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Posts Tagged ‘consultant

 
Three years ago, I reflected on how I learnt to unbundle my work — I offer very specific and limited educational services to people and organisations even though I can do much more.

Such a practice has required me to be adaptable and to keep learning. That is how I have had to change.

However, I find one thing that has not changed since I was a university professor — I still work work a lot on weekends. I do this out of necessity.

For example, I might be given classes that submit assignments on Thursday or Friday, and they need the feedback by the following week. Instead of losing two days over the weekend, I make use of them.

I might also have to do this because some people I work with only understand administrative requirements and do not operate on human ones. When they do so, they operate at their convenience or pace, push deadlines back, and leave me to compress preparation to a small window.

That said, I do not always mind working on weekends given that 1) I used to do it before, 2) I can go out on weekdays, and 3) I am exceptionally productive when time is tight.

 
In Singapore, we have a saying: No money, no talk. This means that if someone approached you to work for free, you were entitled to not entertain them.

Now if only that was true. Some people work pro bono out of choice or are tricked into working for free. If they do the latter, they were out-negotiated by someone else. So I advise saying no to work-for-free unless you want to become a permanent volunteer.

Some things should not be negotiable. One of those things is personal well-being. I say: No health, no work, no money (the exceptions might be being paid to be a convincing corpse or patient in hospital).

Another thing I do NOT negotiate with is a lack of empathy or basic courtesy. Over the last few years of being a consultant in the fields of education and educational technology, I have met my share socially inept people.

Here are some clear signs of poor negotiators or representatives. They are:

  • rude and/or slow to respond
  • quick to speak and slow to listen
  • full of themselves or like to name drop
  • likely to make promises that they do not keep
  • self-proclaimed experts instead of relying on reputation

I say: No manners, no talk.

This is not a popular view, but I think that it is important for part-time university faculty and short-contract instructors to be anti-crowd. I mean this literally and figuratively.

Part-timers and short-contract workers in higher education tend to not be covered medically by the institutes of higher education (IHLs) that they work with. Along with the fact that these workers are paid much less, do not see pay increments, and do not get annual bonuses, IHLs save a ton of money.

It makes sense for these workers to literally avoid crowds, especially during flu season, so as not to fall ill. They not only have to get their own health insurance and pay for their medical bills, they cannot work and get paid if they are ill. It pays to be a bit anti-social in this sense.

I am part of this part-time group of people. I have met and work with some of the most dedicated, experienced, and talented people since leaving my full-time faculty position three years ago. I fully understand the pros and cons of working this way.

This is also why I would advise my fellow part-timers not to follow the crowd, but to stand out instead. It is what clients look for — something special that only you or very few have that no one else does.

Three is a significant number for me today. It marks my third year as an independent education consultant since leaving my “cushy” role as a university don.

Three years ago, I shared why I was leaving. This year I use the movie title, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, to shed light on the past, present, and future of what I do, though not necessarily in that order.

The Good of being an independent consultant is being able to unpack what I do and only work with who I choose.

As a professor and head of a department, I was pulled many ways (teaching, service, research) and had to take care of teams of people. Now I can focus on what is important , e.g., conducting workshops. Now I need not lose sleep over extended family members who had little idea how much work and love went into taking care of them. I feel no guilt in taking better care of myself even three years down the road.

Oh, and just not attending long, dreary, and unproductive meetings puts a skip in my step. Now I choose who I meet with in order to encourage or be encouraged.

The Bad, if I can call it that, is needing to do EVERYTHING myself. I am my own promoter, administrative assistant, accountant, paralegal, designer, developer, facilitator, speaker, ad nauseum.

The work itself is fun and fulfilling. The administration and bureaucracy is stifling. Sadly, many of the administrative people that I meet who should know what to do range from incompetent to ignorant.

This sounds cruel and insulting, but I do not mean it that way. Mine is a valid critique because it is the job of these folk to enable learning while not doing anything illegal or unethical.

The big Bad is that administration is inherently conservative, often unnecessarily so. It serves its own purpose instead of the people it is supposed to serve. But I take each opportunity to gently educate these administrators.

The Ugly is something I have kept to myself for three years. I left my former work place even though I loved the work and colleagues with progressive mindsets. As an appointment holder, I could not bear with the politics that stood in the way of change.

I had an appointment letter that outlined my role for a number of years. I was also given a new contract offer. Before I signed the contract letter, I was told that my appointment letter was not going to be honoured.

That moment pushed my decision making past the tipping point. I followed the advice and example of ex-colleagues before me and opted not to sign on the dotted line.

I have had no regrets. I choose to ignore The Ugly. I embrace The Bad in order to work for The Good of teachers as learners.

Every day I try to live up to a mentor’s motto: Do the least harm. Except now I have tweaked it to: Do the most good.

Do the least harm. Do the most good.

I am a consultant. If you want my services and we cut to the chase, you need to exchange my time and effort for a fee because that is how I make a living.

Groupie after a talk.

One thing I do quite often is conduct seminars or deliver keynotes. However, the people who try to engage me do not know how much work that entails. They often offer a low honorarium that is suitable for, say, university faculty who already draw regular salaries.

How much is my time and effort worth? To answer that question, you need to know how much time and effort I put into something as basic as a talk.

Here are some things I do just to prepare for a talk:

  • I meet with the organisers to clarify goals and align strategies for the event.
  • I find out about my audience by designing and conducting online polls, conducting focus group interviews, and/or visiting and observing work environments.
  • I jump through administrative hoops and navigate the policy-riddled waters that each opportunity brings.
  • I do my usual daily readings courtesy of RSS feeds and Twitter, but I focus on articles that are serendipitously relevant to the topic.
  • I connect the loose threads that arise from my readings; the results of my polls, interviews, and observations; previous events I have facilitated; and my overall experience.
  • I consolidate and distill wisdoms into an outline for the talk.
  • I fill in information gaps in the content and of the audience by doing more reading and research.
  • I design visually pleasing and provocative slides for sharing online.
  • I create one or more online spaces for my audience to become participants instead.
  • I iteratively reflect and revise the content and method.
  • I rehearse. Over and over. If I make something look effortless, it is only because of the practice.

I do all these three to six months before the event.

On stage.

I take what I do seriously and professionally. The talk is not a hobby or an interesting distraction.

I share this to provide insights into what my time and effort are worth. I will not shortchange you, so please do not shortchange me.

 
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.

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.
 

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Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  GotCredit 

 
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.


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