to Scott Sutton and Somerset CPA’s an ACEC member!)
If it wasn’t for my friends in the industry that I called when I was first starting and providing work opportunities to fill my first months in business, A3E wouldn’t have existed. Collecting friends is second nature to me but I’m thankful they were there for me when I needed them.
I would like to thank all the people, friends, contractors, and employees who helped A3E make it this far. ACEC and Kevin Artl have been instrumental in our success. If you are starting out and want to kibitz about the trials and tribulations of being small in a big company world, or being a woman in a man’s world, or even the stress of watching the payroll come out of your bank account every two weeks, give me a call. I want to be there for all the newbies and dreamers, the entrepreneurs, and startups. You’re not alone. Let’s do this together. Thank you for helping A3 Environmental Consultants make it to year 7.
Alisa Allen MS PG
A3 Environmental Consultants