Tracy Allen is a mentor, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. She launched TVA Consulting to help nonprofits and has since evolved the business to focus on social entrepreneurs as well. Tracy is also a mentor with Greater Hartford SCORE.
MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Tracy about her entrepreneurial experience and what it means to give back truly.
NAN PRICE: How did your years of teaching at public and private schools transition into the work you’re doing now with nonprofits and social entrepreneurs?
TRACY ALLEN: A lot of people don’t realize educational institutions are nonprofits. So, I’ve spent most of my career working for nonprofits. In education, we deal with children from all different types of socio-economic backgrounds. Sometimes you have to go above and beyond, jump in, and help out.
My transition began with someone asking me to write a grant while I was still teaching. Initially, I didn’t know how, so I took some classes. I became grant writing certified and many of the grants I wrote got approved. It became my side hustle. I wasn’t making a lot of money from it initially. I was mostly writing them as a favor for people who needed them.
Eventually, I experienced a tragedy in my life and was looking to start a nonprofit. I took classes to learn more, because I believe in education and professional development. Jumping into something without knowing what you’re doing can lead to tons of mistakes. And you end up spending more time and energy to fix those mistakes.
In my grief, I was unable to finish the process of starting my own nonprofit, but many people knew I was doing to groundwork to learn how. Gradually, people who wanted to start nonprofits of their own reached out to me and I began helping them.
It kind of snowballed. I never set out to be a strategist who works with nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. I just feel that’s my calling. I’ve always had that spirit where I want to make impact and help people change their lives. And, as you help one person, it creates a feel-good, trickle-down effect. Hopefully that person reaches out and pays it forward, too.
NAN: What steps did you take to become a full-time business?
TRACY: I recognized that I didn’t really know how to represent or sell myself—and I hadn’t ever been in the position to sell a product or service. I’ve always felt that if you want to practice or perfect a skill, you either volunteer or take a job in that area. So, I decided to take a job as a marketer and sell something challenging: timeshares.
It was a filler job for me, so I didn’t plan to take it seriously. I sold four timeshare packages my first day and, over the next year and a half, became one of the company’s top five sellers.
I had conquered my fear of selling and I was ready to go out and do it for myself. I started my business in 2001 as a sole proprietor. I formed the LLC in 2017.
NAN: How has your business evolved?
TRACY: When I started my business, I marketed myself as a nonprofit strategist because I was working mostly with nonprofit organizations. I found I’d pigeonholed myself into a niche that was so tight that if something didn’t go right, I wouldn’t make any money. I needed to figure out a way to broaden my horizons.
I did an audit of my business and really looked at where I was making most of my money and where I would get the most bang for my buck. I realized, while I was doing a lot of work with nonprofits, I was also working with for-profit organizations that had a social cause. Sometimes I would end up connecting nonprofits and for-profits to collaborate and align their missions.
I decided to brand myself as an impact strategist because, whether I’m working with social entrepreneurs or nonprofits, I am creating impact. I’m helping others develop systems and processes that enable them to become profitable and sustainable so they can create impact in the communities they’re serving. In that way, I am also creating impact in people’s lives.
NAN: You also create impact through your work as a SCORE mentor. Tell us how you became involved with that organization.
TRACY: I believe if you’re going to market yourself as something you have to walk the walk. For me, if I’m going to help people create impact, I have to be able to create impact outside of my actual business.
I joined SCORE in May 2018. I quickly rose through the ranks using my background in marketing and education to develop their workshop committee, which helps provide low- or no-cost educational workshops and professional development to people in the community.
Now, I’m co-chair of the Greater Hartford Chapter. I’m also the Educational Coordinator and the Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador for the state. Through SCORE, I mentor clients and do a lot of community outreach.
NAN: How does your work for SCORE differ from your consulting business?
TRACY: Honestly, when I first started with SCORE, I was losing business because people questioned why they should pay me for my services instead of going through SCORE. I had to learn boundaries in my business and at SCORE to make sure I wasn’t giving away the cookie jar. I can give away a cookie, but I can’t give away the whole jar of cookies for free.
So, with the volunteer work I do with SCORE I provide more general mentoring, whereas my business is highly focused on social entrepreneurs and nonprofits.