Moon Shadow Consulting, LLC Founder Wendy Brown Helmkamp is committed to helping organizations strengthen their organizational health while creating inclusive and equitable environments. Through her consultancy, she provides strategic planning, organization development, and culture change support that integrates diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).
She recently presented and participated in Starting Your Journey to Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, a panel discussion hosted by the MetroHartford Alliance and the Racial Equity and Economic Development Committee, where she noted that at the beginning of their journey “organizations need to ask: How can your organization more equitably distribute power? Who do we choose as our strategic partners or vendors?”
MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Wendy about her entrepreneurial evolution.
NAN PRICE: When and why did you launch out on your own?
WENDY BROWN HELMKAMP: I’ve been a consultant my entire career, which spans more than 25 years. I’ve worked for small boutique firms and large consultancies. At the last firm where I worked, I felt like I was stagnating. I began to reflect on the type of work I really wanted to do and realized I wanted it to be more purposeful work that was more aligned with my values. That’s why I started Moon Shadow Consulting in 2017.
NAN: Is the company just you?
WENDY: Yes, it’s just me. Collaboration and working with amazing colleagues is something I lost when I decided to go off on my own, so my business model is to re-create that by partnering with others.
NAN: How have you been marketing and building clientele?
WENDY: Before I started Moon Shadow Consulting, I was predominantly doing consulting in the for-profit sector. One of the changes I made when I launched my own business was to do more work with purposeful organizations dedicated to having a positive impact on society and with people, like social enterprises and nonprofits. In some ways, that required me to recreate my network and rethink my approach.
Also, much of the work I was doing before was national and not a lot was in Connecticut. So, part of my challenge in going off on my own was to create a local network and to find collaboration partners in the area.
The nature of my work is pretty consistent. It’s still strategy, organization development and design, and culture change. Another shift for me, which was also a significant change from what I was doing most recently, was to start weaving equity and inclusion into my consulting practice.
When I launched my firm in 2017, I was already thinking about integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). The first consulting firm I worked for back in the 1990s was focused on equity and inclusion. At the time, this was referred to as “diversity management,” a terrible name. So, I had started my career there. I also continued doing organization development consulting. As my career zigged and zagged, my focus shifted, but equity and inclusion was always a valued place for me personally. I found ways to address this in my own life even when it wasn’t a part of my work.
When I started my own consulting business, I wanted to come full circle and weave that back in. So, I’m holding what I offer in two ways. One is to integrate DE&I into the strategy and organization design work I do. Then, in addition, when the client’s ask is specifically about DE&I, that becomes a whole different practice area.
NAN: In what ways have the events of 2020 effected your business?
WENDY: The first few years of my business, the challenge was creating my network and finding collaboration partners. By 2020, I really felt like I was hitting my stride. I had clients and I had made so many great relationships. Then everything shut down with the COVID-19 pandemic. There was so much uncertainty for those first few months.
The tragic death of George Floyd ended up reigniting my DE&I work in particular, primarily through my collaboration with VISIONS-Inc., which is a 36-year-old DE&I consultancy that relies on independent consultants. VISIONS’ work really took off and they had a much greater need for consultants to jump in and help out. So, a lot of the DE&I work I’m doing right now is through that partnership.
NAN: Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
WENDY: To be honest, I didn’t realize I had it until I started my firm. At one time, my husband and I owned a bicycle shop. So, I certainly must have gotten some of that entrepreneurial spirit through osmosis from him!
Also, the last place I worked was a small, entrepreneurial firm, so I had to wear many hats. I did client work and business development and helped create many of the tools and frameworks we used with our clients. All of this prepared me to go off on my own.
NAN: Tell us about the transition from consultant to entrepreneur.
WENDY: One of the biggest shifts to running my own consultancy has been accepting that I’m the one holding all the risks. It’s all on me.
Once I accepted that, it became exciting. I had this amazing feeling of self-empowerment I hadn’t experienced before. I didn’t even know it was there until I decided to go out on my own. So, the entrepreneurial spirit came at me in a reverse way. It was like taking the leap first and then recognizing that I have the spirit.
NAN: You mentioned collaboration. Do you find that that helped as you’ve been developing your business?
WENDY: Absolutely. In fact, even before I started my firm, I started talking to different people to test the market and find out if what I have to offer, my experience and my background, was something people would be willing to buy. The relationships I’ve made connecting with people from the beginning have been great. People have been willing to introduce me to others, not only as collaboration partners, but also to potential clients. In terms of collaboration, Hartford is a very generous and supportive region.
NAN: You touched on some of the challenges of starting your own business. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned on the way?
WENDY: I’ve learned that it’s okay to adapt my business as I go. For example, I’ve broadened the types of clients I’d like to work with since I started my business to include social enterprises. Part of that comes from reaching out to different clients, seeing how what I do resonates with them, and then finding opportunities I didn’t expect along the way. So, I’ve evolved my business as I’ve gone along and have been willing to make slight adjustments—I wouldn’t say major shifts.
Another big lesson I’ve learned from consulting over the years is that perseverance is key and not to take rejection personally, because so many variables can influence a client’s decision to hire you.
I’ve also learned to have compassion for the client’s challenges, because it requires vulnerability on their part to say, “I need help.” I truly respect that. So, I approach the work I do with a lot of humility, something I learned early on. It’s also part of who I am and something that I continue to uplift as I do my work.