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Posts Tagged ‘consulting

I almost forgot. Almost.

Just over six years ago, I left full time employment to operate as an independent consultant. I did this for reasons immediate and emergent. I shared most of the reasons and my journey over the last six years on this blog. But I have not fully shared the reasons that became important over time.

One reason that was minor at the beginning but became important over time was my physical health. I was hospitalised barely a month after leaving full time work. My recovery taught me that if I did not have my health, I could not have anything else.

Another reason I left full time work was mental health. I used to live for work — I was practically addicted to it. Now I work to live — I make what I need to pay the bills and provide for my family. I do not make as much as I used to, but I have learnt to be prudent. It does not take much to be happy.

This year has been challenging thanks to the coronavirus, but the way I work has helped me prepare. Remote work is the default, online collaboration is the norm, video conferencing is natural.

I anticipate that next year is going to be more challenging than this one. There is a very slow falling domino effect in education consultancy that not many can see or care to see. But I look forward to making it Year Seven in 2021.

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.

I am going to have an interesting upcoming three weeks of work.

This week I conduct a seminar on personal learning networks (PLN). The following week I fly off to a conference to facilitate a discussion on flipped learning. After I return from that trip, I remotely mentor a group that formed as a result my talk on flipped learning in the UK last year.

I designed the PLN seminar like I do all my previous ones: As high on audience interaction as possible and to create cognitive dissonance. I aim to un-lecture.

The conference overseas will be interesting as I have no idea who I will meet. I typically get to know participants by polling them beforehand. But I know that whoever attends my session will be there because they want to, not because they have to.

While the first two are face-to-face encounters, the third will be a Google Hangout. I have only met one participant via Twitter and do not know who the rest are. But the remote session will be a cosier one than the first two.

I reflect on how such a variety of experiences seemed to fall on my lap. They did not because I was critical with my choices. I said no to the opportunities that looked good on the surface. I said yes to those where I could bring value and get value.

I have decided to share one way I plan for an event as a consultant. Think of this as planning out loud.

Recently I received an email request via my Contact page. This led to a phone conversation for possible consulting gig in six month’s time.

I like people who plan in advance. This gives us time to shape what we want to do together and to scale administrative mountains. The more lead time the better.

I was told that the event had two main themes: 1) For participants to reconsider the future of education and work, and 2) to “future proof” their efforts.

The experiences had to address, on one hand, the issues of current student mindsets and expectations, and on the other, teacher mindsets about risks and opportunities.

I get requests like these quite often. They are generic, but over time, I try to get to know my partner and tailor-make an experience.

Even though I have not committed to the task yet, I have outlined a plan that could shape a proposal.


  • Future-proof like water-proof and fire-proof? Or future-ready? One prevents, the other embraces.
  • Can you be future-ready? Or should you be prepared instead?
  • Your vocabulary and practices reveal mindsets: Classroom, curriculum, “what can we do TO them”?
  • What are some “standard” 21st century competencies (21CCs)? What are actionable and core 21CCs?
  • Learning is messy, teaching is neat; focus on the learner and learning instead.

Quite serendipitously, I read two tweets shortly after the request that could serve as thought-provoking statements for discussion.

Along with some administrative and logistical details, that is all I have planned for now. They will stew in an Evernote page and I will work on them over the next few months alongside other planning documents.

Sometimes these efforts do not pan out. This is largely because administrative elements that should support now dictate instead. But I still learn from the process and am invariably better prepared for the next request.

This it the third part of my reflections on being an independent consultant.

Yesterday I shared a few standard and unconventional HOWs of networking. Today I focus on WHY.

Networking by jairoagua, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  jairoagua 

It is tempting to view networking as a just-in-case activity. You never know how a business card or a good introduction might end up being work for a client. So the first and obvious WHY of networking is for yourself.

However, I have observed such networking behaviour to come across as desperate, overly aggressive, and if I read the body language right, off-putting to the listener. There is a principled difference when a person initiates self-promotion and when a person is invited to say more.

