Are you considering consulting?
Whether you are thinking about venturing out on your own or have already started, this two-part series will arm you with advice from seasoned consultants! Dr. Stephanie Evergreen and Ann K. Emery will be featured, providing their insight on common questions consultants (or consultants-to-be) might have. Note: both are heavily focused on data visualization, reporting, and infographic design, but their advice can be applied to a variety of fields! First up, Dr. Evergreen.
Dr. Stephanie Evergreen is a “Research nerd turned information designer,” and owner of Evergreen Data. She is a seasoned data visualization blogger, workshop facilitator, and the author of two books, Effective Data Visualization: The Right Chart for the Right Data and Presenting Data Effectively: Communicating Your Findings for Maximum Impact. Dr. Evergreen’s background is in interdisciplinary research, which allows her to bring data visualization and reporting into a variety of settings. Below, she shares her experience of transitioning from a 9-5 and tips for successfully dealing with pricing and difficult clients.
How did you prepare for running your own consulting firm?
Mentors are totally necessary. Everyone would benefit from some detailed guidance on the nitty gritty details of running a business. Try Gail Barrington’s workshops (attended a few workshops per year). (If you are interested, here is a link to her AEA estudy). But like most people, I was just winging it and learning as I go. It’s better to get going than to wait until you think you have it all figured out.
For those wondering how about the transition to a consultant, did you continue working at a 9-5 job until you became established?
“Yes! Most consultants start their side gigs while working a 9-5. The idea is ramp up the consulting as you do that – until you feel you are working two 9-5 jobs.”
Pricing, the tough but critical conversation…
#1 – do not work for free. Even for “exposure.” People can and should pay you for your expertise. Beginning consultants feel like they can’t charge until they get more experience but that’s just your imposter syndrome talking. Start charging.
People see more value in things that cost money. Do not undercut yourself. I made some early mistakes of charging too little and then those clients became repeat clients and they told their friends – which was great! – except I had a lot of low paying work because I pitched too low to start. Protect yourself by using a contract.
How do you avoid being spread too thin?
– A giant whiteboard.
– Moved everything to the cloud, running notes, calls, planning, documents.
– Hired an assistant (should have done this sooner!).
How do you keep track of your progress during a project in order to ensure you are achieving the client’s objectives?
“It’s all in your head. If you can’t do that, you will not succeed as a consultant otherwise.” But we also use Slack to keep ourselves on track and on schedule. We also build in frequent check-ins with the client to make sure we are matching their vision.
Describe a time when you dealt with a difficult client. How did you make the relationship work?
“I have learned to avoid these clients by watching for red flags during the initial discussions. I actually keep a ‘Red Flag List’ that I continually update when I learn from my mistakes. One of my mentors passed on something her mentor told her: Projects should be ‘Fun, Lucrative, and No Assholes’ and this guidance has done me very well. But from time to time, difficult clients still happen. One recently kept sending my work for review by their Communications Officer – the same person who failed them so badly, that’s why they hired me in the first place. So, I had to say ‘This is why you hired me. This is my area of expertise. Your Communications Officer’s advice flies in the face of accepted best practice and peer-reviewed research.’”
How do you measure the success of a project?
“I usually contact clients 3-6 months after the contract is over to ask how things are going, do they need any momentum push, etc. That’s when I learn whether I was successful. But other times I learn through new ways, such as two clients who won awards for the report I worked with them on.”
If you are interested in learning more from Dr. Evergreen, check out what she has to say about marketing yourself as a public speaker. Also, make your way back here in a couple weeks when Ann Emery shares her advice!