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Tomorrow marks my fifth year as an independent education and technology consultant. During that time I have reflected on being a consultant. I have this generic list and this specific entry at the end of year three.

I could have copied and pasted everything from that third anniversary reflection here because I think and feel the same way today. But what good would that do? Instead I look outwardly this year and reflect on five truths I have rediscovered.

Organisations repeat the mistakes that others have already committed even while they call themselves learning entities, e.g., putting old wine in new wineskins. I constantly remind my partners to let learning needs drive technology implementations, instead of administration, policy, legacy frameworks, etc.

They do not seem to learn effectively from others. This is despite (and perhaps because of) enforced learning journeys. Such chats and visits might provide inspiring ideas on HOW but ignore WHY, WHEN, and WHERE (these describe context). I harp on the importance of context over content and will continue to do so.

Admininistration comes first. There is the necessary “evil” of proposing ideas, responding to RFPs, vetting expertise, etc. But there is also playing purely by the numbers game.

I am not referring only to getting the lowest quote (you get what you pay for) but also the practice of spending left over money so as to get it again the next financial year. The “educational” or “training” engagements procured this way seem like afterthoughts instead of well-planned trajectories.

Efficiency trumps effectiveness. This mindset spreads quickly and deeply in most organisations. It starts with administrative and policymaking groups and ends with educators and learners. Examples of efficient but ineffective implementations might include large class sizes, tight deadlines and semesters, and sorting on a curve.

Inertia. The unwillingness to change is uneven in organisations — some groups learn and move fast, others make snails look like speed demons. I offer to provide perspectives that I have gained from working with different organisations, but I recognise that relevant ideas are not received the same way. For example, policymakers might like an idea while an infrastructure or IT group might not. The first group sees opportunity over a hill while the latter groups see a climb to avoid.

These truths hurt because they are real. They reveal mindsets and shape behaviours. They also drive me to be a better consultant.

Vendors often want my advice for free. I take pains to contextualise instead of generalise. What I offer is a distillation of wisdoms that combine critical practice, reviewed research, and reflection that is both wide and deep.

Try putting a price on that.

Vendors also want my connections for free. They want me to put them in touch with “sure things”. I have built connections and nurtured relationships with time and trust. They want my endorsement, but what they risk is my reputation.

Try putting a price on that.

Overall vendors want my time for free or on the cheap. You would not expect anyone else who does any kind of work — from a doctor to a janitor — to do their job for free or for something below their worth.

Before you ask me for my advice, my recommendations, or my time, consider what those are worth and what I am worth. I am professional and I ask you to be one too.

I was inspired and amused by this piece, No, You Cannot Have “A Few Minutes” Of My Time, and the video below.

Video source

Both expressed what many consultants and freelancers wished people who ask them to work for free should know.

Inspired by the article and video, I updated my Contact Me page with the video and this message.

Before you contact me, make sure that you have read what I wrote in my Consultancy page.

Before you think of asking me to do something for free, to “pick my brain”, or to help you because the exposure will be good for me, watch this video.

Before you think I am going to bite your head off like the guy in the video, I am not. But I am not likely to work for free. I work for a fee because, like you, I have a family to support, mortage, loans, and bills to pay, and a human life to live.

I am worth it because I will go above and beyond what we negotiate. The first step is having a conversation, one professional with another. Contact me.

I am not a “free” lancer. I do not work for free. The time you ask of me is worth a fee.

I expect the contact form to be used less as a result. But the ones that do will probably be worth having conversations and working with.

It has been a hot month of April in more ways than one. 

I rarely rely on air-conditioning, but I have had to use it several times this month to get a decent night’s sleep. 

I have also enjoyed the most varied work ever since striking out on my own as an education consultant since August 2014. 

In early April, I evaluated the ability of future faculty to facilitate modern learning. Last week I sat with colleagues in what might be called a Board of Examiners meeting. We were bored of examining because the series of learning experiences is unlike anything I have ever been involved in. 

In the middle of April, I delivered a keynote and participated in a panel for the Social Services Institute, the professional development arm of the National Council of Social Services, Singapore. It was wonderful to see a major player wanting to shrug off the shackles of traditional education. 

