This article is part of a series by students at Bard College’s MBA in Sustainability. Principles of Sustainable Management is a foundational class for all Bard MBA students. It delivers ecological and social literacy, the frameworks and tools used by sustainability professionals, the business case for more responsible treatment of people and planet, systems thinking and integrated bottom line accounting.
By Mariana Souza, Martin Lemos and Simon Fischweicher
How can you get the experience you need for your dream job? How do you get sustainability consulting experience without working for a sustainability consulting firm? Our team asked these questions as we finished our first year of the Bard MBA in Sustainability program.
Our answer: If you can’t join a firm, become one! We took a do-it-yourself approach and launched our own independent consulting group, FWD Impact. Based on our experience, here are a few recommendations for building a sustainability consulting portfolio before graduation.
Who wants to spend an hour talking to a few graduate students? Most sustainability professionals. People working in the field have been where you are and are excited to share. These early calls probably won't lead to a client project. But they help you learn about what is out there and where your skills, knowledge and experience can add value. Use your professors and classmates to find connections.
Tip: Ask for 30 minutes. Lackluster calls won’t drag on forever, and interesting ones will stretch to an hour or lead to a follow-up conversation.
After bumbling through a few conversations, we took some time to think about what the market needs and what we had to offer.
Once you think you have a pithy core service offering, try it out. Yes, that means get back on the phone. Activate your entire network from school, work, family and friends to get large corporations, small businesses, non-profits, sports team, museums and everybody in between on to the phone. Ask about their challenges, and let them know what you do. Test different angles and entry points to the conversation. We used faculty and colleagues in our program to get initial leads.
Tip: Develop your web presence when you have a workable pitch or service offering. We started by building a website on Squarespace. We set up a LinkedIn page with our logo, allowing us to include FWD Impact project work in our LinkedIn experience. We also maintain a Twitter account for thought leadership and reactions to significant events like the #ParisAgreement.
A successful business development call requires research, a hypothesis and the ability to think on your feet. Prepare for each call by gathering background on the company and framing an idea of different projects that might interest them. Have these project ideas written down so that you are ready to pitch if the conversation is going well.
Armed with context and ideas, get on the call and listen. The key to these conversations is asking the right questions. What are the looming priorities and opportunities that need support? Where can you help?
Get as much information as you can on their primary business and sustainability challenges and aspirations in the first 30 minutes of the conversation. Then use that information to explore project ideas together as a close. Ideally, the conversation ends with a solid project idea you can turn into a proposal to be sent shortly after. Be explicit and make sure they are prepared to receive a proposal from you.
Getting from conversation to proposal is the most challenging, but never skip establishing your scope and aligning expectations. A project charter and kickoff meeting will ensure that you and your client are on the same page from the beginning. Formalizing expectations and setting deadlines is crucial to ensuring a good working relationship with your clients and your team.
Project charters and kick-off meetings are fairly standard. But proposals are an opportunity to highlight your creativity and your expertise. It’s important to balance, however, your enthusiasm with the client’s stated needs. Here are a few key points to remember when drafting and pitching a project proposal in PowerPoint:
Our team decided that ideal projects and big names would be our priority early on, and that money would come later. Our first unpaid projects helped us build a client list, iron out internal practices and, ultimately, land a paid project with a great client for our spring semester.
Our team may be breaking up, but FWD Impact will live on through the Bard MBA in Sustainability. Starting next academic year, students will be able to select FWD Impact as a Master’s capstone option. Our team will serve as advisors, but will keep guidance limited because failing and recovering are just as important for learning as succeeding.
The most exciting lesson our team learned in this process was how many professionals are interested in implementing sustainability in their organizations. The world needs all hands on deck to create a more sustainable and resilient global economy and we are excited to see what the next FWD Impact team will do.
Image courtesy of the authors
Mariana Souza, Martin Lemos and Simon Fischweicher are co-founders of FWD Impact, a sustainability consulting firm launched as a Capstone project for Bard College’s MBA in Sustainability. Click here to learn more about the FWD Impact team, or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bard MBA in Sustainability focuses on the business case for sustainability. We train students to see how firms can integrate economic, environmental, and social objectives, the triple Bottom Line, to create successful businesses that build a more sustainable world. Graduates of the Bard MBA Program will transform existing companies, start their own businesses, and pioneer new ways of operating that meet human needs, while protecting and restoring the earth’s natural systems. The Bard MBA is a low-residency program structured around “weekend intensives” with regular online instruction between these residencies. Five of these intensives are held each term: four in the heart of New York City and one in the Hudson Valley. Residencies take place over four days, beginning Friday morning, and ending Monday afternoon. Learn more today.
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