Liberated Self-Employment


Liberated Self-Employment

After spending 16+ years steeped in a career of talent development, strategic planning, and training design and delivery in the education and nonprofit sectors, I launched Liberated Development as a personal, professional, and organizational development company that facilitates the growth of leaders, teams, and dreams. Liberated Development is a black woman-owned and operated boutique leadership development firm founded in 2019, in Washington, D.C. I envision a world where workplaces are composed of leaders who consciously and intentionally build cultures that make space for the unique identities and contributions of each individual to thrive. Liberated Development has given me a channel to work toward this vision by creating coaching, facilitation, and strategic advising experiences where clients deconstruct the leadership and workplaces models dictated by dominant culture, and recreate dynamic practices that center relationships and wellness and are rooted in liberation.

Throughout my career, even before I started Liberated Development, my roles and areas of impact have consistently focused on organizational culture and development, with a unique concentration on the influence of identity, wellness, and race. Our clients are leaders at organizations that are actively pursuing DEI initiatives. They are ready to explore what it means to operate from a place that challenges dominant cultural norms and are committed to embodying a way of being that is centered on liberation and agency — for themselves and their teams.

When and why did you join the NASE?
I joined NASE in 2021, right after Liberated Development turned two years old. It is often said that the second year can be a critical juncture for small businesses. Reaching the second year is an accomplishment in itself but it’s also when an overwhelming sensation started to set in for me. There was so much to manage and finding time to work ON the business (i.e., the right infrastructure in place for myself and, by this time, sub-contractors), as well as still working in and for the business (i.e., producing for clients) became a lot to manage. I had established a more solid foundation for growth, understood my revenue streams, etc., and understood that I needed a resource to help me obtain more structure in places where it was lacking. How could I minimize costs, learn from the journey of others, and put things in place that brought more ease — versus stress — into what I was building. From benefits packages to community building with like-minded people grappling with the same decision points, I saw NASE as a place to support some of the necessary shifts needed at this juncture. While I have a pretty solid business sense, I also know that there is so much that I don’t know. NASE felt like a place to help me fill in the gap in many ways — either through direct resources or by indirectly illuminating things I didn’t know.

What inspired you to enter the field you are in?
After serving on numerous leadership and management teams that sought to “solve” for culture challenges — like retention and morale — through a predetermined and very limited lens, I began to see the most lasting and impactful results in spaces where we expanded our notions of leadership and took an approach that simultaneously centered individuals and liberation.

By illuminating barriers and boundaries in thinking, I began to create space for teams and leaders to think outside of the traditional boxes of how we’re “supposed” to lead and how a workplace team is “supposed” to operate, to see what’s possible. I was motivated as I saw the impact my work was having — both in my places of full-time employment at the time, and also when I’d have the occasional client here and there. At that time, I was still balancing it with full-time work. I began to see that it was possible to do this full-time. To not only make a more intentional impact, but to also have more power to create the kind of life and lifestyle that I wanted. I understood that I possessed a skill that could be turned into a business and thanks to seeing other entrepreneurs in my immediate community, I was inspired to try!

When and why did you start your business?
I started my business at a time in my life when I was craving a life that felt more attuned with the power, freedom and work-life balance that I wanted. After having the same conversation with multiple leaders at various levels across different organizations, it became clear to me that there was a very present and widespread need for those in leadership to truly have a space to explore their innate leadership in an intentional way. I could do it in a way that also provided me with the options and flexibility that I desired in my life in a way that no other company was going to give to me.

We all have been taught how to lead. That actually wasn’t true leadership, but more so followership of what we were told leadership was. I also watched as this form of leadership oftentimes made the emerging Black leaders on the teams all but invisible to the leaders and executives i was working with. I watched as they led in a way that silenced others. At the time, I had done a lot of formal and informal unpacking, unlearning, and relearning of this that had led me to a leadership and culture practice that felt liberating to me, which I realized, more and more, was rare.

So as I began to share, consult, and advise more in one-off situations, I started to become more intentional about it. I started to lead myself. This is really how the business started. And my motivation continues to be my clients. Every time they shed a piece of the universal “leadership script” and assume more power over how they lead, I am reminded of why Liberated Development exists.

How do you market your business?
Word-of-mouth and referrals continue to be our strongest marketing tool, as an active prompt in our client engagement process. However, we also send a regular community newsletter as well as use LinkedIn and Instagram. We also build strategic alliances that allow us to cross-promote and/or leverage platforms outside of our immediate audience.

