Promoting Your Consultancy Week: Gail Barrington on Big, Small, or Something in Between—How Large should your Consultancy be?

Hi there! My name is Gail Barrington and I’ve been an independent evaluator for over 25 years. It seems to me that three factors help determine the size of your consultancy:

  1. Your Vision—what do you see when you dream of yourself as an independent consultant? Are you on your own, working closely with clients on a few interesting projects but able to retreat to your own private world to get your thinking done? Or do you see yourself working with a couple of trusted colleagues whose skills complement your own, together making a well-oiled team? Or are you embedded in a dynamic organization with several layers of staff and yourself as leader and CEO? The vision that resonates for you will help decide your ideal firm size.
  2. Your Skills—what are special skills you are known for? What did you like best in school? What have you received great feedback about on the job? Is it your technical expertise, knowledge of a specific sector, problem solving ability, project management skills, interaction with clients, or something else? Whatever these skills are, they should be the focus of your marketing efforts.
  3. Your Market—based on the networking and competitive intelligence you have conducted, what organizations are hiring evaluators? In what capacities? What are the social changes, political decisions, and demographic trends that are shaping your community? Who is feeling pressure to demonstrate accountability? Where are your colleagues working these days? Answers to questions like these will help you identify market opportunities as they shift over time.

Of the many lessons I have learned, these three stand out:

Lessons Learned:

  • Nothing is cast in stone. Consultants change their business name, size, and structure all the time. Changes to their vision, preferred skill set, or market cause them to reassess and reconfigure. They move in and out of partnerships, change from sole proprietorship to LLC , and reorganize from corporation to non-profit corporation. Don’t feel that the decision you make now will limit your options later.
  • Once a consultant, always a consultant. Consulting is addictive. I have known many consultants who threw in the towel and returned to “a regular job.” Lack of a reliable income is usually the main reason.  Funnily enough, a year or two later, they are back at consulting again having found themselves unhappy working for someone else. Just a warning!
  • Your business skills are transferrable. If you can run a consulting business, you can run any business. Even when you retire, you may find those small business and entrepreneurial skills surfacing again in unexpected ways. Many people can benefit from the skills you now take for granted and you may find that you never stop using them.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Promoting Your Consultancy Week with information on marketing and branding. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our colleagues who own evaluation businesses. 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


1 thought on “Promoting Your Consultancy Week: Gail Barrington on Big, Small, or Something in Between—How Large should your Consultancy be?”

  1. Having also been an independent evaluator for over 25 years, I can say with some authority that this is excellent advice from Gail. One point I might add is to be clear about who your customer is and be sure you are okay with that. You might be hired by the ED of an agency, but there might be other stakeholders who are also your customers. You need to be comfortable with this kind of responsibility and accountability. It can get complicated and very political.

    I also want to comment on Gail’s last point about transferrable business skills. I’m testing this assumption now with my start-up, . In this company I’m trying to apply everything I’ve learned over the years as a consultant. Wish me luck!

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