Joanne Sonenshine is Founder + CEO of Connective Impact, aiding organizations in strategic goal development, partnership strategy, fundraising diversification, and collective thinking in order to solve some of the most complex problems of our time. Joanne is a trained development economist and the author of ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
My father is a business owner and entrepreneur, and my mother is a teacher, so I’ve always had role models that taught me to educate myself first, and then go after what I wanted second. I just assumed some day I would own my own business, but it took a realization after switching from job to job that the only way I was going to see the type of impact in my work that I wanted so badly was to create a model that I believed in. It took some pivotal moments for me to realize that my career was not headed in the direction I wanted. I, then, decided to take the risk and start my own business.
Tell us about your business.
Connective Impact is an advisory firm that works with nonprofits, companies and government agencies to help them partner in order to address critical challenges facing our planet, like climate change, poverty and limited access to drinking water. Having worked with developing economies my whole career, I realized that the only way we were going to solve some of these pressing challenges was if we engaged together in a collective way. I push my clients to see other organizations as allies, not competitors, in the fight to make our world a better place. We use a 6-step process of collaboration to encourage strange bedfellows to partner. Seeing the impact of these partnerships is incredibly rewarding.
We are a certified women’s owned business, which we are very proud of.
Where is your business based?
Just outside Washington, DC in Arlington, VA.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
I began to research consulting companies and sole proprietorships to determine what others were doing in this space. This competitive analysis was critical as I started a very rough business plan. Figuring out the reality of finances, and what this shift would mean for our family, was emotionally challenging, but I talked to attorneys and accountants to determine what was realistic.
I also spent a fair amount of time networking, sharing my ideas with former colleagues and friends, getting feedback to tweak my business plan and to plant the seed that my business would be up and running within 60 days. I hired a freelance designer to create a really sharp website that would explain my process so, upon launch, I was ready to take in clients and get the ball moving.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
I would say it’s a tie between social media (Twitter and LinkedIn primarily) and networking (spreading the efficacy of our model by word of mouth).
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Finding the right pricing model, for sure.
How did you overcome these challenges?
Trial and error, and having honest conversations with our clients.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
I remember why I started this business in the first place – to devote my time to making a positive difference in this world at all costs. Even on some of the worst days, I feel grateful that I am able to create a career for myself that is centered around giving back and delivering on my promise to only work on projects that I know are making the world a better place.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
I don’t try to. I trust in our approach and our relationships.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
I tend to be a go with my gut kind of decision maker, so I often listen to those whose instincts jive with my own. Finding a way to stay positive is critical for me, and I am good at it. So, I am often the advice-giver to be honest. That said, the ‘journey being more important than the destination’ stays with me often.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
It’s the same advice I share throughout my book, ChangeSeekers: Finding Your Path to Impact. Be brave, be curious, take risks and listen to your instincts. Don’t look back, ignore naysayers and trust yourself. Be you. The rest will follow.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
LinkedIn and Twitter are my go-to for all things business. I obtain nearly all relevant news for my business that way, connect with my network and meet new and interesting people. Both platforms are also useful to communicate to and about my clients.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I could give you a shameless plug for my book, ChangeSeekers, but I always go back to Annemarie Slaughter’s article from 2012 “Why Women Can’t Have it All”. As a mother, wife and business owner, reading that article helped me realize that it’s nearly impossible to do everything perfectly. Something has to give. I do my best each day to achieve balance, but I am not great at it. I love my career, AND I love my family. Sometimes I have to shift directions in order to get everything done each day.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
I am exploring some new ways to get our approach into others’ hands, like via app technology or video modules. I am also thinking long term about how best to grow our team.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
Our goals are to keep our clients happy, to continue doing challenging and rewarding work, and to be true to our mission of engaging organizations in effective partnership to solve some of the most critical issues of our time.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
Twitter @conn_impact, @jsonenshine
Hashtags #connectiveimpact #ChangeSeekers
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