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The Best Business Start-Up Advice I Received and Some I Wish I Had

Written by: Shannon Snow

I am lucky, when I decided to start my business I was surrounded by nothing but love and support.  Every person I told about my adventure greeted me with excitement, and said they believed I would be successful – every person but one.

I needed to be surrounded with optimism to follow my dream, but I also needed a dose of reality and that came one morning when I asked a businesswoman I admired to coffee in hopes she would give me some advice.  She not only gave me more advice than would fit in a book, she made me face the hard facts and helped prepare me for what was to come.

I’m sharing a few of her most impactful thoughts here in hopes that maybe someone starting a business will give this a read.  Her advice forced me to face the reality of what was coming, and without these thoughts I am sure that I would not have made it through year one as successfully as I did.

Work where you want to go.

During our conversation I remember being bummed because I was opening a specialty consulting business.  The decision to serve Community Colleges meant that there would be travel in my future, and after a career of cushy desk jobs where travel was a treat I was suddenly dreading the need to be on the road.

That’s when the businesswoman I so admired gave me the best advice I have gotten to date, “travel where you want to go.”  Genius! Why didn’t I think of that? If I target schools places that I want to visit I could at least write off part of my expenses if they aren’t included in the contract.  Turn work into a vacation.  Brilliant.

It will be hard.

I doubt anyone goes into this thinking it will be easy.  She informed me that while everyone says it will be hard what she meant is it will be really hard.

She warned me about sleepless nights, worrying about finances, balancing everything that needs to be done.  She warned that I would have less control of my schedule than ever because clients (and a paycheck) will be my priority. Then she looked me in the eye and asked if I was up for this because starting a business takes perseverance and it will test every limit I have.

It will be lonely.

As a sole proprietor, my business is mine and mine alone.  My friend warned that with every perk to this fact comes a drawback.  Until there are employees, there is no team to lean on.  There is nobody to make the tough decisions for you.  There’s no admin to manage your calendar.

You must do all the jobs, not just the stuff you like, and sometimes it’s not at all fun.  Despite all that she warned the worst part is there are no co-workers to share in your joys and frustrations.  It’s all you – all the time.

What I wish someone would have said

Obviously, I thought about these issues and moved forward with my business with a more realistic view – and I wouldn’t change a thing.  Despite all the ups and downs, I have never been happier.  Still, there are a few things that I wish someone would have told me.

The best investment is accountability.

Fairly early on I made the decision to hire Rachel and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.  Hiring her brought a renewed energy into the company, created a team environment, and made work fun again.  It took the loneliness factor away and gave me a reason to work harder because there was a second person who needed a paycheck. I had increased accountability.

Rachel adds more value to the company than I can express, but I often say that even if she didn’t just having her around is worth every penny.  Having her makes me work harder, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s a natural born motivator.  Together we can conquer the world.

You might not work that much.

I’m in an industry that does not require me to be at a physical site several hours a week. As long as I take care of my clients and make sure the business is running smoothly, I’m good. However, a major reason I left my job was hours, and coming from a position where I worked 60 hours a week I sometimes feel like I’m slacking.  As a result, I’ve taken to asking other independent consultants how much they work.  Rarely do I get an answer above 35 hours, and most of the time it’s under 30.

That might seem shocking, but here’s the catch.  While I don’t “clock” as many hours as I would for an employer, when I am working I’m hyper-focused.  There are no social breaks, no walking the halls or surfing the internet to kill time. There is no stopping me when I’m in work mode, I’m on a mission to complete the task at hand.  I have never worked this hard in my life, it’s just consolidated.

You never stop working.

I live with a constant worry that I’m not doing enough, that I’m not going to get the next client or that the checks aren’t going to come in.  It is likely that this will never go away, even when the company is hugely successful there will always be jobs to worry about and business to pursue.  The result of this overarching worry is that I never stop working.

I may not be on the clock, but my mind is constantly running. When I can’t sleep because I want to write a blog about the lessons I learned my first year in business at 4am, I just get up and do it.

The best way to get started is to start.

