Sam Woollard still remembers the refurbished apartment building with the filled-in swimming pool where the School of Social Work was housed in 1988, when she got her bachelor’s degree. Woollard now owns two consulting business that respectively support philanthropy planning and social impact initiatives. She thinks there is much opportunity for social workers to bring their training and skills into consulting.
SHE STARTED on a typical social work career path, which led her to managing a program for addiction recovery education in Austin. “It was the mid 1990s, and it was the first job where we actually got an email address, although we were not sure what to do with it. We also were excited when we could do group faxing to remind people about a meeting!”
SHE JOINED A NETWORK — CAN/Community Action Network — to learn more about other organizations in the Austin area. “This was before the internet; it was hard to find information. CAN was our first attempt as health and human service providers to form a group, learn about each other, and find some common outcomes and outputs.” She eventually became CAN’s associate director, a position she held for eight years.
SHE SAW THE POWER OF NETWORKS AND COALITIONS to improve communities.For instance, CAN worked with the Internal Revenue Service to enhance its tax support program. This effort eventually became Foundation Communities’ Tax Preparation Program, which in 2016 alone filled more than 20,000 tax returns for Austin low-income families.
SHE DECIDED TO STEP INTO THECONSULTING WORLD in 2007. “I stepped back and asked myself, what am I passionate about and what am I good at?” She figured she was good at connecting people, forging a path from the bigger picture to the practical details, and helping groups move forward with their goals.
SHE STASHED THREE-MONTHS WORTH OF MONEY IN THE BANK and bought a convertible. “I needed time to think, and I wanted to make sure I would be able to live and have good credit when I was ready to start something new!” During this time, she 1) met someone for coffee everyday: “one of the best pieces of advice I ever got;” 2) created a website and developed a business plan: “very helpful, because you have to be very concise and clear about what you do, who are your clients, how much money you need to make to pay the bills;” 3) talked with every consultant she could find: “I asked them questions like how do you determine how much you charge, how do you identify your clients, how do you create ongoing business.”
WHEN SHE WAS ABOUT TO DESPAIR about her career change she got her first client, who has been with her ever since. In 2013 she gained a new business partner and now their consulting business employs two people and has three associates. “Every piece of business we receive comes from a referral. The relationships that I have formed over almost 30 years in human and health services have been critical to our success.”
THEIR CONSULTING STYLE IS ROOTED IN SOCIAL WORK. “We don’t come in as the experts. We have expertise and are happy to share it, but we really believe that the folks we work with have the answers. Our job is to facilitate their process to get to them.”
WHEN SHE LOOKS BACK AT HER UNDERGRADUATE DAYS, she realizes that she never had the opportunity to think about social work as a business. “This is even true for the folks who want to go into private practice, they also need to learn how to make a business out of that. I think there is huge opportunity here, and I’m happy to share what I have learned so far with whoever is interested.”
You can contact Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org