Happy Birthday to Us: 8 Things We Learned The Hard Way


SparkWorks recently turned four and the team threw a surprise birthday party, complete with a London Buck (recipe below).  We have an office plant (we’re looking for names-- any ideas?) and are looking official with company engraved Moleskins.

I feel so lucky to be surrounded by such a talented team of dreamers who work their tails off. We believe that everything is figure-out-able, and that’s what we do when we face a new unknown challenge: we dig our heels in and figure it out.  

I’m often asked why I started SparkWorks, and the answer is messy.  

Being honest, part of me thought that being a “solopreneur” would be easier on my family than the crazy work-life imbalance that I had for several years-- I was wrong.  Another part of me thought that the work would be more interesting (mostly true), and easy to find (very wrong).

This is unquestionably the best job I’ve ever had, though very different than what I planned at the outset.  And now we’ve grown from lil ‘ol me in a home office and Starbucks, to a busy team in a WeWork space (that we love).

Overall, here are the lessons I’ve learned starting up a boutique consultancy from scratch. Again, I wouldn’t change it for the world.  

  1. Quick fixes don’t solve anything. Do what it takes to solve a problem so it stays solved.
  2. It (almost) always takes twice as long and twice as much money to solve something as you think it will.
  3. When selecting people for the team, realize that not everyone is cut out for entrepreneurial world, where everything moves at blazing speed and adaptation is essential.
  4. Take the time for personal reflection, to think, adapt and proceed. The risk of making mistakes increase when you work too much or too hard-- there are likely signals you’re missing.
  5. Plans mean nothing until clients buy and believe in you.  It takes rapport to develop credibility for a budding business, regardless of how great and in demand the business actually is.
  6. Being a connector or master networker does not mean you can sell (this was the hardest lesson for me to learn).  And selling is the #1 job for any startup entrepreneur (duh, I know-- now).
  7. The highs are high and the lows are low.  Glory goes to the entrepreneurs who learn to surf the waves.
  8. Nothing is more expensive than cheap labor (I borrow this phrase from a friend). It’s related to #1-- when hiring talent, solve your problem with the best possible resource to build your team and company.

I trust that some budding entrepreneurs are going to read this and ignore-- I get it; I did that too.  Sometimes, we need to learn by doing. And all I can say is DIG IN and make your magic happen.

Either way, I’d love to hear from you on lessons you’ve learned, or what resonates with you.  


*5/15/18 Update: we named the plant Cholula

And as promised...

The SparkWorks take on a London Buck

It is with hope that our London Buck lends all budding entrepreneurs a sense of solace during these crazy times!



Ginger Beer




Step 1. Cunch some ice

Step 2. Generously serve yourself a large sum of gin to your soul’s delight

Step 3. Fill the rest of the cup with ginger beer

Step 4. Squeeze half a lime for an added zest

Step 5. Garnish with mint and cucumber for a refreshing kick


Catherine Malloy Cummings

20 N Upper Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL, 60606, United States