There is tons of advice out there about how to get started, how to write a business plan, do your market research, etc.  My reality is that I did none of this.  I knew in my gut that I was talented and that I had something to offer so I just got out there and did it.

Of course, I would recommend you prepare for your new venture, but what that means to you is different for everyone. It’s easy to overthink these things, especially when your livelihood is at stake. Would you rather live with knowing you gave it your best shot or the regret that comes with never trying?

Shannon Snow is the Principal at Snow Consulting Services. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners who focuses in facilities planning and operational support.  She has over a decade of professional experience and founded Snow Consulting Services in 2016.


Insights: What to Expect from Snow’s Blog

Written by:  Shannon Snow, AICP

Thank you all for your continued support of Snow Consulting Services.  I hope you have enjoyed getting to know our company and our team over the last month. While it has been fun sharing with you who we are, we are most excited to share what we do, and this is why the Snow Consulting Services blog was launched.

Our dream is that this blog becomes a hub for quality content for our clients and target industries.  Some of the features launching in February are discussed in the remainder of this post.  If there is a feature you would like to see, or if you would like to guest blog, we would love to hear from you!

Industry Trends Information

The first feature you will get to experience is industry trend information, brought to you from the source.  Each month Snow will feature a guest blogger who has blazed an innovative path in their industry, they will share tips, tricks, and secrets about how they achieved project success.  The guest bloggers will provide the topics that will lead to…

Focused Conversation

Each month we are going to take a deep dive into one pressing topic in the industries we serve, a topic selected in conjunction with our guest blogger who will provide an outside perspective.  We will leverage our broad experience and multiple viewpoints to express how these topics impact multiple areas of your organization.


Each month, these perspectives will be consolidated into an e-newsletter, bringing our expertise to your inbox.  This will make the content more accessible and allow our users to share our quality content with others who value our perspective.  To sign up for the e-newsletter, please contact shannon@snowconsultingservices.com.

Shannon Snow is the Principal at Snow Consulting Services. She is a licensed City Planner who focuses in facilities planning and operational support.  She has over a decade of professional experieEnce and founded Snow Consulting Services in 2016.


In Focus: Community

Written by: Ted Stilwill

Shannon has already mentioned in her introductory blog that Snow Consulting occupies the “middle space” between the initial visioning that drives project planning and the actual execution of the project.  As a team, we are also committed to three critical issues that drive our work in that middle space.  We know that we will have to know about the details that shape our client’s program direction as well as the client’s philosophy and strategies for operations.  But we also believe that we have to gain a third important client perspective.  We call it community, and it is our client’s grounded commitment to the stakeholders that they ultimately serve.  I would like to single out that community perspective for comment today and we will take up other perspectives in future posts.

For educational institutions, community is where they hope to have both immediate and long-range impactFor a non-profit or early childhood provider, community may be the families in a neighborhood. For a school district it may be the district’s students and their families.  For community colleges, their impact directly affects students as well as the economic potential of the region.  In my personal experience, the strength and effectiveness of the community connection is the most critical factor for achieving success in education.  The community connection means that the educational institution has data, stories and relationships that help them to understand and connect with their community.

We help clients nurture that unique community focus and establish important partnerships whatever their community, because an effective educational organization has a truly symbiotic relationship with its community.  Snow Consulting is committed to using both objective data and personal perspectives from the client and from community to help guide the success of any project.

Ted Stilwill is a Senior Project Facilitator with Snow Consulting Services. He has worked in education at the local, state and national level.  He most recently headed the Learning Community in Omaha, Nebraska.


In Focus: Programming

Written by: Rachel Murdoch 

My name is Rachel Murdoch. I am a mom of a precious 2-year old girl and I live in Omaha, Nebraska. I am originally from Sioux City, Iowa but have not lived in the Midwest since I left for college quite a few years ago. My pursuit of education, adventure and professional development took me to Minneapolis, MN; Suzaka, Japan; Los Angeles, CA; Anchorage, AK; and most recently to Omaha, NE. In December of 2014 I took some time away from the workplace to be a mom and regroup after such a big life transition.

