Morgan Epstein Clark is the founder and lead consultant of Epstein Clark Consulting, a professional services firm headquartered in Danville, Va., with customers in the Southern Virginia region. Epstein Clark Consulting offers customized consulting services to fit each non-profit organization she serves, from project and strategic planning to grant writing, fundraising and more.
A native of Greensboro, North Carolina, Clark first arrived in Danville to attend Averett University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree before beginning her first professional role with the Dan River AmeriCorps program. There, she discovered her passion for non-profits which led her to pursue her master’s degree in nonprofit management and leadership from Northeastern University. Today, Clark is committed to staying in the Dan River Region, thanks to her experiences with the Dan River AmeriCorps, Danville After Hours Rotary, and, of course, starting her small business August 2020.
“I want to work with as many nonprofits as I can and help make the biggest impact I can, helping them flourish and helping them grow so that they can better serve their communities,” Clark said.
The idea for Epstein Clark Consulting was seeded while Clark was finishing her master’s degree, and was cultivated by her faculty advisor and mentors from her community and professional networks. Now an alumni of CO.STARTERS and an active participant with RISE Collaborative, Clark’s network has expanded to the larger southern Virginia region. Her conversations with the Longwood SBDC also have impacted the development of her small business. Together, these programs have offered Clark opportunities to build a group of advisors and a cohort of peers that create a dynamic support system, which is an essential ingredient for any successful entrepreneur.
By starting her small business, Clark’s “dream job” is now her reality, and she’s learned many lessons along the way. Clark shares her entrepreneurial journey and why 2022 will be her “year of pivoting” in the video linked below.
Want to know more? Read on for unfiltered advice from Clark during Rise & Shine’s question-and-answer session.
Q: What really resonates is taking the leap. You quit your job, and you took the leap. Could you talk a little bit more about that? At what point were you like, “I’m going to do this. I’m quitting my job, and I’m starting this?”
CLARK: I started my master’s capstone in March 2020. I really didn’t start thinking about quitting my job and actually pursuing my business idea until the end of April. That’s when I started having conversations with different community leaders that I trusted. Danville is a small town, and you don’t necessarily want people to know that you’re thinking about quitting your job. Having those conversations with trusted people and asking them straight up, “Please be honest with me. You know me. You’ve seen me in the professional world. Do you think that I would be successful? Do you think that there’s a need for this in our community?” The answer was always yes. I had an amazing support system, and that’s how I was able to do it.
But, again, I had so many anxiety attacks — your girl was covered in hives at one point thinking about this — I was scared. I was really scared to do it. And it hasn’t been the easiest journey. There are dips and there are peaks — all throughout, still to this day. But I decided there’s never going to be a perfect time. I thought: Stop telling yourself, Morgan, to wait for the perfect time or wait for the sign because it’s not going to happen. I knew that if I wasn’t going to do this, if I wasn’t going to put in my notice, then I never would. So, girl, put your big-girl panties on, go up, turn in your notice and get the ball rolling. So that’s what I did.
Q: As a new business, how do you decide how to charge for your services?
CLARK: When I was going through CO.STARTERS, Brandon [Hennessey] and I actually had a Zoom call because I said to him, “Brandon, how do I charge? I know that I’m undercharging right now because every single time I’ve given a price or a quote to a client, I either get the response, ‘Wow, that’s a good deal,’ or no response as in, ‘I don’t know if we can do that.’” That was my key indicator that I wasn’t charging enough.
So what I do now is charge differently for different services. My grant writing is strictly hourly. But for strategic planning, for workshops and trainings, charging by the hour is not the way to go for me. So I do one set price for that. I’ve tweaked it. In the beginning, I was undercharging so much that it’s embarrassing. I was like, why am I undercharging? Do I not believe that my quality of work is worth this?
Having different conversations with Brandon, with different organizations from out of state, having those kinds of conversations was super helpful.
I just did a price increase in February. I knew it was time, and I haven’t gotten pushback from it quite yet. Always evaluate. Think, what are people willing to pay for this in other areas that look like mine?
Q: Did you have revenue goals in other areas, and how did you achieve them?
CLARK: My revenue goal was to bring in as much money as my husband was making for a year. That was a lofty goal, but we actually hit it in our first year. The first four months were so slow it was painful. I was having conversations like, “Do I apply for a part-time job? What do I do? Because what I’m doing now is not working. I am not bringing in money.”
It kind of happened that this was when people started finding out that I was doing nonprofit consulting. Once people heard, I started getting reach-outs like crazy, and the next thing you know I was extremely busy, and it just kind of blew up from there.
But the first few months were scary. Very scary. I just had faith in myself, and I had faith in my product. I know I am good at what I do, and I have that confidence. That really helped.
Q: Could you elaborate about how AmeriCorps helped you?
CLARK: AmeriCorps was an eye-opening experience for me. I’d never heard of AmeriCorps. I found out about it through my college, and it led me to the nonprofit world. I have been volunteering since I was little. Volunteering was always a core part of my life growing up. AmeriCorps taught me a lot; it gave me a network. Our satellite office was in Lynchburg, so I was traveling there a lot, going to their nonprofits, going to different conferences in the state of Virginia and truly learning about the nonprofit world. I credit a lot of what I do to AmeriCorps because I just don’t think I would have gotten involved in nonprofits otherwise.
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