Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Marianne Boules, Founder of Boules Consulting, located in Costa Mesa, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Boules Consulting is a social impact firm that specializes in the grants lifecycle. We do everything from grant research and writing to management and administration to even technical assistance and training. We work mainly with mid-sized nonprofit organizations and for-profit social enterprises that have the capacity to scale but lack the personpower and skills to create winning grant proposals and manage awarded funds. Lately, we have also been working with government organizations to provide technical assistance and training to small nonprofits so they can have the tools, knowledge, and resources to submit winning grant awards independently.
Tell us about yourself
Like many others, I started my business out of necessity. I had recently obtained my master's degree in Public Policy with dreams of being the next Leslie Knope, only to enter an underpaid job as a county administrator that I hated. I think many can relate to the feeling of absolute dread I experienced every Sunday night as I realized that my weekly torture was about to begin. So, four months into the job from Hell, I decided that enough was enough and put my two weeks' notice in. I remember those first two weeks very clearly as an interesting mixture of relief of knowing that I never have to return there again, combined with the fear of the future. What was next? How would I support myself and my husband, who was still in the process of getting his own master's? On my last night before leaving, I went to a Black health equity initiative meeting where I met a woman I had worked with as a grant writer while still in school. I asked her if she had a job, and she hired me on the spot for $15 an hour for 20 hours a week. That was my first client. Sure, the pay was horrible, and I was basically an employee, but I was over the moon!
It's been just about five years since, and Boules Consulting has grown to serve over 45 nonprofit organizations, ten social enterprises, and three government agencies with pre and post-award support. Without a doubt, everything I do and any success I achieve in my life is because of my parents. My parents came here with absolutely nothing, and they built a business together that gave me and my brothers an immense life of privilege. I will never forget the sacrifices my parents made for me and the tears my father shed as he told me about his own motivation: everything he did- all the hard labor, long hours, relentless grind- was for our sake.
My parents showed me love and compassion- not just for us but for the orphans, strangers, and travelers- and their love taught me to pay it forward. Just as my dad planted seeds in America to help his children, so do I try to do my part by helping others plant their own seeds. That's why our mission is to "help the helpers," which I see as my life's calling.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment as a business owner has been my ability to support myself with an income (something I never thought possible when I first started) and support my team's livelihoods. As a company with a social impact mission, I also think that we, as a team, can take a lot of pride in the work that we have done. As grant writers, we've raised over $31 million for organizations doing important work like supporting women with breast cancer, investing in climate resilience, and helping new immigrants find solid footing. As grant and project managers, we have helped to bring justice to formerly incarcerated women who were forcibly sterilized against their will, increase health equity in marginalized populations, and conduct research on decreasing the energy burden on rural communities. Clearly, we have done a lot of varied work on diverse projects!
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
One of the most difficult things that come with being a business owner is that you are constantly both "in" your business and "on" your business. For example, a typical day for me would look like working all day on client projects to get our deliverables out the door. In between that, I might have one or two meetings with my team to evaluate how their projects are going and if they need any assistance or guidance. Once I'm done (usually in the evening), I have to work on managing the books, sending sales emails, and organizing our work pipeline. I hear there is a mythical point in your business once it grows enough where you can work less in your business and more in a management capacity, but I have yet to hit that point.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
This is a good question! I have much to say about starting a business, and I welcome anyone wanting to contact me to learn more. Off the top of my head, here are the top three:
- Persevere: This tip comes from my dad: having the right mindset is the first and most crucial element for a successful business. Specifically, you must train yourself to become a gritty person. Like marriage, if you don't start your business from the beginning with the mindset that you will take it through all the ups and downs, you will surely flee at the first sign of distress. The older I mature in my business, the more I realize that there are only two reasons why businesses fail: either the proof of concept did not pan out, or the person did not persevere.
- Always be marketing: This second tip comes from my mother (a fellow businesswoman) and relates to the first tip. When starting a business- especially a service-based business like mine-you must hit the pavement. This is why persistence is so important. The first ten people will probably say no to you. The first 100 people may say no. But you only need one "yes" to get the ball rolling. But once you get that "yes," you must return to the street and start the process again. As my mom told me, "When you have more work than you know what to do, you might stop trying to get more clients. But that's the most dangerous thing because once the work ends, you find yourself back where you started: with nothing." That's why it's essential to have a consistent pipeline of leads through cold calling, emailing, networking, and referrals, no matter how busy you are. Even when I'm swamped, I will still find at least one hour weekly to dedicate to sales. When work is slower, most of my work week is dedicated to sales and infrastructure building, which is my third tip.
- Prime for scalability: This is a tip I don't often hear enough, but I wish someone had told me to do this when I was a new business owner and had nothing but time on my hands. Build the infrastructure of your business so that when you grow- and if you have a good product, are gritty, and are relentless in sales, you WILL grow- your business will be able to handle it. Stop thinking of your business as "you" and start seeing your business as a machine with different parts: HR, Finance, Operations, etc. Then start building systems to optimize for each part of the machine. For example, for HR, I have completed job descriptions, an org chart, and a training process. For operations, I use Asana to project manage and complete Standard Operating Procedures that I train new recruits on. For finances, I use Quickbooks and have a financial analytics sheet that I use to make sure I have enough cash flow. For sales, I have a CRM pipeline on Trello to manage where I am in the process with each lead. I'm not saying that you have to have a fully decked-out infrastructure as a new business owner (which can be costly and a major barrier for entrepreneurs who don't have a lot of capital). Still, you can take advantage of the plenty of free tools available to you (for example, my sales CRM pipeline on Trello is completely free) to start at least building the foundation so that when you're ready to upgrade, it won't be a bottleneck to your growth.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.