Happy Independence Day! My name is Nina Sabarre, Founder & Principal of Intention 2 Impact (I2I) and Chair of the Independent Consulting TIG. Although I2I recognizes Juneteenth as the nation’s true commemoration of freedom, 4th of July also offers an opportunity to pause, reflect, and celebrate independence.
This week, the Independent Consulting TIG is taking over AEA365 with reflections on the different ways we show up as independent evaluation consultants. Every day this week, an independent consultant will share stories and resources from diverse vantage points, such as: solopreneur, place-based consultant, engineer, designer, consensus builder, and change agent.
To kick off this week featuring “the many hats of independent consultants,” I am sharing lessons learned about branding & marketing, an essential function to scaling an independent practice.
When I first started Intention 2 Impact in 2018, I relied on word-of-mouth and networking for marketing, and my “brand” was nothing more than my CV — the experiences, skills, degrees that informed my work. But deep down, I dreamt of growing a firm bigger than myself and knew my value was more than a compilation of my past work
Like every good “pracademic,” I set forth to develop my professional brand with an expert interview and literature review. First, I reached out to my friend and mentor, Stephanie Evergreen, about how she elevated her brand that is widely recognized within and beyond the evaluation community. Our conversations and my dive into marketing literature resulted in this co-authored article published in 2019 in New Directions for Evaluation and this podcast-style webinar.
Despite researching and writing about professional branding, I didn’t fully develop and own I2I’s brand until March 2021. What held me back? Patriarchy, imposter syndrome, and stale beliefs that I had to unlearn. That’s a story for another day.
In early 2021, the stars aligned for I2I to launch our new brand (i.e. I finally learned to trust myself and let others in, which instantly unlocked possibilities). My team and I went through a six-week branding intensive led by Jennie Armstrong, founder of Wild Awake Creative. By the end of it, we had a new logo, colors, fonts, website, and blog. Did you catch our virtual ribbon cutting and prize giveaway?
Here are my top lessons learned from our branding process:
- Market research is more internal than external. Early in the process, we looked to similar business websites for inspiration. Not gonna lie, we were simultaneously impressed and intimidated by all the phenomenal firms out there. Rather than feel overwhelmed by other websites, we looked internally to identify our strengths, what gets us up in the morning, and the kind of impact we hope to have in the world. We developed this mood board and Jenny led us through a series of exercises to unpack our services and values. Who knew branding could be so therapeutic?
- Let your personality shine. Our website is how we attract the right kinds of clients and repel the wrong ones. In addition to describing what we do and how we do it, our website has a whole section dedicated to what we’re listening to, what we’re reading, and what’s inspiring us. Check out the “Coffee 2 Cocktails” corner at the bottom of our “Meet Us” page.
- Good branding spurs confidence and momentum. I used to think that our work could speak for itself. But how can it, if no one knows about us? Although most of our business development is through relationship building and writing proposals, our brand provides us with credibility and confidence. We were genuinely surprised how much momentum we experienced since launching our website.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating IC TIG Week with our colleagues in the Independent Consulting Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IC TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.