Lessons From My Startup Experience at Awaken&More

At Awaken&More we recently had an invaluable learning opportunity regarding reputation management. We are a consultancy with currently eleven members, that works with non-profit and social enterprises and had an opportunity to work with Red Cross Netherlands. However, two projects have fallen behind schedule and we had to decide whether we could manage taking on this third project or not. On the one hand, we could have worked with an established organisation and enormously increased our reputation. On the other hand, we would have risked client satisfaction because of a lack of consultants. It was a real dilemma.

Taking values into account

To properly analyse this situation, it is useful to take organisational values into account. As one of Awaken&More’s value is achieving, we could have decided to strive for growth and taken on another client. We could have simply restructured the project teams and redistributed the Social Impact Consultants over three teams. However, one team was already deeply involved in a project and the other team did not possess the right knowledge to work on the Red Cross case. So, redistribution was not possible and finally, we decided to decline the project with the Red Cross.

Consultancy struggles

Every consultancy has three major struggles. The first struggle is to find clients that benefit from the added value of the offered expertise. The next struggle is related to client retention, which is the art of completing projects with high client satisfaction to enable up-sales, cross-sales, after-sales, and new sales. The last major struggle concerns consultant acquisition and retention. It is about finding and keeping talented people who complete their work at the highest possible level. At Awaken&More, we were able to gain practical insights on onbaording and team building. What we learned is that retaining talents should be a key priority for every organisation.

Growth versus trust

I find it very satisfying to start and grow an organisation and enable our Social Impact Consultants to accumulate work experience, while creating social impact for our clients. What I learned is that if you want to find capable talents for new projects, then you have to invest a considerable amount of time and energy. We spent a lot of time branding Awaken&More to attract highly skilled Social Impact Consultants and even used Facebook advertising to find new consultants. Sounds all easy, but it tough growing Awaken&More to where it is today. Basically, the more you want to grow, the more problems you will encounter. The major problem that you want to avoid is to grow without control and damage the trust between you, clients, and team members. Onora O’Neill once said that one has to be competent, reliable, and honest.

By not delivering projects on time or with the expected quality, we would have risked to be perceived as incompetent, unreliable, and ultimately as not trustworthy. We did not want this to happen because we care our reputation. If you think about it, that is all you really have as a business. Without it, clients might decline to work with you or might not refer you to new clients. Growth is important but not when it comes at the expense of your trustworthiness because it might jeopardise long-term growth. Everyone can attract clients and win projects once but doing it consistently, while growing is an art that has to be learned, cultivated, and perfected over time.

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