Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Elizabeth Schuster, CEO of Sustainable Economies Consulting, located in Wooster, OH, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We typically work with nonprofits that are spread thin. Through strategic planning, we help organizations gain clarity and diversify their funding. We get positive feedback that folks like our collaborative approach with lots of authentic stakeholder engagement. We also do applied economics research, typically around the local food economy, regenerative agriculture, and nature-based solutions.
Tell us about yourself
I'm an environmental economist by training. My inspiration came from my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras. I was assigned to do watershed reforestation in a rural village. But I quickly saw that farmers needed to feed their families and were not concerned about trees. We learned that shade-grown, organic coffee gives farmers a higher price - and leads to more trees in the watershed. Since then, I've been looking for a win-win for nature and the economy.
I am happiest when working on transformational projects. For instance, right now, we're partnering with the Cleveland Tree Coalition. They are bringing together 50 partners in a strategic planning process to bring back the urban tree canopy to over 30%. It's an ambitious, complex project that benefits communities and nature. It's an inspiring project.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment is that every day, I can say that my work aligns with my values. My values are collaboration, transparency, inclusion, sustainability, and strategically making an impact. I get to meet amazing people who are doing incredible work, and I love knowing that I can help support these great projects that benefit communities and nature.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
The unpredictability of the work. Some months I have too much work, and other months, I have a little less work than I'd ideally want. It's hard to find that balance.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
I would say:
- Interview other small business owners. I didn't do enough of that, but I've since learned that other consultants are my biggest allies and a wealth of knowledge.
- Don't be afraid to invest in yourself. I think we can be stingy as business owners! Last year I invested in myself to go to a Conservation Finance Network roundtable, and I was so happy I was willing to spend the money.
- Be willing to say no to clients that aren't in alignment with your values.
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.
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