Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Demi Utley, Founder of Utley Strategies LLC., located in Portland, OR, USA.

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

At Utley Strategies, we help small and mid-sized companies improve their proposals to win more contracts. We guide clients on how to create strategic RFP responses, train writers on storytelling to resonate better with buyers, and work to improve processes so everyone can produce their best work and win more projects. Most of our clients sell to State & Local governments, education institutions, healthcare organizations, or corporate entities.

Tell us about yourself

My plan as a child was to always have my own business in some way -- whether it was having a veterinary clinic, my own therapy practice, or a nonprofit -- I always wanted to have the freedom and flexibility to structure my life in a way that used my strengths. Writing has always been a core part of my identity and what I do to ground myself. When I started working after college, I entered the world of proposal writing and learned that I could combine both. I eventually left to start my own business. Now I work with small and mid-sized companies, and I can see a direct impact from the work that we do. These organizations are eager and ready to grow and achieve results for their customers, and I love being a part of the process. Even small tweaks can have a huge impact at this stage, and there's nothing like hearing from a client saying, "It worked; we won the contract!"

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

One thing I'm really proud of is all of the free resources we share on the website and YouTube channel. I know there are a lot of businesses, or even nonprofits, working on proposals that don't have the resources to be able to invest in a consultant. I love that our library of free resources can help someone get started and make real progress without having to invest. Then once they're ready to go to the next level, they can work with us. I am passionate about helping more small and diverse businesses grow and win more contracts, and if we have a roadblock of requiring that they pay for any support, it will only widen the gap. I hope that these resources can help more of these businesses take action to get started.

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

One thing I was not prepared for being a business owner is how easy it is to feel a bit of loneliness. When you work for a company, you have a built-in social network and people to bounce ideas off of, such as your manager, teammates, director, etc. Going out on my own, I quickly learned that I needed to find peers and support in other ways. It was a big lesson and something I encourage anyone who plans to start their own business to establish early on for when challenges hit.

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

  1. Be prepared for it to take longer than you planned and have some sort of "rainy day" fund. Many people have said that things start to level out after three years, and you get the hang of running your own business. I'd plan for that, and if it happens sooner, great!
  2. Have a good marketing strategy from the very beginning. I started out with ads while I built my SEO, and now my business has a consistent and growing audience interacting with us every day. Whether it's SEO, social media, in-person events, or some other strategy, make sure you start out with it and stay consistent. Your future self will thank you.
  3. Remember, you make the rules. It's easy to fall back into the employee mindset when you're starting out, but you decided to start a business for a reason (i.e., time freedom, financial potential, passion, etc.). Identify the aspects of running your own business that you are most excited about, and make decisions that enable that. For example, if you want more time freedom, don't sign a bunch of clients early on, where you charge hourly for several months. Rethink how you sell your offering to suit your needs and know that you're making the best decision for your goals long term (also, don't let anyone else's judgment push you to do something you don't want to do. You're the boss!). Make sure you have fun along the way!

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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