IASL 2012 Conference, 11 to 15 November 2012
The 2002 IASL Conference
Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 4-9 August
So You Think You Want to be a Consultant: Notes from the Field
The role of the international consultant piques the curiosity of many teacher-librarians. They imagine the glamour of travel, the excitement of meeting new people, the luxury of destinations abroad. Ironically, upon engaging in discussion on the topic, few people consider (1) the field work and preparation for such contracts, (2) the time spent in planning and organizing resource materials and activities, (3) the extended communications needed to ensure complete understanding of the client's concerns, (4) the actual work that is undertaken on site, and (5) follow-up meetings, reports and presentations needed to ensure that the project has a life of its own, and that it will continue after the consultant has left the scene.
Working and travelling in the international setting requires adapting one's skills to meet the client's needs and cultural environment. (1) Designing one's marketing strategy is an important first step. What do you really have to offer that might be needed and useful in a developing nation? (2) Gaining the confidence, recognition and acceptance of the professional community is imperative. How will the "world" know that you and your expertise are available to them, half-way around the globe? (3) Matching fees to the scope of the project and the ability of developing countries to pay may make or break a proposal/contract. (4) Adapting to local needs means more than theoretical back-grounds; practical experience is valued highly. Can you take your work experience, digest from it the key operating fundamentals, and then model them to your clients in such a way that they can be made relevant in another setting? The consultant must be prepared to help the clients learn "how to do" the work for themselves rather than being tempted "to do it for them".
This presentation will be a discussion format, framed around the consultant's personal experiences, with an invitation to participants to share their observations from personal projects.
When we walk to the edge
of all the light we have,
and take the step into
the darkness of the unknown,
we must believe of two things will happen --
There will be something solid
for us to stand on, or
we will be taught how to fly.
-- Claire Morris.
This quotation gave me a new insight into the role of the international consultant. If one wishes to grow, or to make a contribution to society, one must be willing to step outside the boundaries within which one works. It was an exciting idea. It brings new challenges to one's career. It engenders an enthusiasm and a passion for adventure.
The role of the international consultant is exciting. It is like embarking on a new adventure every day. You never know what you will be doing next, or what you will be asked to do. Your whole world changes overnight. Things that were familiar and often taken for granted, are no longer there. Your view of people, processes, procedures, are now coloured by a new environment and perspective.
What is YOUR MOTIVATION for wanting to be a consultant -- either local or international?
The answer will vary according to the individual. The following inclinations from other workshop participants included:
All of these ideas are valid, and are fulfilled in various combinations for different individuals. Depending upon how hard you are willing to work, you can accomplish all of them. None of them will come easily. If you become independently wealth at school library consulting, you will likely be one in about 3500 who attempt it.
Ulla de Stricker describes the consultant role with these terms:
Is this going to be a Business proposition, or something that you will do for pleasure when you retire early?
Consider the legal status of your operation. If you are willing to pay the costs to incorporate as a business, there are benefits according to the laws of your country. For the beginner, the following appear to be the advantages of having your own business.
To balance these benefits, one must point out some of the disadvantages too:
Working in a partnership with other consultants has many advantages also. If you are in a larger corporation, you pay only part of the operating costs and receive more benefits. According to your skills, you may have ample opportunity to use your expertise in other related projects and activities. The corporation will expect you to carry your load, and to bring business to the company, from which they will expect take their cut of the income on the receipts. It is important that as a partner, you have a clear legal statement of your role and obligations. Signed contracts are imperative. Some agencies that book consultants are reluctant to work with individuals who do not have a company background, because they are not certain that there is a track record of successful completion and accountability.
Working as a consultant "for pleasure" or on a "volunteer basis" requires many of the same kinds of contracts that are needed in business. This is wise from the perspective of the client. It requires that the project be clarified and refined during the writing process. Any project worth doing, must have a clear set of Outcomes that are expected at the end of the activity. As the advisor, mentor, leader, guide, you must have a clear understanding of what is expected of you and what is expected from the client. Since money may not be the key factor in voluntary projects, other aspects such as staff commitment, staff support, time management, accommodation, food, transportation and public relations need to be clearly spelled out. These are addressed in section 4.1
Contacts / Public Relations
a) How do we match your expertise with the job market? How do they know about you? How do you know about them?
