How we got from there to here: Starting up Element Environmental

As the new year starts we wanted to share some thoughts on how we got Element Environmental ‘from there to here’, since we started out in mid-2021. 

It feels good to get our reflections down on paper, and take a moment to say, hey, we did it!  Maybe it might even provide others with a little bit of inspiration. 😊   

Back in early 2021, the thought of going into business was very scary but also pretty darn exciting.  We didn’t know how much work we’d get, and had no idea about the ins and outs of running a business, but we had a massive amount of optimism, backed ourselves and were keen to give it a go. 

We’ve been lucky to have the support of those close to us and friends and colleagues who have shared their advice or been a sounding board. 

Having a professional network of fantastic people turned out to be critical – people who knew us and wanted to work with us.  Our work has mainly come through this network, whether directly or through word of mouth. 

Our different backgrounds, approaches and skills have given us exposure to projects that are bigger than our individual skill sets, with heaps of opportunity to learn.  On top of this, the range of challenges faced by our clients, the pace of change needed, and the energy and commitment of those making the changes have meant we’ve been involved in hugely varied and fast-paced projects alongside people who really care about getting good outcomes.  It’s been incredibly rewarding being involved in projects from the strategic implementation of farm planning and catchment advisory systems to catchment mapping and mitigation placement, to indigenous biodiversity policy.  It’s a super exciting side of consulting, to shift and change perspectives and approaches daily. 

Our flagship project, and one we are immensely proud to be part of alongside the New Zealand Association of Resource Management, is the MfE-funded Capability and Capacity Builder Project.  Securing this contract allowed us to grow, which was a goal right from the start.  Alongside this, we’ve tapped into smaller bread and butter projects that have helped fill the gaps and create security for the business.  As the new year starts, we’re planning to grow again, and we’re fortunate to have a continuing line-up of interesting and inspiring projects ahead. 

We didn’t have a formal business strategy, more a set of values, ways we wanted to work and a desire to work on cool projects that make a difference. When we look back at where we started and where we’ve got to, it feels a little surreal.  Things have been incredibly busy, and it’s great to pause and reflect on what got us here and what we have learnt that might help others thinking about taking the leap. 

Here goes:

  • Don’t worry if you don’t have business skills!  We have been learning along the way (and seeking paid services of others when our brains reach their limit).  A good bookkeeper is an excellent investment and cheaper than an accountant.

  • Having business partners with different perspectives and skills has brought a spark to our work.  An ability to have free and frank conversations needs to go hand in hand.  Agreeing expectations on monetary reward and personal effort will also need strong and open communication channels.  Getting directors' policies down in writing has been important. 

  • You don’t need to have all the answers.  Taking a co-design approach has meant we’ve been able to harness the knowledge and great thinking of our clients and others we’ve brought on board.

  • Be prepared to put more hours in than you get paid for.  Be ready for unpaid hours to take up to a third of your time.             

  • Breaking half a lifetime of being part of an organisational system and a regular salary can be hard to do.  But the freedom from decision-making hoops, politics and being bound by a job title, as well as the personal satisfaction and rewards that consulting brings have made the efforts hugely worthwhile.