Unconventional Advice for Emerging Ecopreneurs

diplomaA Tufts senior e-mailed me the other day, attaching her resume and asking for career advice. While that play of events seems typical, her ambitions probably didn’t fit the cookie-cutter mold of most of her class peers. She wanted to run her own eco-retreat center one day, felt passion for the green movement and embraced her ecopreneurial passions.

In short, she blew away the goals and mindset I had back in my twenty-something days, when the only “green” in my world came out of an ATM machine. And frankly, as I’ve been off the mainstream career path for nearly two decades now, I don’t typically have seniors knocking on my e-mail door for advice. So I felt compelled to launch a dash of the unconventional her way — a dose of out-of-the-box career advice for someone heading down ecopreneurial career paths at a young age. Here’s what I sent to her:

* Ditch common career paths. For too many people, careers are looked at as a linear path: point A leads to B and so on. It sounds like you are embarking on a much more personal, passionate, creative journey (kudos to you). While many of your peers (and perhaps family expectation) are doing the “expected,” embrace the road less traveled. Having an ecopreneurial mindset is not something garnered in the classroom — it is build on passion and experience. It sounds like you have the passion — think about what experience you need to feel confident in making the ultimate move to running your own business. Perhaps it is experience in non-profit management, the tourism industry, whatever — jump around and create a bank of experiences that means something to you and you alone. You’re not trying to impress the plug and play recruiter anymore. Be true to yourself.

* Keep lean and green. The first thing my husband and business partner, John Ivanko, and I did in our 20s when we knew we didn’t want to swim the expected corporate career path was to learn to live as lean as possible. The less we needed to live on financially — the more we didn’t need to depend on a “job” to survive — the greater our freedom to truly do what we wanted to do. While your friends may be racking up credit cards and gear, be focused on your bigger prize: working with passion and being independent and true to your values. This approach will also help you bank some savings so you’ll have a downpayment on your first venture — whatever that may be. Hopefully our upcoming book, Ecopreneuring: Putting Purpose and the Planet Before Profits, will serve as a strong resource in your planning.

* Role play travel. Grab the backpack and get out there — somewhere, anywhere. It is amazing how much you can learn from the road, especially if you “role play.” Where are you — who are you with — when you feel amazingly alive? Where do you feel both that tingle of excitement yet at the same time feel incredible relaxed and at ease, like you were destined to be there? That’s how John and I felt when we traveled to New Zealand and visited some farms across the globe. For us, the rural based lifestyle, bucolic setting, community focus — right down to the fresh breakfasts with homegrown ingredients — felt just like the type of life we wanted to lead someday. Eventually we created that life, from our own perspective, at Inn Serendipity B&B, which we write about in Rural Renaissance: Renewing the Quest for the Good Life.

Any other unconventional advice for budding young ecopreneurs?

About the Author

Lisa Kivirist embodies the growing “ecopreneuring” movement: innovative entrepreneurs who successfully blend business with making the world a better place. Lisa is co-author, with her husband, John Ivanko, of Rural Renaissance: Renewing the Quest for the Good Life, capturing the American dream of farm living for contemporary times. Her latest release, ECOpreneuring: Putting Purpose and the Planet Before Profits is a compact, dynamic tool kit for a fresh approach to entrepreneurial thinking, blending passion for protecting and preserving the planet with small business pragmatics. As a W.K. Kellogg Food & Society Policy Fellow and Director of the Rural Women's Project, Lisa champions a voice for women farmers and rural ecopreneurs through media, speaking and advocacy work. Lisa runs the award-winning Inn Serendipity Bed and Breakfast in southwest Wisconsin, completely powered by renewable energy and considered amongst the “Top Ten Eco-Destinations in North America.” Her culinary focus on local and seasonal cuisine – with most ingredients traveling less than 100 feet from her organic gardens to B&B plates – earned recognition in publications from Vegetarian Times to Country Woman and inspired her cookbook, Edible Earth: Savoring the Good Life with Vegetarian Recipes from Inn Serendipity. In addition to feature writing for publications such as Hobby Farm Home, Mother Earth News and Wisconsin Trails, Lisa is the lead writer for Renewing the Countryside, a non-profit organization showcasing rural entrepreneurial and agricultural success stories. Lisa also penned Kiss Off Corporate America: A Young Professional’s Guide to Independence. Lisa shares her farm with her husband, their young son, a 10kw wind turbine and a colony of honeybees.
  • The biggest obstacles in our way are the ones we put before ourselves. A lesson that I think anyone who has ever owned a business has learned is that sometimes you have to leave the beaten path and proceed on faith. Jump and the steps will appear. No really, they will! It’s rather startling and empowering. Since starting my company, every day has brought new challenges, lessons and successes. My advice would be to keep track of these, whether on paper or as an evening meditation at the end of the day. What could I have done differently today? What will I do differently in that situation next time? What were my successes today? Don’t stress on your mistakes too much, they are lessons in disguise. Learn from them so that you don’t repeat them.
    Keep your business manageable, don’t grow too fast. Try to develop a business plan, use the help of the many networks out there, like this one, or SCORE is another good one. And don’t fall into the trap of loans right off the bat. Start small. Foster small goals and have patience, don’t expect a huge beanstalk overnight~ Best of luck!