"Life's like a play: It's not the length
but the excellence of the acting that matters." -- Seneca
b) What are the skills in your repertoire?
The following attributes for quality consultants are suggested by Bob Reiss (2000)
|Relationship Management||Tolerance for ambiguity||Corporate culture savvy|
|Coping with anxiety|
Communication Skills: Listening, Speaking, Writing
Consider the work you have been doing for the past five years. Can you identify situations where you have demonstrated or used these skills with colleagues, community, or business associates? How can you effectively communicate this information in a written resume that the client?
Some qualities can also be a liability:
Self-honesty is the key: acknowledgment of personal skills and flaws helps prepare one for the challenges ahead.
"People want to know how much you care,
before they care how much you know."
While the client will evaluate your academic and professional credentials critically, they will be looking for performance and involvement that has demonstrated the above characteristics. Your resume must include a career record that shows success in using the above qualities in a discrete balance.
Consultant / Entrepreneur Self-Study
c) Who are your clients?
The world is your oyster. Go looking for the pearls. But who needs? Why do they need you? Do they know they need you? How will they find out about you? The best publicity you can have is positive word-of-mouth about a project that you did successfully, which is shared from one client to another. Your visibility is the next critical factor. If your clients see you in action, and interact with you personally, then the chances of a successful relationship are much higher.
When you are next at your Internet connection, open one of the search engines (I prefer Google), and type in the words "Overseas Job and Careers". You'll come up with at least four pages of related websites, and many new opportunities to explore.
"Understanding human needs is half the job of meeting them."
-- Adlai Stevenson.
"Give a man a fish and you will feed his family for a day; sit with him while he learns
to fish for himself, and his family will have food as long as he treats the environment well."
G-8 Conference 2002
d) How Clients Choose Consultant?
The above strategies for publicizing your work will be the first major step. It seems to work best, when one moves from the personal to the electronic to the paper. That is just a sign of the times.
e) Establishing an Interest in Your Services
When there appears to be an expressed interest shown by a client, it is your responsibility to determine the degree of commitment to the project. It is your obligation to do the follow-up, several times in different ways if necessary. It is your responsibility to win the work, not their obligation to give it to you.
Submit proposals or Requests for Proposals. This is a very time consuming job, but it is imperative to get the details worked out in order, on paper, with the proper frameworks including the time and the finance. [If it is well prepared, one proposal may be cut and pasted into other similar proposals for another opportunity in the future. Insights gathered in one job will be useful in the next one. So take the time do to it professionally each time.] Your proposal needs to offer a specific goal and a clear strategy for getting there under your guidance. There is no single formula for proposals. However, the following aspects need to be addressed:
It is not wise to put all the details into your proposal. Some clients may decide that you have provided enough details to do the project without your assistance using their own internal resources and staff. [Actually that is a compliment to you, but it does not put wine in the cellar.]
Well-written proposals don't guarantee you will get the contract, but badly written proposals almost certainly assures that you will be left out in the cold.
In some circumstances, assistance may be offered to the client to draft the proposal to go to a Board or funding agency. Some leaders know what they want to ultimately accomplish, but do not know the terminology used by library and information technology personnel. By helping them draft proposals, one can guide the broadly articulated project into a series of smaller projects that are manageable, meaningful and focused. In so doing, this may be the first phase of a project in and of itself. Or it may lead to other projects for which your expertise might be highly valued, when the applicants are sought.
Let's talk about MONEY
The accountant whose assistance you sought at the beginning of the project may be interested in how well your business is progressing. Professional advice at the outset is a wise decision even if you haven't made a fortune out of your first attempt.
1. The Volunteer Scenario
If you are one of the fortunate persons who has an independent income (e.g. retired with pension), you may wish to volunteer your time on some projects. However, it is important to follow steps similar to those outlined above.
Great things are not done by impulse,
but by a series of small things brought together.
-- Vincent Van Gogh
2. Your Fee -- Structure Options.
At the time of preparation of the Request-for-Proposal (RFP) is the point that fees must be clearly stated and negotiated. Additional charges must be negotiated, and clearly identified in the signed contract.
