We had the good fortune of connecting with Annette Shtivelband and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Annette, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Starting my own business was something I always wanted to do. I started my first business when I was about 10 years old selling bead geckos to other students. In middle school, our class volunteered to clean the environment. As we were there, I realized there was a more efficient way to help; I set up an assembly line so we could do more with the time we had – create more impact. As a young adult, I gained experience with nonprofit organizations through volunteering. I loved the passion of those who worked in the nonprofit sector. I felt like we were all part of the same tribe and community – people who wanted to make the world a better place. I too wanted to apply my knowledge and skills to make a difference. I wanted to contribute to the world and help others do the same. Looking back, my personality has always been suited for entrepreneurship. I like to solve problems, make things better, take ideas and put them into action. I enjoy the freedom of making my own decisions, and I also like the challenge that comes with being an entrepreneur. Each day is different! Nothing is ever boring; change and growth are constant. You have the power to make a difference – not just for your clients, but for your team and those around you. I also realized I would regret not starting my own business. To me, it would have been worse to never try at all than to fail. So, I took a leap of faith and began my business not fully knowing what I had signed up for, but excited to get started! Starting Research Evaluation Consulting LLC (REC), a consulting firm that provides quality research and evaluation services to nonprofit agencies and purpose-driven organizations, made sense to me. It gave me the opportunity to leverage my strengths and skills, it fit my personality, and it instilled me with passion to make a positive difference in the world. Through a lot of trial and error (my PhD is Psychology, not business), I found my footing. I built REC from the ground up: no angel investors, no money from my family, no guarantees. I saved my own money to give my business the runway it needed to launch. I learned from my colleagues and other entrepreneurs. My early clients trusted me and gave REC a chance. I’ve also been fortunate to meet and work with a lot of incredible people along the way who have offered their guidance and support. For that, I am grateful. Being a business owner is not always the easiest route, but it has been quite rewarding and meaningful. I’m thankful I began REC and took a chance to pursue this dream.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Research Evaluation Consulting LLC (REC) works primarily with nonprofit agencies and purpose-driven organizations to provide quality research and evaluation services. Essentially, we help our clients ask and answer meaningful questions so that they can make data-driven decisions. We also help our clients measure and quantify their impact. What sets us apart from other similar firms is that we develop tools and strategies that are unique to our clients – we avoid cookie-cutter approaches. We work in partnership with our clients to create something of value and support. Our work is thorough and detail-oriented. We have high standards. When we say we are going to do something, we follow through, and clients know that they can count on us. In college, I had the idea of starting a consulting firm and I began the process of making that idea a reality six years ago. The early stages of starting REC involved a lot of trial and error. Fortunately, I was able to connect with other entrepreneurs who were able to provide guidance, support, and share their stories. Through that process, I was able to figure out specifically what worked for REC. The first year was probably the hardest, because there were no guarantees that the business would survive. I had saved about a year and a half of my own money to try out this dream, and it took many months to secure our first client. Some people were encouraging about starting REC and others thought this may not be a feasible or a realistic direction. Early on, I spent countless hours networking and meeting people for coffee. After about 150 meetups, I found that not all coffee meetings were the best use of my time when trying to build a business. It was not easy starting my own business. Yet, I would say that what I’ve learned through this journey. Here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way: 1. Be intentional about your time. Your goal is to create and build your business, and to figure out what is working. Your goal is not to meet as many people as possible who are all trying to sell to each other. 2. Figure out what you’re good at and focus on that. You cannot be everything to everyone. 3. Pay attention to your first projects or client engagements. Ask yourself what worked well and what could improve next time. Early on, you’ll learn some of the best lessons about what works for you and your business. Without learning, you might make some of the same mistakes again. 4. Surround yourself with people who encourage, motivate, and inspire you. This could be colleagues, friends, family, a book, podcast, anything that helps you get up and get going each and every day. When you start your own business, it’s all on you. And sometimes when things do get difficult, and they will, you may lose some of your motivation and drive. 5. Expect challenges. As a new business owner, or even one that’s been doing it for years, you will encounter things that you did not expect. This means that you need to create a safety net and a buffer for your business. I would highly discourage business owners from overspending or overextending themselves. You should never take risks for your business on the backs of other people. In my opinion, that is wrong – even if a client doesn’t pay you right away, you still should pay others. 