  • I just found your site and I like the fact that we can become ecopreneurist. I would like to use that if it is OK. It is so fun in this time. Once you figure out that you don’t have to trudge to work everyday and do the same old same old you find out that there are a lot of opportunities for you.

    The environment seems to be begging for entrepreneurs, and bursting with excitement. There are many ways to do this, and if we all do our little part we can all be very happy.

    Good luck to you and I will be checking back often.

  • What an excellent post! I am so glad I found your blog!

  • Forget about the tradition business plan. Instead, do a One Page Business Plan.

    OPBPs are the easiest, quickest, least stressful way I know to write a business plan. It’s a five-step, one page process that can be completed in just three weeks. It’s perfect for non-profits, small businesses, and large companies. Gone are the months of agonizing meetings, thousands of dollars in consultation fees, and reams of wasted paper producing documents, spreadsheets, and flowcharts.

    Here, in the One Page Business Plan, is everything you need to collect your green business thoughts and put them into a concise, relevant plan. A plan that connects your passion to a definable, achievable outcome. And it’s perfect for the green community because it’s eco-friendly, time conscious, and success oriented.

  • Thanks for everyone’s comments. Susan, love your OPBP idea. Have you used this yourself — or have seen any examples on-line that would be good resources for folks?

  • Lauren

    I’m a 25 year old woman interested in developing my own eco-business and I was very pleased to come across this post. I have already meandered through some conventional work (book publishing) and less conventional (political organizing) since graduating college, but I have been facinated by wind power for residential use, as well as other eco-advancements. I need to take some business courses, but I hope to someday make my business a reality and help improve the environment in the process. Thank you for your words of encouragment, and I too would love to read some One Page Business Plan examples.

  • Cathy

    Does one “need to take some business courses”? I just graduated undergrad and anything sounds better to me than going back, even just for a few courses. I am just itching to start my business. But, honestly do you think that some classes in business are really good? I guess I could use at least an accounting class…

  • Cathy, I’ll be interested in Lisa’s reply, but as a writer on Ecopreneurist, I’ll jump in with an opinion. I think there is a lot to learn from other people and a lot to learn from doing. If you have a business in mind that you would like to start, it would be a good idea to take a job (for now) in that industry. Or, if you just have to get started now, cultivate advisers and mentors that have the necessary experience. I do think you are right to think that accounting is one foundational building block that is useful for any business; it’s essentially a language, a way to communicate a lot of complex information in a uniform way. However, you might be able to learn all you need to know about accounting in an online course or from a book if you just can’t stand the idea of taking a class right now.

  • Beware of the phrase “take some business courses” — whether it leaps from your mouth (as in “I need to take some business courses before I get started”) or the well-intentioned advice pulpits of others. Not to say never step in the classroom, but most often “taking some courses” — or getting a graduate degree for that matter — equates treading water and stagnating in mental excuses before plunging into what you really want to do. That said, sometimes classes make sense if you really need time to build your confidence, but identify your need as such and focus on school as more of a sabbatical from reality until you’re ready to be an ecopreneur, not something you have to do to get from A to B. I’ve played by the “learn as you need it” theory: Extremely focused, defined learning that achieves exactly that you need at that moment. Right now we have a copy of a QuickBooks guidebook and a QuickBook expert friend on call to help us take our business accounting to the next level of organization, a definite need . . .

  • Hello could I use some of the information found in this post if I provide a link back to your site?