What challenges have you faced in your business? How have you overcome them?
1.   Decision fatigue: Small business owners are often faced with a multitude of decisions to make on a daily basis. From strategic choices to operational details, decision fatigue can set in, making it challenging to maintain focus and make sound judgments. Developing effective decision-making processes and seeking input from trusted advisors has helped alleviate some of this challenge for me. I also pay attention to what can be outsourced, giving me more room to focus on bigger, more consequential decisions.

2.   Work-life integration: Achieving work-life balance is a common goal, but for small business owners, it can be more about work-life integration. The lines between personal and professional life can blur, and finding a healthy integration that allows for time off while still addressing business demands can be a complex and ongoing challenge. For me, it was about separating myself from the business. For some people, it may not be an issue. But for me, it is important to keep my identity as Danielle. While, yes, this business is something that I created, it isn’t me. I work hard not to have my entire identity as a person wrapped up in Liberated Development’s identity as a business. That’s important to me because if this business ever goes away, I don’t want Danielle to no longer be connected to Danielle.

3.   Managing growth and scaling: While growth is often viewed as a positive outcome, rapid or unexpected growth can pose challenges of its own. Increased demand is a privileged challenge to tackle as a small shop and if not careful, it’s a demand that we can try to meet at the expense of our own wellness. I’ve had to be really intentional about what growth means to me and Liberated Development, and not make “growth” synonymous with “more.”

4.   Success to me means sustainable: So I try to actively do a cost benefit analysis where I am looking at all costs of business decisions. That included the cost of my own wellness and capacity. And then saying “no” or “not now” when I need to.

Do you have any employees?
I am my only full time employee. However, we now have a team of 9 co-creators (or “subcontractors”), with expertise expanding law, research, somatic practice, policy, administration and education. These individuals come in as co-facilitators, advisors and/or coaches — depending on the client’s need and my capacity — and have been brought on as a direct response to understanding capacity balance and ensuring that the best minds and breadth of knowledge is available to clients.

What’s your schedule like, what’s a typical day for you?
I set aside some time in the morning to meet my needs first. Water and coffee is a must! I talk to my mom, walk my dog, and when I’m really in a groove I journal a bit. I then get acquainted with my day and organize myself. If I’m not facilitating a session, I try to reserve my mornings for creative work: designing sessions, writing proposals or recommendations, reviewing strategies. My brain is best in the morning so I try to capitalize on that when I can. Afternoons are my meeting times. This can be anything from new client inquiries to planning meetings or coaching with existing clients. I try my best not to schedule back-to-back meetings, so that I have time to move, breathe, get water or capture notes. This sounds like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference in how I feel at the end of the day. I always end each day looking at the next day to make sure I don’t need to make any shifts or do any last-minute prep for what’s ahead.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?
Being able to control my energy. As a self-employed individual, one of the greatest joys for me is the ability to control the energy around me by selecting who I work with. This freedom allows me to avoid being compelled to work with individuals who consistently stress me out or fail to appreciate my value. It empowers me to prioritize working with people who positively serve me and contribute to a healthier and more fulfilling work environment.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a client?
It sounds cliché, but anytime a client renews a contract or recommends me to a colleague or friend of theirs, I see that as the ultimate compliment. When a client chooses to work with Liberated Development again and again, it indicates that they are not only satisfied with our services, but they also believe in the value we provide. Of course, there are times when contracts need to end because I’ve exhausted what I’m able to provide in the current context, or the client’s needs have changed. But when the opportunity is there, building a long-term working relationship with a client is a testament to the mutual trust, respect, and positive experiences shared over time. Moreover, when clients recommend me to others in their network, it conveys that what they experienced with me was so impactful that they want to pass it along. I’m always deeply grateful when that happens.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting their own business?
Create systems early and before you need them. If you are starting off solo, it’s easy not to have a system for something since it’s all in your head and you’re the only one doing it, but that will make your life so much harder than it has to be. The more you can automate and/or create a system for your work, the more time (and stress) you will save yourself later. This also makes it easier to be prepared for help when you get to the point of needing it. There are so many apps that can create SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for you — use them before you need them.

Which NASE member benefit is most important to you?
Access to the experts! When I’m looking for a business solution and have absolutely no idea where to start… I can start with NASE! From IT to healthcare. Being self-employed is equal parts beautiful and intimidating to me. NASE gives me a place (and actual people/experts) to go for the intimidating parts, and that makes a world of difference and reminds me that I’m not alone in having to figure it all out.

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