There are several options for determining the payment process
Time is money, and your consulting time is valuable and scarce resource. You set an hourly rate, and then record the time you spend on the project. You bill the client for the time (called billable hours). This is very similar to the fee structure used by lawyers.
The problem with this method is that it penalizes the client if you are a slow and inefficient worker; it penalizes you if you are too fast and efficient. It also provides an incentive for the consultant to work more slowly.
If you charge by the hours, you absolutely need to be sure that you and the client agree on what you will charge. If you have to do research, will the client pay for that? Writing time? Meetings? What about driving time to and from meetings?
You must keep a detailed log of the time you spend on the project in order to track the time you spend and then to bill accordingly. There are some computer programs that can be used to assist in this process.
Fee Per Project
This the most common approach, in that you establish a "set fee" to cover the entire project regardless of the number of hours you invest.
Fee per project allows the client to know exactly what your services will cost.
You need a firm idea of what the project entails. You must be able to estimate a fee that is fair for both parties. You need to include all the components of the project in your proposal, and be able to justify the costs in terms of the results.
This approach to the proposal includes:
The biggest downside to project-based fees is when the consulting project expands beyond the initial boundaries. This can happen in two ways: you discover some factor that makes the project more complicated or time-consuming than you expected. Sometimes it is possible to re-negotiate; in other cases, you eat the loss.
This also happens when the client changes the parameters when you are in the midst of a project. Do you refuse, since it wasn't part of the original agreement? do you do it and take the loss? Do you try to negotiate extra payment for extra activities? Obviously each of these choices has a downside. Do you want to bid on a contract with this firm or agency again? You're put in the position of having to trade off good customer relations for money
This approach is not usually used by consultants in school library services. There are too many variables, and education is not known for being able to prove the cost-benefit analysis side of its activities.
On the other hand, there is a fairness to this approach: If you bring good results, you should get paid commensurate with the value of your services. If you don't, you get nothing. Are you will to take this risk?
Consider the possibility of using a base-fee approach, and then receive a bonus based on the results.
Rates of Fees
For some consultants the fees are fixed regardless of the location. For others they are related to the ability of the client to pay. In many developing countries, if the consultant charges typical North American rates, there would be no money left to run the libraries for the year after a very few projects.
Being willing to work within a client's budget is a marketing advantage. Being flexible indicates to the client that you are willing to be a partner in the process. Flexible pricing usually increases the size of your potential market. Some organizations, particularly not-for-profits or charities, may have limited funding. By being flexible, you make it possible for them to take advantage of your expertise.
For an in-depth treatment of this topic, please refer to Bacal, Chapter 20. There is no simple answer to what fee you should charge. Discuss it with colleagues (who will not likely tell you the truth about what they receive); check out other projects if you can, and then consider what you were being paid on an hourly basis when you had a Œreal job¹ and start your calculations from there. You will become wise to the fee setting process as you become involved or as hunger drives you to make better decisions.
"A Consultant is a lot like a taxi driver;
it does matter what you are doing or where you are going,
so long as the meter is running."
The Results: Benefits to Both Parties
It is important for the consultant to feel some sense of satisfaction in a job well done. There is a role and responsibility for the consultant to build a teamwork relationship with the client and the staff in the project.
The most important attitude to evolve in any project is that the local people
When this kind of ownership is developed, the results of the project have taken on a life of their own. The local participants will want to make the project work. They own it, and realize that they have some ability and strength in problem-solving activities.
There is an important difference between selling a recipe and baking the cake. Likewise, a fine line exists between demonstrating competence during negotiations and "doing the work".
The beginning or inexperienced consultant usually want to provide a ready-made solution to the problem. [In fact they often appear to have the solution in their mouths, even before the problem or question has reached their ears.] The wise consultant involves the client and staff in solving the problem by bring process and problem solving skills to play in analyzing the situation and looking at options. This is the most exciting part of a consulting process in the same way that it is the most stimulating part of working as a teacher-librarian with students in doing their assignments and discovering learning skills that make them information literate and stronger creative citizens.
The role of the international consultant draws on all the personal and professional strengths of the individual. It is a opportunity to influence change. It is a great opportunity to learn more about one¹s field, the profession, different cultures, and the world in general. If you like working with people, can enjoy uncharted paths, and are willing to work hard, then consulting is for you. And if you are lucky and get good contracts, you might even make some money!
