The Consultant Life…Ups and Downs and In-Betweens

I’m in-between right now…in-between contracts that is…

When I made the decision to leave my stable teaching job I knew that there would be challenges in becoming an independent consultant aka freelancer. One of the biggest challenges would be to get my consulting business off the ground and secure clients.

Many of you know I’m quite the talkative person – I can talk about pretty much anything at anytime and halfway sound like I know what I’m talking about.  Other times I have not a clue and I’ll be flat out honest when I say I don’t (but that’s a post for another day). Well there’s being talkative and then there’s selling yourself. That last part – that’s the part I’m not so good at. I’m not good at tooting my own horn – but I’m learning – because that’s what you need to do and do well to get started in this business.

There are a lot of global education consultants out there and in order to get the job (the contract) you have to sell yourself and prove why you are better than the other consultants who are vying for the same contract. My mentor Brenda says that the contracts will come in time, I just have to build up my client base – and it will take years to do. So I’ve become a whiz at networking and I spend a lot of time writing messages and emails. I’ve come to realize in the last year since I embarked on this journey that people just aren’t as responsive as I expect they should be. For me, I just can’t ignore when people take the time to write a personal message, but I guess others have no problem with it. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop reaching out. I’ve come to know LinkedIn well – I’ve got a pretty large network and my profile page definitely doesn’t qualify as boring – maybe it will be beneficial in the long run, still not sure. I used to dread networking – now I don’t dread it, but I don’t yet LOVE it.

So a big part of this journey is honest self-evaluation. What DO I have that other global education consultants don’t?  Well for one I have actual teaching experience. I know that sounds like it would be an obvious qualification, but I’ve come to learn that not everyone who works in education around the world has stood in front of a classroom of kids and hoped their lesson didn’t flop, or cheered when their kids “got it” after days of practice. So put a check in my column for that one because I’ve done both hundreds of times over. Another skill I possess that many others don’t is teacher training experience – let’s face it – teachers have a lot more respect for those leading professional development if they have actually practiced what they preach. Hey, it’s great if you can construct a beautiful literacy curriculum for children in some far-flung village in Chad, but if it isn’t practical and isn’t effective then it’s a waste of time and money. So check and check for teacher training experience and curriculum development experience. Language skills? Well as much as I wish my Norwegian language skills would be beneficial worldwide, they just aren’t – so I’ve had to work hard to improve my Spanish language skills – but unfortunately Spanish isn’t a language in high demand right now. Education? I have a couple of Masters degrees and a couple of Bachelors degrees – they qualify me for most education consultant positions. International development work? I think founding and running and NGO qualifies. 

So while I do have a lot of qualifications, there are a lot of things I don’t possess. A Ph.D for one.  Once or twice upon a time I considered getting my Ph.D, but  do I really want to go back to school for 6-7 years and rack up more debt? French language skills – now THAT’s a language in high demand!  The last time I took a French class was in 11th grade – I’m now taking an Open University class, but it’s by no means easy. Arabic? Nope, not that either – but I’ve started learning it as well. Years and years living abroad? Nope, and here’s where the trade-off has come in. With my network growing larger by the day, I’ve come to realize that many women who work in International Development and have lived abroad for many years do not have children. Now it’s not to say they don’t take care of thousands of children around the world, it’s just that for many their lifestyle isn’t conducive to raising a family. If I wanted I could take a job somewhere far away and it would propel my career, but that would mean leaving my husband and my son, both of whom I love more than anything else, behind for 6 months – a year. That’s just not something I want to do. So I’ve limited myself to 3 weeks to a month in the field. That was one decision that was easy to make.

Where does that leave me now? Well, currently in-between contracts. My first contract started in the Kyrgyz Republic (for 3 1/2 weeks in July) and then finished in the US (until mid-September) and it clearly reminded me just how much I love being in the field. I also loved being on an evaluation as I got to do what I do best – talk.  My next contract started at the end of October and ran through January and that had me traveling back and forth to DC, and then all the consultant contracts ended abruptly which brought me to my in-between. Brenda my mentor has said that I really need to get in on the ground floor of a project – at the bidding stage – because if the firm wins the bid, then I’ll most likely work on the project. So I am currently written in on bids for projects in the Middle East, a project in Myanmar, and projects in East Asia. All of which will be awarded in the next couple of months. Crossing fingers the firms win the bids and off I will go somewhere in the world. Throw into that a 2-week executive training on monitoring and evaluation in Canada in June and a 10 days in Guatemala at the end of July and this could shape up to be a very busy summer (with my days in the US spent in Montana). 

The next few weeks will be spent doing more networking (argh), in hopes that when we return from Cuba mid-March I can get started on a new contract doing something/somewhere (writing, editing, teaching, evaluating, etc. – know anyone looking for some help?  🙂 Of course there’s always French and Arabic to practice…

Until then…Au Revior…and
إلى اللِقاءِ  

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