Not long after that I flew to a conference overseas to facilitate conversations on the flipped classroom vs flipped learning. The strange thing is connecting with Singaporeans there that I could more easily meet at home. 

After returning from my trip, I met with a passionate edu-preneur and professor after we connected via my blog.

Another connection was a result of my keynote. It will take place via one of two Google Hangouts that will bring April to a close. I hope that it will bring more opportunities in the months to come.  

The other Hangout is a result of my flipped learning talk last January at Bett 2015. I am tempted to call it remote mentoring and hope to repeat a strategy I tried at the more recent conference. 

The exceptionally warm weather here is not the norm at this time of year. The variety of work I have had is not the norm either. While I hope the muggy days and nights go away, I do what I can to keep the sizzling work in play.

This entry is part of my series of reflections on being an independent consultant. The previous parts were:

Today I share thoughts on a very obvious question and a less obvious issue.

Payment by GotCredit, on Flickr
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The elephant in the room of any negotiation is getting paid what you are worth. How much do you charge? How do you convince others that you are worth that amount?

If you have been gainfully employed elsewhere before, you might start with your previous monthly salary as a baseline. It is a matter of mathematics to work out a daily or hourly rate. However, it is also important to take into account everything that you need to do and how infrequently you might work.

As I mentioned earlier, you might have to be your own “publicist, letter writer, content negotiator, Gebiz administrator, instructional designer, content creator, self-trainer, speech writer, event facilitator, social networker, programme evaluator, financial officer, and debt collector”. These are paid jobs too. Citing a rate for only the core work is not enough.

Being a consultant can also mean having lean spells in between work. These do not mean you are unproductive, but it does mean that you need to ride these out.

If the people you are negotiating with are not aware of these issues, you should have an open and logical conversation so they do not baulk at your fees. You should also listen to their concerns as they may have caps on what they can pay you.

If there is an elephant in the room, there is also a less obvious mouse.

Something I learnt early in my move to be an independent consultant was to look after my health. In full-time work, you can take medical leave and still draw a salary. If you fall ill as a consultant and are not available, you not only foot your own medical bills, you also do not get paid.

I took ill and was hospitalised right after I left gainful employment. I had an overseas engagement that I could not fulfil and this was not only damaging to my pocket but also to my reputation. The incident was a very valuable lesson that if I did not have my health, I could not have anything else.

This entry is the last in my second series of reflections on what I have learnt as a consultant. If I discover more that are worth sharing, I will add to the series in future.

I am continuing my short series on what I have learnt so far about being an independent consultant. The previous parts were:

Today I explore two important and related concepts: Taking and making opportunities, and building your own brand.

Clear Channel: Where brands meet people by tsevis, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  tsevis 

I build my own brand by sharing regularly and openly. The two platforms I rely on primarily are this blog and Twitter. My blog houses my reflections and resources, and Twitter amplifies them.

Sharing openly might seem counterintuitive. The obvious response is to not share that much. However, it will be obvious to others if I hold back. I am not concerned that I might be sharing so much that I am no longer needed or that I share enough so that others can replicate what I do.

I do not think in terms of the content. The content that I create or curate is unlikely to be unique. What is far more important is the connections that I can make that few others can. My ability to convince others of what I know or believe in is just as important. That is my value as a consultant. I do not merely dispense information; I seek to distill wisdom.

That value is part of my branding and it is what creates opportunities. As I put myself openly online, I am easily found there. While some of my engagements come from good, old-fashioned networking, my newer ones stem from a newer breed of workers Googling for information. I do not just take old opportunities, I make new ones with new strategies.

Not all the opportunities that come my way are good ones. I continue to learn by trial and error to say no to opportunities that I do not believe in. For example, I am sometimes asked to validate the efforts of vendors who have no pedagogical legs to stand on. They want to borrow mine, but I will not sell out. If I did this, I would lose the integrity of my brand.

My branding leads to opportunities that open up thanks to people who seek me out because of what they already believe in or wish to know more about. I keep the opportunities pure and that adds to my branding.

