Nettie Nitzberg is the founder and principal of West5 Consulting. Nettie has spent more than 20 years changing the ways global companies maximize their people investments.
Nettie is a master instructional designer and expert in talent management and curriculum development. Her business is to focus on helping clients optimize their processes for selecting, integrating and developing their most important resource—people, by creating work environments that attract, grow and retain top talent.
West5 works with a wide range of industries including pharmaceuticals, biomedical/biotechnology, higher education, finance, professional services, technology, and non-profit organizations — solving people problems that impact business success.
In 2o15, Nettie founded the WOW! Women Network to ignite relationships and build connections for professional women; and in 2016, with two colleagues, started the HR and Talent Roundtable a casual, open forum where HR practitioners can share best workplace practices and learn from one another.
In this interview, Nettie shares her background as a solo entrepreneur and the hustles and struggles she'd gone through in bringing her business off the ground. She also shares how she combats work-life balance and how to survive as a solo proprietor.
Her advice for entrepreneurs looking to start a new business:
If you want to start a business anywhere, you must do your due diligence! That begins with your ability to articulate who you are, what you do, why you’re doing it, how you do it, and what makes you different from your competitors.
What motivated you to start West5 Consulting? Did you see a way to serve customers better than your competitors?
I had just left a big corporate job and moved to a new city where the job market was awful. I had a master’s degree in human resources with a focus on instructional design. Combine that with a background in professional services and learning and development, and I suddenly realized that I could fulfil a market (and personal) need as a solo practitioner.
I loved the work I did and thought… I can combine my skills to offer both strategic consulting and tactical skills in instructional design to organizations that want to develop curricula but have no idea where to start. I just needed to find my first customer and begin to build and market my services. That was 22 years ago.
When did you know that you had a business on your hands and not just a ‘good idea’? (The ‘Aha!’ moment)
When I was able to secure a long-term client that allowed me the opportunity to create and build curricula, and together we were able to parlay the content into several different parts of the business, and grow their service offerings. (The organization, to this day, uses the curricula as the foundation of their consulting business!)
Most businesses evolve over time. Is there a way that you slowly evolved the mission of West5 Consulting to serve your customers better?
Since its conception in 1994, the business has undergone many changes. As a matter of fact, West5 Consulting was originally WOW! transformations up until 2016. As WOW! transformations the changes we went through were based on customer needs and the market, always keeping instructional design methodology as the core of the business.
In 2006, I secured a global client that set the path forward for what the business is today (West5 Consulting). This was a long-term (over nine years) HR and learning and development engagement and partnership, where we designed, developed and launched global talent development initiatives that are still offered today. Because of this client, West5 Consulting found its target customer and has used this organization as the model for our business today.
What do you consider the biggest milestone that you have hit with your business? What was the biggest thing you did to get there?
My greatest milestone was moving my business from Atlanta to Boston. In 2011, I quickly realized that we were an unknown in the Boston community, and that I needed to “relaunch” the business (brand, services, new clients, etc.) and create a foothold in a city that has a very close-knit and tight HR and learning community.
It took a lot of hard work! Hundreds of coffees and lunches, tons of networking and connection-building, and telling a succinct story. These efforts paid off. I met great colleagues and referral sources and have been successful breaking into the community and developing a client base comprised of global companies that allow us to do the work we love - helping clients optimize their processes for selecting, integrating and developing their most important resource—people.
Who has been your greatest influencer along your entrepreneurial journey? How did they shape West5 Consulting?
My business coach, Mariette Edwards. She has helped to shape my journey, and I have been working with her on and off for about 10 years. I am so grateful I met her. Her guidance, influence, and tough love have really helped in the transition from WOW! transformations in Atlanta to West5 Consulting in Boston.
With the help and support of Mariette in spring of 2016, our greatest company transition took place. We realized WOW! was not servicing the needs of the Boston market – and through client interviews it was clear the name and company positioning wasn’t in line with their needs. We renamed, rebranded and repositioned WOW! transformations into West5 Consulting and are now able to meet the needs of the Boston marketplace.
What’s the biggest thing you struggle with as a business owner? Do you have any advice for how future entrepreneurs can overcome it?
The biggest challenge I have as a business owner and entrepreneur is balance. As I work on the business to continuously market and network for business I need to also have time to work in my business on projects. And since I am a home-based business, I also have to balance work and life. It is real easy to get caught up doing work vs. spending time with family and friends.
Another challenge is working solo. Without a team to bounce ideas off, help you get out of the weeds, or see other perspectives, it gets lonely. To combat these challenges, I have my business coach, am a member of Vistage, I started and run a women’s networking group and am an active member of a professional women’s organization.
I also frequently reach out to business colleagues that have become good friends for idea generation and support; and I have outsourced services such as a virtual assistant and bookkeeper.
What is the biggest business mistake that taught you a powerful lesson? Would you mind sharing how it changed your business?
That when you move to a new city, you can’t just plop down an existing business. I thought because I had an established business in Atlanta, I could just move it to Boston, and that was not the case. I learned that if you are relocating, you must do your due diligence to learn what you can about the city, the business community, and your competitors.
Identify similarities and differences in potential buyers, don’t make assumptions, and go in with a clear plan of action. I was not prepared and it took about two years to firmly establish my business and secure my first local client.
How does being an entrepreneur affect your relationships with your friends and family?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs and business owners, so there is built-in understanding and support. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents had their own businesses, and my mom and dad each had their own business; as well as my two brothers.
I also have a large group of friends in both Atlanta and Boston who are business owners or entrepreneurs. I have found that as you get established as a business owner/entrepreneur, you become attracted to people in similar situations and build a community of people to support you, encourage you and share ideas.
That said, it’s critical for your spouse and immediate family members to be supportive. As an entrepreneur – and especially a sole proprietor – many of the challenges you face impact work/life balance.
I strongly believe in reading. Do you have a book that you highly recommended Startup Savant readers and I grab a copy of?
I have to admit that I collect a lot of business development books, but I’m not good at reading them! However, I subscribe to numerous online magazines and newsletters that I find very helpful.
Aside from the latest CEO-authored best sellers, seek out and subscribe to online magazines, newsletters and journals that cover business news and economy, local news and information specific to your industry. I especially love Harvard Business Review, which I subscribe to online and in print.
What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in Massachusetts? Where should they start?
If you want to start a business anywhere, you must do your due diligence! That begins with your ability to articulate who you are, what you do, why you’re doing it, how you do it, and what makes you different from your competitors. Start with LinkedIn and reach out to folks in your network and ask for introductions. Make it a start-up goal to meet one-on-one with with people you know and are connected with.
At those meetings, ask where they network and who they network with. Also ask for introductions to people in and outside of your business expertise during those meetings. This, in particular, was incredibly helpful for me when I moved to Boston. There are tons of networking and professional groups to visit and join. It is overwhelming, so getting help from your network is critical.
If you want to receive updates from Nettie or get to know what West5 Consulting is up to, follow her on Twitter or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.