Tag: consulting

(Educational) consulting for the uninitiated

Noah Geisel, who I know from the world of Open Badges, has written a great post on how to be an educational consultant. I’ve got some advice of my own to add to his, but I’ll let him set the scene:

I get several messages each month from people — usually teachers — reaching out for an informational interview to learn about what options exist to be an education consultant. I’ve had the conversation enough times now that I’m sharing out this quick primer of what normally gets discussed. Maybe it’ll save you the cup of coffee you were going to buy me or help you come prepared to our coffee with novel questions that really make me think.

In my experience, people in employment who have never been their own boss are always interested at the prospect of becoming a freelancer or consultant. This is particularly the case with jobs like teaching that are endless time and energy pits.

Like Noah, the first thing I’d do is try and get underneath the desire to do something different. Why is that? I think he does this brilliantly by asking whether potential consultants are running towards, or running away, from something:

Which way are you running? This is the most important question. Are you running to a new opportunity or are you running away from your current situation? The people I know who are successful and happy doing this work definitely ran to it. The work is just too hard to be anything other than what you want (or even NEED) to be doing. I can’t speak for others but my own experience is that this path is a calling, not an escape pod.

I can only speak about my own experience, but once the Open Badges work went outside of Mozilla, and I’d pretty much done all I could with the Web Literacy work, it was time for me to move into consultancy. It was the logical step, both because I was ready for it, but also because people were asking if I was available.

If no-one’s asking if you can help them out with something that you already specialise in, then it’s going to be long, hard struggle to be seen as an expert, get gigs, and pay your mortgage. However, if you do decide to make the leap, I like the way Noah demarcates the types of consultancy you can do:

  1. Join forces with a known legacy brand
  2. Apply for a posted position
  3. Independent Consultant: hometown hero variety
  4. Independent Consultant: free agent variety

The first two of these are employment by a different name. The third might go well for a few months, but you’re likely to quickly run out of clients, unless you lock them into a multi-year contract. Realistically, you need to go for the fourth option.

If you’ve been used to a job where you do lots of different things, such as teaching, the temptation is going to be to offer lots of different services. The trouble with that, of course, is that people find it difficult to know what you’re selling.

You are wise to avoid attempting to be all things to all people. Focus on a strength that gives you a competitive advantage and go hard; if you fail, you’ll want to know that wasn’t because you didn’t put enough into it.

One of the best things I’ve ever done is to set up a co-operative with friends and former colleagues. We have an associated Slack channel for both member discussions (private) and discourse with trusted colleagues and acquaintances. Meeting regularly, and doing work with these guys not only gives us flexibility, but access to a wider range of expertise than I could provide on my own.

As Noah says, it’s great to earn a bit of money on the side, but that’s very different to deciding that your going to rely on products you can sell and services you can provide for your income. I did it successfully for three years, before deciding to take my current four day per week position with Moodle, and work with the co-op on the side.

Finally, one thing that might help is to see your life as have ‘seasons’. I think too many people see their professional life as some kind of ladder which they need to climb. It’s nothing of the sort. It’s always nice to be well-paid (and I’ve never earned more than when I was consulting full-time) but there’s other things that are valuable in life: colleagues, security, and benefits such as a pension and healthcare, to name but a few.

Source: Verses

(Related: a post I wrote of my experiences after two years of full-time consultancy)

Multiple income streams

Right now, I’m splitting my time between being employed (four days per week with Moodle), my consultancy and the co-op which I co-founded (one day per week combined). In other words, I have more than one income stream, as this article suggests:

Having multiple income streams can come in handy if one income stream dries up. After two years in business, I’ve learned that you’ll always have peaks and valleys. Sometimes everyone is paying you, and sometimes your lead pipeline can look barren. I started a marketing and PR agency and spent that first year working my startup muscles: planning, strategizing, defining markets. If I hit a slow month, I kept working those same exercises. While it helped grow my business, I sometimes needed an intellectual rest day.

People who have only ever been employed (which was me until three years ago!) wonder about the insecurity of consulting. But the truth is that every occupation these days is precarious — it’s just hidden if you’re employed.

This is a short article, but it’s useful as both a call-to-action and to reinforce existing practices:

Developing a secondary income stream is easier than you may think. Think about how you like to spend your off hours and research potential markets. Maybe you’re really good at explaining something that is a difficult concept for other people–create a course on an on-demand training site like Udemy or Skillshare.

In general, we think more people are paying attention to us than they actually are. Your first endeavour doesn’t have to set the world on fire, be a smash hit, or a bestseller. The important thing is to get out there and provide something that people want.

Through volunteering, putting myself out there, and developing my network, I haven’t had to apply for a job since 2010. Also, with my consultancy, it’s all inbound stuff. Some call it luck but, as Thomas Edison is quoted as saying:

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

I’d add that knowledge work doesn’t look like work. But that’s a whole other post.

Source: Inc.

How to get people to pay you what you’re worth

Good advice in this article for people who (like me) are asked regularly whether someone can ‘pick your brain’.

If you decide you do want to give advice, do it on your terms. If they ask to meet for coffee and you don’t have time, send an email instead. If they ask a question that requires a novel-length answer, address one part of it, or send them some helpful links. Don’t fear being explicit that you didn’t have time to answer in full by saying something like: “Thank you for reaching out. Your question requires an answer that I unfortunately do not have time to fully address due to my work. However, you might find the following books/links/thinkers/YouTube videos helpful.”

Given I live in the back of beyond, most of my initial meetings are online, which makes life easier. I give people 30 minutes for free, and then that sometimes leads to them asking me to put together a proposal for them.

What I particularly like about this article is that it encourages readers to find ways to give back to their sector / profession:

Once you’ve created boundaries around when and where you’ll provide help on demand, you can begin looking for other, more expansive avenues for giving back. This can include devoting your time speaking on panels, at schools/universities, on podcasts, or at workshops for free if it’s a cause or audience that would benefit from your knowledge. Though beware of the requests that can often follow on from such engagements, and refer to the third step when answering them.

One thing that’s not mentioned in this article that I’ve found can work is if you offer a ‘critical friend’ service. This is basically billing them for a day’s work at your regular rate, from which they can draw down time for advice when they need it.

Source: Quartz at Work