However in August of 2016, the stars lined up and a mutual friend introduced me to Shannon Snow of Snow Consulting Services. The first time I met Shannon we talked through my resume and she shared contacts and leads for me to follow up on, so that I could re-enter the workforce. Shortly after, Shannon approached me and asked if I would be willing to join her team part time on a project basis. Though I did not anticipate this development, I am thankful to be working with such a passionate, caring and skilled group of individuals. Shannon is one of the most genuinely kind, generous, talented and supportive leaders I know and it is truly an honor to be a member of the Snow Consulting Team.

Rachel’s Story

My professional life has been focused on the programming side of the college, university and life. Much of my time has been spent finding creative ways to teach and foster learning outside the classroom. As a Student Development practitioner and a life long learner, I deeply want students and individuals to understand there are opportunities for learning embedded in all areas of their lives, even outside the classroom. Yet I am convinced that learning doesn’t just HAPPEN. As leaders and educators a high degree of intentionality is required to prepare learning environments to ensure they are ripe for learning.

As administrators, it is our responsibility to name the things we hope for our students/clients to receive so that we can measure success and if necessary adjust our direction going forward. As the Director of Residence Life at Biola University I was a part of the leadership team that established program objectives, learning outcomes, assessment and evaluation standards for students within the residential housing community. Each year, one of my favorite things was reviewing the creative programs students and staff planned throughout the semester, identifying evidence of learning, providing feedback and celebrating successes!

Programming Focus Area

I help lead the Programming Focus at Snow Consulting, these efforts evaluate the delivery of services intended to meet the needs of students or clients. They evaluate what services are being delivered and modifications that need to be made to the client-facing product in order to achieve goals.  Snow supports these efforts through our main services; Project Facilitation, Report Generation, and Advisory Services.

Programming Focused projects often have a very narrow scope, focused on solving an individual problem within the organization. Projects developed in the Program Focus usually require the involvement of people with detailed knowledge about the delivery of services and the population they’re trying to impact. As a result, these projects often get stereotyped as being siloed.

Strategies developed in the Program Focus area may result in a need to evaluate organizational priorities and shift resources to achieve goals. Some of the projects organizations my chose to complete that have a Programming Focus include:

  • Program Development or Academic Plan
  • Housing Study
  • Academic or Program Assessment
  • Student Services Compliance

The Programming Focus is important because it supports other areas by exploring how goals identified in the Community and Operations Focus areas can be achieved.

An Environmental Scan is typically approached with a Community Focus and may identify a specific workforce need. The Programming Focus will help identify the specific activities that are currently being done to meet this need, and inform strategies around how to promote these services or develop new ones.

Snow Consulting Services has the ability to navigate these complex dynamics and relationships between focus areas to help ensure community-responsive and operationally sustainable programs are developed. In my book, this is a recipe for success!

Rachel Murdoch is a Project Facilitator with Snow Consulting Services.  She has extensive experience in Student Services, including housing and student compliance.  She has worked nationally, and brings her professional network and vast expertise to Snow Consulting to represent the Program Focus area with our clients. 


In Focus: Operations

Written by:  Shannon Snow, AICP

I will never forget the first time I understood the value of having operational expertise present on the Snow Consulting Services Team.  I had been interviewing with potential clients, many of whom did not have the internal staff support to implement their visions. Sometimes they had internal expertise and lacked time, sometimes they had staff but lacked knowledge.  Many times, they had deficiencies in both staff and knowledge.  The idea that they could borrow an administrator as needed for operational support and advice resonated.  The knowledge that they could lean on a team to bring an outside eye to operational strategy, assist with budget and mission alignment, provide third party advice and information for decision makers was what these potential clients were asking for.

Snow responded by establishing the Operations Focus.