6. Be willing to change and adapt. None of us planned for a global pandemic and many businesses are currently suffering. As a business owner, it’s important to diversify your clients and not put all your eggs in one basket. Find ways to bring in active and passive income. Make sure you have that safety net for whatever might come your way. 7. Don’t compare yourself to your competitors. Focus on your business, your goals, your reason for existing, your clients, and you’ll be fine. The moment that you start to focus on your competitors, you lose sight of what’s important. Sometimes the very people who are your competitors could also be collaborators on other projects. I think it’s important to have a mindset that there is plenty of work to go around. That fills you with energy and helps build your drive. Fears, worries, and concerns are all valid, but they should not dominate your approach. If you’re an entrepreneur, you have to embrace an indominable spirit and keep going. If something truly is not working, it’s okay to pivot or try a different direction. You’re going to fail a lot as a business owner, but the important part is getting back up again if this is what you’re passionate about. As for REC, I want to continue building our reputation based on integrity and meeting the needs of our clients. I want REC to support our clients as they meet the needs of their communities and make a positive difference in this world. Creating a team of people who have similar values, goals, and standards, creating something bigger than myself, is something that I’m most proud of. I am grateful to be part of that same tribe of people trying to make a positive difference in this world.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Assuming we were not in the midst of a global pandemic, I would treat my friend to good food, hot springs, nature, and dancing. I love exploring. There’s so much to do and see in Colorado. There’s something for everyone! During the warmer months, there’s a lot of great farmers markets and festivals throughout the state. For instance, there’s the Boulder Creek Festival, the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, Breckenridge Wine Festival, the farmer’s market in Longmont, the Taste of Colorado, the Denver Pop Culture Con, and so much more. I would say that my friend could visit any time of year, because there is so much to do here! Having created itineraries for friends and families alike, I find that it’s best to have 2-3 big activities planned for the day, and then see where the day takes you. Since I enjoy just walking around and exploring, places I would show my friend would probably include Boulder, Golden, Glenwood Springs, Fort Collins, Blackhawk, Vail, Breckenridge, Colorado Springs, Longmont, and Denver of course. The Botanical Gardens in Denver is one of my favorite places as it is always beautiful. Also, the Mercury Cafe in Denver is mecca of art, creativity, food, dancing, and gardening. It’s also a great gathering place. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Boulder Dinner Theater, Jester Dinner Theater, and BiTSY stage are also a lot of fun! In terms of restaurants, there are a lot of good restaurants on Tennyson Street and in the Highlands area. There are many hidden gems in every Colorado city. I absolutely love sushi and all Asian food. There are a lot of great restaurants that provide seafood even though we’re not near the ocean! There’s something for everyone, whether you’re vegan or like steak. There are so many places that have creative cuisine and provide delicious food. If we were looking for hot springs, I would say Strawberry Hot Springs, because you can be immersed in nature and you can also explore restaurants and outdoor activities. Glenwood Springs is a cute mountain town with two different hot springs – including Glenwood Springs and Iron Mountain Hot Springs. If you want to get away Joyful Journey and Valley View are also wonderful options. I haven’t visited all the hot springs yet but would love to try. Even though I’ve been in Colorado since 2008, there’s still so much I want to see and do. For example, I haven’t visited Ouray and Durango yet and I still need to see a concert at Red Rocks! I can’t wait to check out more in the future!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There have been so many people who have provided support, guidance, love, mentorship, and friendship on my journey. I feel lucky when I think about how others have supported me – whether it’s getting advice from other entrepreneurs, having an accountability partner to keep me pushing forward, conversations with friends and loved ones about my business, loyalty and commitment of team members, or the trust that our clients put into Research Evaluation Consulting (REC). Thank you all! Yet, there is one person I want to recognize who believed in me before I even began my business. Dr. Donald Eggerth supported me as a mentor and friend as I pursued my doctorate. Don was my supervisor when I worked at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Cincinnati, Ohio. We spent countless hours discussing research and theory. He really seemed to value my thoughts and ideas. He was kind and he listened. He also was honest with me and helped me learn how to deal with the inevitable challenges that life presents. Honestly, I’m not sure if I would have completed my PhD if not for Don. He advocated for me, he encouraged me to fight for what I wanted regardless of the challenges, and he was there with me throughout the whole process. Don’s support helped form the person I am today. Before I began REC, I was well aware of the research about how many new businesses fail. There’s also data about how there are fewer female entrepreneurs and that female business owners may make less than their male counterparts. Research also has found that entrepreneurs may have higher rates of depression and anxiety. However, I did not let that prevent me from trying and I pushed past the negativity. Now, as I manage my own team, I try to bring similar energy and support. When I serve our clients, I fight and advocate for them. When unexpected challenges arise, I cut through the negativity. If one of my team members is going through a hard time, I support them. I find great meaning in what the REC team is able to accomplish together and in partnership with our clients. I know how important it is to be there for others and how such support can make all the difference. I am grateful that Don believed in me and I appreciate the opportunity to recognize him.