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MNEA Week: Stacie Toal on Boosting Your Client List

I’m Stacie Toal and I started my own evaluation consulting firm in 2007.  In the fifteen years prior to that, I had worked mostly in higher education in either paid roles or as a graduate student with a research assistantship. This summer, while preparing for a panel on Independent Consulting I participated in for Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute – it dawned on me that a large percentage of my current clients are former employers.  So, whether you’re wondering about how to get started on your own or trying to boost your current client list, read on.

Lesson Learned: Even though they didn’t call it evaluation, it was evaluation.  If you are now an evaluator, chances are that before you became an evaluator, you were likely doing evaluation – in some form.  Provided you haven’t burned bridges with previous employers and still respect them enough to work with them again, there are ways to generate new business from previous employers.

Hot Tips:

1. Reach out. Start with a call or email to check in, say hello, and give a brief update on your work now and, perhaps, a link to your website.

2. Brainstorm.  If you still have computer or paper files (e.g., monthly reports, minutes from committee meetings), review them.  Try to imagine building on previous projects or inventing new solutions to old problems.

3. Propose.  Once you create some potential evaluation-projects, showcase your ideas by presenting them with potential evaluation plans.  My experience has shown me that this impresses upon previous employers that you have learned new skills and can apply them in way that would help their organization.

4. Address Cost Concerns.  Whether stated or implied, it is often tough for former bosses to pay for your services now that you have left.  They may not be able to resist comparing a project cost to your former salary. I have often addressed this outright – explaining that I charge the going rate and that they no longer have to worry about paying me benefits.

5. Stress Your Unique Contribution.  Capitalize on your previous relationship.  Only you can do this project for them in the most effective way because you have both the organizational knowledge and the objectivity that comes with being an external evaluator.

Rad Resources:  Don’t forget about former colleagues still working in the organization.  It’s true, they may not have the power or authority to hire you, but they can offer inside scoop of organizational needs and politics behind a potential project.  Perhaps, even more importantly, they can refer you or support hiring you for a project.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Minnesota Evaluation Association (MN EA) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the MNEA AEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our MNEA 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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