Holly Lewandowski on Being New to Independent Consulting

My name is Holly Lewandowski and I started my independent consulting business, Evaluation for Change, Inc. three and a half years ago.

Being a program evaluator for twelve years prior to starting my business helped me learn and refine some valuable skills such as juggling multiple projects, working with diverse stakeholders, and applying social research methods to real world experiences. While these skills are important to have, no person or course can truly prepare one to run an independent consulting business. Sometimes the best skills are learned through lived experiences. Here are some lessons I learned over the past three years.

Lesson Learned: Independent consulting work has its ebbs and flows. Use your down time wisely. During my first year as an independent consultant I took advantage of my down time by enrolling in several on-line evaluation workshops held through Claremont Graduate University. I also took an on-line grant writing course through the University of Illinois at Chicago – that’s actually where I connected with one of my first evaluation contracts. In January 2012 alone, I participated in the AEA Social Network Analysis e-course, watched an AEA coffee break on data visualization, and participated in an on-line book club on Michael Quinn Patton’s Developmental Evaluation through the Plexus Institute (thanks to Susan Kistler’s aea365 post.)

Lesson Learned: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Chances are AEA members have already asked and answered your consulting questions. Join the Independent Consulting TIG, AEA on Linkedin, and sign up for Evaltalk (AEA’s listserv) and aea365 tip-a-day. Search the archives for each of these groups or ask a question on Evaltalk, Linkedin or the Independent Consulting TIG listserv.

Lesson Learned: Find support for running the business side of your independent consulting business. Check into your local small business administration affiliate or if you are a woman or minority-owned business, consider becoming certified. My company recently became certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise and I wish I had done it sooner. The Women’s Business Development Center in Chicago (my local affiliate) posts contract opportunities, provides networking events, offers workshops and webinars ranging from marketing to financing, and provides free business counseling. I know how to write a business plan and create cash flow projections because of them!

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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