Happy Fabulous Five, Spark!

Floral design - Flower

Today marks five years since I launched Spark Consulting. As I look back on the past five years, I have much to be grateful for. Leading that list is all the people who’ve contributed to the success of this Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

First, I have to thank all my wonderful clients. Spark would not exist without each and every one of you. I particularly want to thank the American Chemical Society, my very first client, for being willing to take a risk on hiring the new kid in town, and Ross Simons for making the connection between a brand-new consultant and her first lead. Over the years, many of my clients have referred me to their colleagues and/or hired me again for additional projects. I can’t express how grateful I am for their confidence in me and my work.

Back in late 2011, I was working for the Children’s Hospitals Association. I’d been there for a few years and was starting to think about my next move. At the time, I was thinking it would be my first CEO position, leading a small association. I’d been in the biz for 14 years at that point, had my CAE and an MA, had worked in a wide variety of functional areas in association management leading a variety of different types and sizes of teams, and had even served as an acting CEO for a small association. I started applying for those types of positions, despite the fact that when I mentioned I was looking for my next gig, the nearly universal response was, “So you’re launching your own consulting business, right?” I want to thank Shira Harrington (Purposeful Hire) for being the one who helped me understand that being a consultant would be a better path for me.

Maddie Grant, Lindy Dreyer, and Jamie Notter came over to my house on a cold winter afternoon and helped me figure out what I wanted to call this new consulting business, how I wanted to frame the work I wanted to do, how brand Spark and myself, and brainstormed my clever URL (in which a discussion about “GetMeJamieNotter” led to “GetMeSpark”).

When I was starting out, I was fortunate to be invited to join a Mastermind Group that served as my kitchen cabinet, pushed me to define my goals, and helped me think through how to overcome the barriers to achieving them. Leslie White, Peggy Hoffman, Shira Harrington, KiKi L’Italien, and Sohini Baliga kept me on the right path during those critical first two years.

One of the most useful things I learned studying for the CAE 14 years ago was to know what you are – and aren’t – good at, and make sure to surround yourself with great people who know and can do what you can’t. I’ve been fortunate to work with four outstanding vendors on the tasks I can’t do for myself: Bean Creative for my website, ImagePrep for all my graphic design needs, Andrew Mirsky (Mirsky Law Group) for all my contracts and other legal needs, and Moran & Company for bookkeeping, accounting, and tax advice and planning.

My original career goal, back in college, was to be a university professor. I’ve always loved research and writing, particularly long-form essays. One of the most personally and professionally fulfilling things I’ve been able to do since launching Spark is the Spark collaborative white paper series. I now have the freedom to research and write, diving into topics that interest me and that I think are important for our industry.

I’ve been fortunate to work with a host of fantastic contributors for the nine existing monographs: Jeff De Cagna, George Breeden, Tom Lehman, Jamie Notter, Leslie White, Peggy Hoffman, Peter Houstle, Anna Caraveli, Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, Shelly Alcorn, Polly Siobhan Karpowicz, Tracy Petrillo, Sherry Marts, Joe Gerstandt, Jess Pettitt, and Joan Eisenstodt.

I also want to thank the many association executives who were willing to share the stories of their organizations’ work, struggles, and triumphs in the case studies that illustrate many of the concepts the white papers discuss.

Thanks also go to Alison Dixon (Image Prep), who’s done all the beautiful layout and graphic work on the white papers, and to copy editors Ed Lamb and Joe Rominiecki, who’ve done their level best to save me from my typos and grammatical errors.

The association consulting community more broadly has also served as a tremendous source of inspiration, help, and advice over the years. Many association consultants have generously given of their time and expertise to answer my questions, point me in the direction of resources I need, or just generally help me to buck up when things aren’t going as I’d like them to with the business. We may be competitors, at least on occasion, but we are a community and we help each other out, and that’s priceless.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have to thank my spouse, Jim. When I came home from that fateful lunch with Shira nearly six years ago, I was nervous. As far as he knew, the plan was to land a CEO position, with the attendant salary, benefits, and security. I knew I was about to announce that I might want to throw all that over in favor of the risk, excitement, and uncertainty of launching my own business. This change in direction would have a dramatic effect on him and his life as well, and I didn’t know how he’d respond.

When I told him what had happened over lunch and what I was thinking, he responded: “I think that’s a great idea. I think you’d be a terrific solo consultant. You should definitely do that.”

“Well damn,” I thought. “If he’s that confident, what in the hell am I so worried about?”

Five years later, here we are. It’s been a thrilling, challenging, amazing, terrifying journey so far. I can’t wait to see what the next five years bring.

Photo by Peedee on Unsplash

The Lean Startup Changes Everthing

I’m excited to share the launch of the seventh whitepaper in the ongoing Spark whitepaper series, Innovate the Lean Way: Applying Lean Startup Methodology in the Association Environment.

The whitepaper addresses a simple (but not necessarily easy) concept. To quote my co-author, Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, Director of Information Services for the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards:

“There’s no bigger waste than investing resources working on the wrong thing.”

Given associations’ tight resources, that type of waste is the last thing we can afford. Lean startup methodology, which moves beyond lean six-sigma process innovation to address the challenge of innovation, has taken the business world by storm in the last several years, with businesses of all sizes and life stages using it to experience greater success. Our contention is that associations can benefit from applying this methodology as well.

Innovate the Lean Way shares the basics of lean startup principles:

  • Business model canvas
  • The build-measure-learn cycle
  • Minimum Viable Product
  • The pivot

And the stories of four associations that are using lean startup methodology effectively to improve their innovation efforts:

  • The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: Pivoting from Lean Process Improvement to Lean Startup
  • IEEE: The Power of the Pilot
  • NAFSA – Association of International Educators: Combining Design Thinking and Lean Startup
  • NCARB (Guillermo’s organization): Learning with Lean

Our goal is to help association leaders understand the benefits of applying this technique in your own organizations to eliminate waste, validate your learning, and innovate faster and more successfully.

I’ll be blogging more about the whitepaper in the coming days, but in the meantime, pick up your free copy at http://bit.ly/1NJJzkJ, no divulging of information about yourself required.

Don’t forget to check out the other FREE Spark whitepapers, too:

Innovate the Lean Way

“There’s no bigger waste than investing resources working on the wrong thing.”

Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate, Director, Information Systems, National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)

Given associations’ tight resources, we can’t afford to waste time pursuing the wrong thing. Lean startup methodology (as opposed to lean six-sigma) has taken the business world by storm in the last several years, with businesses of all sizes and life stages experiencing success following its principles of building the minimum viable product, measuring what happens, and learning whether to proceed, stop, or pivot.

I’m excited to share that the newest Spark whitepaper is launching NEXT week. It’s co-authored with Guillermo Ortiz de Zarate and it applies lean startup methodology in the association sphere. Our position is that the keys to lean startup methodology – the Business Model Canvas, the Build-Measure-Learn cycle, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), and the Pivot – are just as valuable and useful to associations as to the tech startups where the concepts originated. We think this same process can be used successfully by associations, and we have the case studies to back it up!

We’ll be launching the whitepaper with a FREE webinar Wednesday, October 21 at noon ET as part of the YourMemebrship.com Thought Leader Series. Join us to learn how you can apply this technique in your own organization to eliminate waste, validate your learning, and innovate faster and more successfully.

Oh – and check back here next week to download the actual whitepaper (also free).