This is like someone teaching a class that everyone has to attend but has no idea why. Here the teacher does most of the talking and the students sit back. The alternative is learning that is driven by need or desire. The signs of this are conversations that start with questions that are important to the learner and a better balance of who does the talking.

I accidentally discovered this when attending conferences, speaking at events, or facilitating workshops. After a shared experience — someone else’s talk, my seminar, or my workshop — someone invariably approaches me with questions.

My goal is to help with a question or issue, not cultivate a client. I leave it to that person to decide if they need my paid services after we chat. The returns on efforts like these are not high, but I can walk away with a clear conscience.

Another less obvious reason for networking is to help someone else already in my network. If you listen hard enough, people will share opportunities that might be suitable for someone else. I like to put these people in touch with other people I know. It is my way of creating serendipity. A more calculative person might think of this as scoring karma points, but I do not keep score because that is tiresome.

So why network? Simply because 1) it is a natural extension of events like conferences and workshops, 2) you create serendipity by trying to help others, and 3) in doing so, you help yourself.

This it the second part of my reflections on being an independent consultant.

Yesterday I shared some thoughts on what it is like to be an independent consultant. I have to depend on myself for a lot of things.

But that does not mean I work alone. A consultant’s lifeblood is probably his or her network.

Here are a few questions that a new player might have: How does one build a network? Is it important to have a large network? How large is large enough?

Ideally, you should start establishing a network before going independent. Your current colleagues might be your future clients. I have read advice from others who say that your first client should be your former employer.

Your current work might also provide opportunities to meet people from outside the organisation. These people could extend your network.

Most people rely on business cards to exchange information. But if you leave an organisation, all the information on that card becomes irrelevant. As a freelancer or independent consultant, you need new business cards and you need to plant them among the old and new contacts.
Type in your email address.
I do not find the business card process productive or sensible. People want cards for your email address or phone number. What I do with people who seem sincere is ask them to type their email address into a new message window in my phone. Then I send them a short email and they know how to contact me.

I also do not use business cards anymore because I tell people to Google me. I appear at or near the top of searches because I have established various online presence. Instead of having to discover people, they discover my work and get to know me before we have even met.
Meeting and chatting.
There is no substitute for getting out of your comfort zone, pressing the flesh, and listening to someone new. I have shared coffee or meal tables with strangers, walked up to people I barely know at evening events, chatted in lifts, or been accosted in hallways after talks.

Meeting new people is a skill, but it is also a value. Some people are just good at talking and listening. It pays to observe them and learn from them. But what is more difficult to learn is the value of valuing people. People are interesting and everyone has a story. If you think about networking that way, then it is not a job or chore but an enjoyable experience.

There is no quota for networking. I do not strive to collect X number of business cards. There is no point having 100 new contacts and not be able to call on them for ideas or assistance.

I like to think of this issue as like having a few hundred casual Facebook “friends” and a handful of close friends. Who can you rely on? Who are your go-tos? Only the people who care and the people that matter.

More thoughts on the WHY of networking tomorrow.

I have not been an independent consultant for very long. However, I have learnt a lot during this time and I thought I should reflect on and share what I have discovered. I will do this over a few blog entries.

Polish Independence Day by crises_crs, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  crises_crs 

The first is having to DIY (do it yourself). Everything is DIY.

There is a reason why independent consultant is written that way. You have to be independent first.

When working for an organisation, others take care of salary, CPF and other deductions, medical insurance, leave, benefits, income tax procedures, and a host of things that we would normally take for granted.

For example, most employees in Singapore not only enjoy relatively low income tax, what tax we pay is computer-automated. Often we need only log in once a year, click a few times, and forget about it till the next year.

When you work independently, you have to keep track of what you make, document it, and manually fill in the forms for yourself. Basic medical insurance (which used to be automatically deducted) is something you have to also manually set aside and pay for.

All this is relatively easy because they are about obeying laws and balancing numbers. 

Being independent might also mean being a one-person show.

I have to be my 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 among several other things. And this often happens for practically every engagement. 

It is cycling without training wheels. It is like catching and milking your own cow. It is jumping without a safety net.

It is hard work. But, boy, it is as exhilarating as it is exhausting.

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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