Personal Reflection Work-From-Home Recaps

My 1st Paid Consulting Gig: Here’s How it Went

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In January, I published a post detailing my process for creating my vision for 2021. Shortly thereafter, a woman reached out to me to ask if I could create a presentation based on this post to help her and the exec board of a non-profit create a vision for the future of their organization. I didn’t think much of it at first – we set up a meeting to discuss the details of what she was looking for and I put it out of my mind. But then sh*t got real!

The 1st Meeting

We scheduled a Zoom call to discuss exactly what she was envisioning (pun intended!). She said that the non-profit recently got a huge grant after over 30 years of running on little to no budget. With the new grant and a rapid expansion in their membership, a new website, logo and vision was in order. The vision was where I would come in. Her rough idea was to have me lead a presentation during which the exec board would create a short and succinct yet powerful message aimed to inspire current members and recruit new ones – no pressure! I jotted down some notes and told her I’d draft a presentation and send her the materials within a few days.

Doing research

It’s one thing to publish content on my blog about my own experiences, thoughts and values. It’s an entirely different ballgame to put all of that aside in order to cater to someone else’s experiences, thoughts and values. I realized that I needed actual research to back up what I was saying – I felt like I was back in grad school, looking for scholarly articles on the importance of a vision, what makes a successful vision and activities to help a group of people create said vision. I felt confident in what I had found and the subsequent presentation I put together.

Receiving constructive criticism

This was undoubtedly the most difficult part of the process. She was a woman after my own heart – knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to tell me. But if you’ve read my blog for a while, you know that receiving constructive criticism is not one of my strong suits. I had to swallow all of my useless pride, nod and smile and make the changes she requested. And I admit, initially making the changes made me feel defensive because, after all, this presentation was based on a blog post I wrote! Oh the indignation I felt – I can only chuckle at it now! Because here’s the thing: She was paying me as a consultant to do this presentation. That meant that for this job, she was the client, the boss, the one in charge. I was the one being hired to perform said job to her standards. I guess I always envisioned working for myself as me calling all of the shots and not having to listen to, much less care about, anyone else’s opinions. Boy was I wrong! The funny part of it all is that her suggestions made the presentation much better! Which, in hindsight, makes perfect sense given that she knows her organization and her people and thus is well aware of what they need.

Grappling with imposter syndrome

By our 3rd meeting, I was seriously struggling with imposter syndrome in part due to my inability to properly deal with constructive criticism. I felt that I had no business giving a presentation to an executive board of a long-standing non-profit organization. I had no prior experience working with non-profits and had only a loose idea of the challenges they face. Sure, I did my research but that couldn’t compare to folks whose life work is comprised of non-profit work. Not to mention that my client told me to provide her with my resume and a quick write-up of who I am so that she could prove to her exec board that I was qualified for this job. She saw potential in me and my writing, which is why she hired me. But she knew that in order to make the presentation as impactful as possible, the rest of her team needed to take me seriously. I thought, how on earth am I supposed to convince them to take me seriously when I don’t even take myself seriously? I’m fortunate to have a very supportive network to whom I could reach out who assured me that I am perfectly capable of doing this. Their support sprinkled with a little “fake it till you make it” and I marched on.

Presentation day

The presentation was scheduled for a Saturday morning and was meant to last no more than 2 hours. I logged on 15 minutes early just to make sure all my tech worked. The clock struck 10am and we got started. I began with a quick introduction to myself along with the research I found to explain why we were doing this presentation. I saw a few nodding heads and finally started to feel more at ease. Then we began the main portion which entailed a lot of reflection on their part and then discussion and brainstorming to create their vision. I feared that they wouldn’t participate – that they saw me for who my imposter syndrome convinced me I was: a phony, inexperienced, unknowledgeable. They were quiet for some time but once they got talking, they didn’t stop! It was energizing to see their passion for their organization and their intense desire to see it flourish and succeed. We ended up going 20 minutes over time because they all had so much to say. At this point, my role was not to present, lecture, or convince but instead to hold the space, actively listen and facilitate discussion – those are definitely some of my strong suits!

Receiving feedback

After the presentation, I sent out a feedback survey that my client helped me create so that we would both know whether the event was successful. At this point, I was definitely on a high! I had overcome my proclivity for defensiveness and the nagging voice of imposter syndrome and completed my very first paid consulting gig. I could call myself a part-time consultant now. But I was nevertheless nervous to read the feedback because ya never know! To my delight, the attendees felt much the same way I did about the presentation. And because after all of the anxiety and trepidation that went into this job, I feel that I deserve to brag a little, so here’s some of the feedback I got:

To the question, “What are the things you like the most?”, folks responded with:

Her ability to include what we were saying, use of the software

This event was the perfect length of time, much longer and it would have been tedious, but there was still enough time to really dig into ideas and discussions. Danielle’s slides and visual aids were amazing and so effective. Danielle was an excellent facilitator, she guided us through the process but ensured we did the work ourselves. She jumped in at the right times to help and guide the process.

Honest and transparent communication

Additional comments included:

Good luck in the future Danielle. Excellent workshop

thanks so much!!!! loved it

Final thoughts

This whole experience was definitely a great challenge for me. I learned so much within such a short time period, most notably how to receive constructive criticism and how to implement it to improve my work. I also got to work on a project outside of higher education which was a nice change in pace. Consulting independently of a larger organization was absolutely not what I thought it would be though. I got some of the autonomy I thought I always wanted in that there was no other person to report to other than my client. I was able to set the price and present on a topic I felt passionate about. But therein also was the challenge because there was no one else to run any of my ideas by and no one else to blame should it all go wrong. It helped that my client was patient and knew that this was my first consulting gig – she had faith in me and my ability to do the job well. The whole project was definitely a collaboration between myself and the client – which while it is not what I expected, in hindsight it was the only way it could be successful.

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