Introduction and Background
For the last 7-8 years, I have probably taken on average two calls per month from new consultants. They often have the same questions--who should I talk to? How much should I charge? How did you find new work? I realized that due to experience and a wide network, and the good fortune of social capital, I had acquired a wealth of information that I could offer.
n response to all these calls, and mostly due to convincing from Nate Kellogg, a former coachee turned colleague and friend who is now at the Learning Accelerator, I wrote this introductory blog, in order to codify knowledge and information and “get what was in her head onto paper.”
In February of 2020, I attended a conference put together by Catalyst:Ed and The Learning Accelerator (just in time for the pandemic)! At the conference, there were several other consultants there who wanted to “pick my brain” around consulting. While at the conference, I had an idea to offer a service specifically for coaching new consultants, as well as a plan to document and codify the knowledge I had gained. The first step was to draft Consultant Competencies--all the skills, mindsets and knowledge you need to be a successful consultant. These were not areas of expertise, but rather specific skills for running an independent consultant business in education. The second step was to build a scope and sequence of information that consultants needed to improve their craft.
At the same time, Catalyst:Ed continued to survey their providers and assess needs. Two clear needs came up from new consultants--what we call “Consulting 101,” which has to do with all the basics of starting a business, such as: pricing, project management, taxes, payments, and benefits, as well as a second need to discuss business development and networking. Catalyst: Ed was also running a similar program specifically for new consultants of color called the ARC Collaborative, which had way more interest than spots available. I approached Leona Christie, the CEO with an idea to pilot a coaching program, using Catalyst providers as the pipeline of participants. The pilot would consist of 20 participants, who would all participate in two asynchronous modules (Consulting 101 and Business Development and Networking), as well as four live discussions to share problems of practice and questions. The modules also had asynchronous discussions. Ten of the participants would also receive 8 hours of personalized coaching. We also brought in additional experienced consultants to the live discussions, mostly of color, to help answer questions, offer advice, and work through problems.
“C3 '' Core Consultant Competencies was born. Most people put more than one reason for applying, but the largest categories were to network and connect, learn business skills, and work on best practices and consultant competencies. This confirmed our theory. Participants were selected on a first come, first served basis, the only requirements were that applicants had to be full-time consultants with 0-3 years of experience. We also selected for diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and location. We launched the first course and coaching in May of 2021, and completed the pilot in July of 2020. Because it was a pilot and a prototype, we continually asked for feedback from coachees and module participants throughout, and did a survey at the end of the project.
We learned several things throughout this pilot. The first is that this work is definitely needed. We had way more applicants than spots, and participants had many, many questions that were answered in the modules, the coaching and the discussions.
The second is that although many of the educators were experienced in their fields, they were not experienced in running a business. Many of them did not know about taxes, benefits, or contracting. In fact, I remember during one discussion I kept saying “ask your accountant” and several people said “how do I even find an accountant?” They really needed help with the basics.
The Consultant Competencies formed a helpful base for the program, as participants were able to self-assess, set goals, and prioritize their needs and questions and coaching.
Many coachees also wanted direct feedback on things like elevator pitches, RFPs, contracts, presentations, agreements or other materials. They also wanted to see examples of the same.
Coachees also participated in “ride alongs” in order to observe the more experienced consultants modeling their work. This was a very helpful experience, especially for independent consultants who can be isolated and working on their own.
My experience as a coach
From my perspective, I really enjoyed it and felt like I was really helpful. It was not traditional coaching. I was less facilitative and reflective and more directive, often doing straight consulting and giving feedback. For each coaching session, I put together an agenda which consisted of positives from the period between coaching, follow-up on updates, problems of practice, and other items based on goals aligned to the competencies. At the top of the call, I asked if there were other issues the coachee wanted to address. We did role plays, created matrixes, and I gave feedback on presentations, contracts and RFPs. I was often a sounding board. While working through problems with the coachee, I was also given feedback with some of my own problems of practice, and it was helpful to see it from the other side. For example, a coachee asked for an example of a scope of work, and we talked through it together and she ended up giving me some feedback as well. So, overall, the relationship was often quite collaborative. I also realized that I may not have some things in place that I should as an experienced consultant--a great elevator pitch or working agreements.
We have many people on the waiting list for coaching and we plan to offer a second round. We may also extend the coaching over a longer period, so that coachees have more opportunities to attend “ride alongs' ' as well as get feedback on materials and resources.
I am in the process of writing additional courses and editing existing materials.
Stay tuned and feel free to reach out if you would like coaching!