LAWG Week: Jenn Ballentine on Becoming an Independent Consultant in Atlanta

My name is Jenn Ballentine and I am the President of Highland Nonprofit Consulting, LLC, an independent evaluation consulting firm based in Atlanta, GA.

So you’re thinking about becoming an independent consultant in Atlanta but you’re not sure how to get started. Don’t fear -help is near! The Atlanta Evaluators Consultants Network (AECN) is a newly formed group of local, evaluation consultants with varying backgrounds and areas of expertise. The network meets regularly to share and discuss evaluation and business-related strategies, tips and ideas and to determine how best we can collectively address the major challenges and issues facing the nonprofit and grant making communities here in Atlanta.

Lesson Learned: Atlanta is home to many national, regional and local nonprofits and prominent Foundations and many evaluation firms and independent consultants. Being an independent evaluation consultant in Atlanta can be challenging but rewarding. The key to success is developing strong relationships, working collaboratively to identify shared goals and objectives, continually communicating with clients, and maintaining a flexible and responsive approach.

Hot Tips:

  1. Collaborate with other independent evaluators. While working by yourself is nice, collaborating with other independent consultants allows you to gain new knowledge and skills and can increase your ability to secure additional (and often larger) contracts. Attend local AEA meetings, join the AECN at and connect with other consultants in your area. Be selective about who you work with – remember your name is on the line!
  2. Take advantage of in-person trainings and professional learning opportunities. While it is much easier in today’s digital age to participate in trainings and seminars via webinar, attending in person can yield networking opportunities and new connections that would otherwise not be realized. So get out of your pajamas and out of the house!
  3. Always think about how you can add value. Identify the challenges facing your potential clients and determine how you can help them address and overcome these issues. Share relevant research and information about funding opportunities you think might be a good fit with your clients. Your clients will appreciate it and may even ask you to serve as the evaluator if funded – woohoo!
  4. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Utilize resources such as those at Develop and/or find existing templates and tools that you can adapt. This not only saves time but allows for greater continuity in your practice. Work smarter, not harder!

Starting and maintaining your own business takes time, patience and perseverance. The AECN and the Atlanta-area Evaluation Association are great resources for learning, networking and collaborating. Independent consulting is not a solitary practice – connect with others and be prepared to reap the benefits – both personally and professionally!

We’re looking forward to October and the Evaluation 2016 annual conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). 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 contribute to aea365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to


2 thoughts on “LAWG Week: Jenn Ballentine on Becoming an Independent Consultant in Atlanta”

  1. Thank you for the great article and tips on becoming an independent evaluation consultant. I found your tips to be very valuable and can be used in my college counselling position. I agree that through developing strong relationships, integrating departments, collaborating, communicating, our programs can gain better results.

    The first tip of collaborating with other independent evaluators is meaningful and allows us to gain new knowledge and skills, it can also be quite intimidating. Particular individuals may find other evaluators as threats and not feel comfortable sharing their wealth of knowledge and experiences. Another factor of time may also be an issue where some may see it to be less beneficial to collaborate with new candidates. With your experience, how do we overcome these issues?

    Secondly, in-person trainings and professional learning opportunities are also very beneficial in the counselling department. It is definitely easier today to find courses, workshops and etc. to be readily available although many come at a cost. I like the ideas of online courses which tend to be cheaper because of the lack of fees for travel and accommodations. At our school, we often outsource professionals to come and consult which is more economical than sending individuals from our department to workshops (usually overseas as we are situated in Beijing). We are also hoping to network with other local schools in the area so that they can send their counsellors for the same workshops for a price to cover our costs in hiring counselling consultants.

    The tip of thinking of ways we can add value can answer my previous question about how to get other professionals to share their knowledge. Through presenting relevant issues, challenges and our research, we as evaluators might get other professionals to open up and learn from each other without monetary fees. Again, I can still see collaborating with others as a challenge because as you mentioned, names are on the line so individual professionals must be selective with who they work with.
    Lastly, the point of not reinventing the wheel acts as a good framework. A lot of times, we can use what has been developed and make minor tweaks to adapt to new situations and cases. This not only saves time but still allows for a semi-customized practice.

    All in all, thanks for the great tips. It can be applied to evaluating programs in the college counselling department. Counsellors will not only be collaborating with students and parents but with each other, other faculty members and professionals in and outside of the community in order to further better our programs.

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