In 2008, Cadmona Hall and Heather Hay were completing their PhDs in Marriage and Family Therapy at Syracuse University. Their decision to choose Syracuse for their academic studies would result in a life-changing friendship and business. Hall and Hay became close friends while working at Hospice of Central NY, where their collaboration sparked an unexpected idea.
Hay realized after a joint presentation that they were meant to work together: “We have great synergy, a great presenting partnership and strong friendship. That was the first kernel of the business idea being planted and it took a little while before we got things into motion.”
After their graduation, the two continued discussing their fledgling business concept.
“We talked through the idea of doing this together professionally and what we are most passionate about, which is grief and loss and reaching out to others,” recounts Hall. “We started to think about how to put things into place strategically to develop an official, legitimate business. We ended up birthing this business in separate locations and I think that is a testament to our relationship.”
Together Hay and Hall decided to launch Hall & Hay Consulting Associates in 2010. At the time, Hall was pursuing a full-time faculty position in Chicago and Hay had stayed in Syracuse for a clinical position. Starting a business in separate locations, in addition to their full-time jobs, encouraged Hay and Hall to grow the business in ways they didn’t initially anticipate.
The partners found just the right source of business assistance in Joanne Lenweaver, director of the WISE Women’s Business Center in downtown Syracuse. With Lenweaver’s guidance, the partners were able to avoid early errors in setting up their operations and develop a business model that worked for their unique needs and goals. Structuring a consulting startup where Hay and Hall’s time is the product required a careful balance with their existing professional positions and busy personal lives. Unlike other businesses that have easily quantifiable products, as consultants they had to get comfortable selling themselves in a transparent way to their clients.
Hay and Hall continue to get counseling from WISE: “We find it to be such a helpful resource when we are at a crossroads and we need a different perspective or additional information. Graduate school taught us to be great researchers, educators and clinicians, but Joanne’s business mentoring and support is instrumental,” says Hay.
Today, the business offers presentations and trainings, program design and development, consultations, and organizational assessments for grief, trauma and loss issues. Mental health professionals are the mainstay of H&H Consulting’s client base, since grief counseling is often an area of minimal clinical training and education. The company’s trauma and loss services have been highly sought after from organizations as well, from corporate human resource departments to K-12 school district staff and students. For 2014, Hay and Hall are focusing on improving their company website, building a new social media platform, creating new written resources for grief and loss, and offering new services and training programs. The partners have been invited to present on several new topics this year, including wellness and prevention, sociocultural trauma, and the public health issue of Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on family members.
Presentations are what inspired Hay and Hall from the very beginning to go into business together, and are where they work best in tandem. With technology, travel and teamwork as part of their business model, the 600-mile separation offers no obstacle for Hall and Hay to make their unexpected business successful. Their consulting partnership’s strength is the very thing that started their business in the first place: an enduring friendship.
“We’re really great friends as well as a strong business team, which makes working together really enjoyable and entertaining,” says Hall. “Knowing each other well enough to be able to have difficult conversations around our strengths, our growth areas and how we may need to divide responsibilities set the stage for us to be successful.”