The question that remains is: How do I get someone to pay for my brand of work? I share some thoughts on that tomorrow.

This is my reflection on the second seminar I conducted on flipping, 3 Mistakes, 3 Dimensions, 3 Wisdoms of Flipped Learning, almost two weeks ago.

I tweeted a few snapshots of the event.

I always wish that I could step out of myself and take more photos and videos of the sessions. Reflections like these might be a way stepping out of myself.

I have also toyed with the idea of using to ‘live’ stream my sessions. However, I do not think this is fair to the organizations that pay for my services. I might try to wriggle it in should I have a free session that I can share more openly.

This second seminar left me with a greater-than-usual buzz. I could feel the energy before, during, and after the event.

It helped that the event was attended by folks who had an interest and some experience in flipping their classrooms or attempting to flip learning. There were a few who were nominated to attend, but that is par for course.

It makes a big difference when people want to be there or have a stake in the topic. I have been part of events where I cannot change the organizer’s plan of making people sit through a session they have little idea of or desire for.

Buzzed by dburka, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  dburka 

After my session was over, I decided to decompress at a coffee place on campus. I spent about an hour responding to the queries and comments on the online platforms I used. I also used a new strategy of collating responses in an online community space in my bid to encourage on-going conversations.

While I was doing this, two faculty members who attended my talk asked if they could discuss some ideas and concerns with me. We covered quite a bit of ground and they were appreciative of the insights I provided.

But I was more thankful that they bothered to take time off their schedules to pursue what was important to them. It indicated that the topic mattered.

So this is what I have been reflecting on for a while: It is not enough to focus on content. It must be shared or experienced in context. Manage these two elements well and you might create a connection with your audience.

It has been an interesting two months for me as an independent consultant.

I have met an assortment of people online and in person. Most are nice and a few are just rude. But all have these three things in common.

One, they need pedagogical guidance. They are passionate and savvy, but they are rarely able to justify the foundations upon which they build their work.

Two, they want something for free or on the cheap. Like it or not, you get what you pay for. I have met the penny-wise but pound-foolish. They will end up with something that will cost them more in the long term.

Three, after I spend some time listening and responding to them, I often get a look that I can only describe as the late Gary Coleman’s semi-accusatory “Whatcha talkin’ about, Willis?”

That happens when I have spotted weakness in their foundations or gaps in their plans, or when they realize that not all advice comes for free.

I recall playing a childhood game where we would cock a pretend gun to someone’s head and ask, “Your money or your life?”

That was just a game. I had to ask myself that question yesterday because I had to decide between taking a well-paying consultancy gig or taking care of my health.

As chipper as I have tried to be about the last week since being diagnosed with a kidney stone, I have been in considerable pain. While I am better now, I still cannot stand up straight or walk properly without punishing myself.

I was ready to bite the bullet and do a consulting gig today which required a quick trip overseas. Just the thought of all the months of planning, preparation, and effort was enough to push me to go. But deep down I knew that I was being stupid.

When I had an office, one of my walls was covered with a spiral of my son’s photos to remind me why I did what I did. The photo above is one that I took in 2010.

The photos reminded me to do what I can (and even push myself to do what I think I cannot) to ensure my son has the education that he deserves, not just the schooling he is provided. To do that, I must change the mindsets and behaviours of teachers and educators of all kinds and at all levels.

That mission has not changed. But now that I am at home more, I have a more immediate mission of being there for my family. So the question of money or life was easy to answer. I am glad I chose life.

T minus zero normally means “out of time” or it marks the launch of a projectile.

5 seconds by lecates, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  lecates 

Today is the start of my identity sans NIE labels. No professor, no lecturer (I hate that term!), no appointment holder, no leader or manager. No unnecessary baggage either.

But I will still be doing some of those things over the next few months as I provide consulting work for various institutes: pedagogy workshops, change management experiences, strategic planning, ETC. ETC not as in et cetera, but as in Education and Technology Consultant.

I am looking forward to a more focused, relaxed, and rewarding work life. If I take one of the full time positions I have been offered, my blog readers will be among the first to know.


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