Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Elisabeth Sheff, CEO of Sheff Consulting and a Resident Sociology Expert of The Bonding Project. located in Springfield, VA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

I am an expert in sex and gender minorities, specializing in people who practice BDSM or consensually nonmonogamous relationships like polyamory. My expertise proves useful in a range of ways, from testifying as an expert witness in court when kinky sex has gone really wrong or parents are in custody battles for their kids to providing relationship coaching for people who are having difficulties establishing or sustaining CNM or BDSM relationships. I also provide continuing education for counselors, therapists, and other professionals who need to better understand sex and gender minorities, speak to groups, write books, blog for Psychology Today, and conduct research. My Longitudinal Polyamorous Family Study is the only research of its kind that has followed a group of polyamorous families with kids for more than 25 years to track the impact that growing up in a polyamorous family has on children.

As part of my interest in diverse relationships, I am on a team developing the Bonding Project, a series of relationship quizzes that help people consider if they would like to bond one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many, or solo. My clients are seekers, relationship nonconformists, and those who seek to understand them.

Tell us about yourself

I started studying CNM because I fell in love with someone who wanted an open relationship, which terrified me. As an intellectual, I intellectualize things that frighten me, and I thought that if I could just make sense of it, then I would not be so afraid of it anymore. Eventually, I moved from a "civilian" interest in the CNM to a more academic consideration and ultimately branched out into other forms of relationship diversity. After decades of study, I understand a wide range of unconventional relationships and am able to explain them to others.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

My expert witness testimony helped demonstrate that a death by kinky sex was accidental and not homicidal. My client was released from death row, and his sentence was reduced to one more appropriate for manslaughter than the original murder charge. As a researcher and author, my Longitudinal Polyamorous Family Study has produced four books, more than 20 journal articles, and over 130 blogs which have helped many people understand polyamorous families.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

Some people assume that I participate in everything I study and so look down on me as a "freak." Others who find out that I do not identify as polyamorous or kinky myself look down on me as an interloper who has no right to say anything about something I don't do myself. Getting stigmatized from both sides is a challenge, but it also gives me a special understanding as both an insider and an outsider that helps me explain it to judges, juries, counselors, and therapists who may never have considered an unconventional relationship themselves.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Be smart about what you choose as a focus for your business and get the right kind of training to make it work. If I had known, I would eventually do this professionally; I would have gotten a degree in psychology instead of sociology. I had no idea where I would end up and would have made different choices if I had been more intentional from the beginning.
  2. Don't let other people's dislike of your idea stop you. Even if some people don't like it, others will be excited about it, so find your niche even if you get some resistance from people who are not relevant to what you are doing.
  3. Expect challenges, and figure out how to move through them. Strategize about how to keep yourself motivated even when things are difficult. When you earn a lot of money at once, save as much of it as you can for those dry spells when income is a lot more sparse.

Where can people find you and your business?



If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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