Efforts that look at the entire organization with an emphasis on governance, organizational sustainability, facilities, and mission typically fall within the Operations Focus.  Plans that have an Operations Focus tend to be messy and complicated, requiring the coordination of every area of the organization to create a vision, but require individual departments to execute specific elements of the plan.  They often have significant budget impacts, staffing requirements, and may require ongoing maintenance.  Operationally Focused plans may result in the need for program alignment efforts, additional considerations of community needs, and more.  Some examples of operational projects include:

  • Institutional Plan
  • Strategic Plan
  • Facilities Plan
  • Organizational Policy Development

Snow supports our clients by offering technical expertise, best practice information, and project facilitation services. We help our clients by providing a balanced approach to project development, acting as an extension of their staff to maximize internal and external talent and resources.  Our integrated approach to project facilitation helps our clients to achieve a balance between community needs, program excellence, and operational sustainability.

The Operations Focus supports projects within other areas by helping to facilitate discussion around what resources are available for implementation.  For example, if a new program is being developed the vision may be established with a Programming Focus, but could have operational implications such as budget and staffing requirements.  Our team assists with assessing these additional resources and helping to facilitate a conversation regarding the organizational priority of the project.  Because we consider the Operations, Community, and Programming Focus areas in every project, we help our clients develop an implementable plan that significantly improves service delivery while minimizing additional costs and organizational impacts.

Personally, I am excited to offer services within the Operations Focus to our clients. I am passionate about making sure that organizations have all the tools they need to be successful, and Snow Consulting Services offers them an avenue toward this expertise without requiring them to hire additional staff.  As a small company that depends on working and retired professionals on a project-basis we have the flexibility to provide the right level of expertise for the project.

Shannon Snow is the Principal at Snow Consulting Services. She is a licensed City Planner who focuses in facilities planning and operational support.  She has over a decade of professional experience and founded Snow Consulting Services in 2016.


An Introduction to Snow Consulting Services

Written by: Shannon Snow, AICP

It was about this time last year that I made the decision to found Snow Consulting Services.  I was working as the Assistant Director for Long Range Planning at a local Community College, but after a major facilities project had been passed to the architectural and construction teams and the acquisition of property for a new campus was complete the amount of time I spent performing facilities planning tasks was minimized, thus I started to collect other duties.  While I loved these jobs, nothing excites me more than planning for a new facility and aligning the educational and organizational goals prior to project identification to ensure student success.

It was during the holiday break that I came to the realization that if the largest Community College in the state couldn’t keep a facilities planner busy full time, there are other colleges that could use this function but likely are not large enough to employ a planner.  At the same time, I was serving on the board of two not-for-profit groups that were considering facilities issues, but there were limited resources available to them to evaluate growth and location based strategies.  It was the combination of these two facts that lead me to start Snow Consulting Services with the mission of providing high-level facilities planning and operational expertise to smaller colleges and not-for-profit organizations that may not be able to justify an internal staff position for these functions.

Since our establishment a year ago, Snow has grown both in mission and in staff.  In addition to myself we have added some project-based support allowing us to broaden our service offerings, providing a multi-faceted perspective to our clients.  Snow offers experience in the three major focus areas of Community, Programming, and Operations. This allows us to use our experienced professionals to provide a broad perspective and a streamlined approach that fosters communication between organizational divisions and individuals. Typically, projects are conducted within one organizational area.  Hiring Snow to assist with project facilitation, report generation, or advisory services ensures that the impacts to all areas of your organization will be considered in plan development.

Snow Consulting Services operates in the Middle Space between vision creation and major plan execution within your organizational context.  The Middle Space is where additional information is gathered, implementation strategies are discussed and a project delivery process is established.  The Middle Space offers an opportunity for organizations to evaluate the impacts of plans developed in specific focus areas within the context of other divisions, fostering effective communication and strategic alignment between all areas.  Snow Consulting Services assists our clients in navigating the Middle Space through the delivery of our major services; Project Facilitation, Report Generation, and Advisory Services.

Over the next month, we will continue to introduce you to our staff, focus areas, and services.  Following the introduction to the company, we will then use this forum to share best practice and industry information with you.  Thank you for your support, and we look forward to continuing to serve as an industry expert in the Middle Space.

Shannon Snow is the Principal at Snow Consulting Services. She is a licensed City Planner who focuses in facilities planning and operational support.  She has over a decade of professional experience and founded Snow Consulting Services in 2016.