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Adair, John. (1986). Effective teambuilding. Gower.
Aga Khan Foundation Canada (2002) G-8 Article: Where sticks and stones illuminate the mind"., in The Toronto Globe and Mail, 22 June 2002. Section F11.
Asia Development Bank is the premier financial development institution of Africa, dedicated to combating poverty and improving lives of people of the continent and engaged in the task of mobilizing resources towards the economic and social progress of its regional member countries. http://www.adb.org/
Bacal, Robert (2002). The Complete idiotıs guide to consulting. Madison, WI: Alpha Books.
Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is one of Canada's leading international development NGOıs that works to improve living and working conditions in 70 countries around the globe by providing funds for human rights, community development and humanitarian aid. http://www.devp.org/
Canadian Executive Services Overseas http://www.ceso-saco.com/
Canadian International Development Agency. CIDA Prairie Newsletter, (Monthly) e.g.11 March 2002.
Commonwealth of Learning. COL is an intergovernmental organization created by the Commonwealth Heads of Government to encourage the development and sharing of open learning / distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. COL is helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training. http://www.col.org/
De Stricker, Ulla (2002). Is consulting for you? 2002 Virtual Seminar series presented by Special Libraries Association Strategic Learning Team in partnership with Information Outlook. http://www.sla-learning.org/
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is the largest foreign investor in Central and Eastern Europe's private sector. By financing a variety of projects, it supports the transition to open market economies. Strategic emphasis is places on financial services, infrastructure, information and communication technologies, small and medium enterprises, health and education http://www.ebrd.com/
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Inter-American Development Bank IDB is the leading source of non-private funding for development projects in Latina America and the Caribbean. Loand and grants are available to the public and private sector mainly for infrastructure, information technology, and utilities projects. http://www.iadb.org/info/
International Schools Service (2002) International School Experience: Teaching and Administrative Opportunities Abroad. P.O. Box 5910, Princeton New Jersey 08543-5910 USA http://www.iss.edu/
LIBEX (Bureau for International Library Staff Exchange) hosted by Aberstwyth, The Thomas Parry Library, University of Wales acts as a clearinghouse for library and information staff interested in arranging job exchanges with LIS professionals in other countries. Libraries as well as individuals may use this free service. http://www.inf.aber.ac.uk/tpl/Libex/list.asp
Manning, Marilyn & Patricia Haddock. (1996) The National Association for Female Executives Guide to starting your own business: a handbook for entrepreneurial women. Toronto, Ont: Irwin.
Mennonite Central Committee MCC is a relief, service, and community development and peace agency of North American Mennonites and Brethren in Christ Church. They have many kinds of job placements that relate to education. http://www.mcc.org/
O: The Oprah Magazine, September 2002
Beck, Martha. "Equal encounters of the human kind" p. 117-119
Lichtenberg, Ronna. Success: Have you defined it for yourself ?" p. 101-114
Morgenstern, Julie. " Chaos theoryıp. 143-144
Winfrie, Oprah Editorial: "What I know for sure" p. 310
OECD Development Centre http://www.oecd.org/dev/centre
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The United Nations Office for Project Services is an organization that procures millions of dollars worth of goods, equipment and commodities for the projects it manages. It also contracts consulting and other professional services (including education and information technology) from commercial and non-governmental organizations and can locate vendors and supplies http://www.uncsd.org/
Volunteer Services Overseas VSO is an outstanding organization for building instructure in developing countries. It has many opportunities for talented people to volunteer their energy. http://www.vso.org.uk/volunt/elt.htm
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WorkExchange is the world largest online project marketplace for employers and freelancers. http://www.webforia.workexchange.com/
World Bank Group is one of the largest sources of development assistance. It is now working in more than 100 developing economies, bringing a mix of finance and ideas to improve living standards and to eliminate forms of poverty. http://www.worldbank.org/
World Library Partnership. WLP is a organization of USA Peace Corps workers who have continued to build infrastructure opportunities in developing countries. http://RTPnet.org/~wlp/
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Last Updated 8 April 2003 (LAC)