IC TIG Week: Dana Powell Russell on Getting a Full Dance Card

Dana Powell Russell

Hi, everyone, this is Dana Powell Russell, Ed.D., sharing my path to independent evaluation consulting. Funny thing is, I set a vision for myself at age 15 of ultimately becoming an independent consultant—I’m not sure how that seed was planted, but here is how it has unfolded…

I started my K-12 education career leading museum outreach in the public schools. In the 1-month gap between one museum job and other, I picked up two brief consulting projects and, in today’s lingo, my “side-hustle” was born. In the ensuing 14 years I developed my full-time career in museum and arts education, while consulting part-time on the side with colleagues and former employers.

As an education director, I became passionate about program evaluation, and decided that would be the focus of my future consulting practice. I earned a doctorate in education on nights and weekends to hone my research skills. When a dear colleague my same age passed away very suddenly, it sparked a pivotal “life is too short” moment, and I decided to take the plunge into full-time independent consulting. My springboard included 20 years of nonprofit and education experience, a two-decades-strong colleague network and, as luck would have it, 14 years of part-time consulting experience already under my belt.

A decade later, I’m grateful for a full dance card, which I chalk up to the following Lessons Learned:

  1. Expand your skillset: Every experience in your career is a chance to build your skillset for future consulting. A broad, adaptable skillset is the best insurance for a full consulting plate and repeat business—the broader the better.
  2. Get (and stay) educated: Figure out what expertise you’ll need for your consulting niche, and carve out the time to get it. Beyond core degrees, staying on top of your game is easy now with abundant online courses and webinars.
  3. Get your feet wet: Don’t wait until you can consult full time; start consulting part-time now with bite-sized projects. It’s a great way to find out if consulting is really for you; plus when you decide to go full-time, you’ll already be an experienced consultant!
  4. Be visible: Engage in social media, workgroups, governing boards, and professional associations in your field; attend conferences, make presentations, get out there! Being a presence ensures that you’ll stay top of mind, and you just may find RFPs in your inbox rather than having to seek them out.

Rad Resources:

  • Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting, and the Fieldbook & Companion that go with it contain solid advice for all kinds of consulting, with a practical tone and real-world examples.
  • Gail Barrington’s Consulting Start-Up and Management is geared specifically toward evaluators and researchers like us. Her perspective on the personal characteristics and skills for success in evaluation consulting is spot on.
  • Nolo Press (com) is a great resource for navigating the legal aspects of running a small business, and they offer publications tailored to the laws of individual states throughout the country.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating IC TIG Week with our colleagues in the Independent Consulting Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our IC TIG members. 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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