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The Whats, Whys, and Hows of Community Consulting

Author's note: This article was first published in my newsletter, By the Fireside. Sign up for my mailing list and be the first to hear about community news, tips, and how-tos.

Many people in the community space have been affected recently by layoffs, and I found myself thinking about the motions behind what I do as a consultant.

If that's you, or if you've been feeling the itch to make a change from salaried work, I hope this piece gives you permission to consider a road less traveled.

Why consulting work?

There are so many reasons why I love consulting, but they all boil down to one simple thing: agency.

agency noun the ability to take action or to choose what action to take

As a consultant, there are natural mechanisms that help me feel empowered in my relationship with my client. I have all the power to do my best work, set their expectation, and protect my time. And yes, that includes taking vacations and living a pretty rockin' life.

To be clear, as I am writing this article, I don’t have a full list of clients. I am in the grind, on the hunt, not on top of the world. But I still feel more confident, secure, and abundant than I did in my salaried role.

Why TF?

We are conditioned to believe that a salaried role equates to stability. While that may be true for some people, anyone who has been laid off this year will know that narrative only goes so far when all your eggs are in one basket.

I've met a tiny minority who feel like they have a lot of power in their role as salaried employees. Power to, say, negotiate their responsibilities or pay at any given time. But consider the dynamic when you go into an interview. The manager slides a job description in front of you and you have to give a pitch about how you will fit and mold yourself into that description. They then tell you what they are willing to pay.

When I have a discovery call with a client, I tell them my exact zones of genius: "This is my list of deliverables. These are things you get when you work with me and I am excellent at delivering them." I then tell them my pricing and they tell me if that works for them or not.

Now, keep in mind it is a lot of work to constantly hone my zones of genius and position them in the market so my best clients can find me. I'm not saying it's easy, but did you notice the power shift? As a consultant, the pressure is off because I'm not trying to catch the golden goose of all geese. I'm only looking to add another egg to my basket. If it's not the right egg, there are more eggs.

How does it work?

It's worth noting that I started out in community development, a field I had worked in for six years. I approached community from a strong sales and marketing background. But I was able to adapt what I had built at Sseko to speak to brands more broadly about creating community out of their top customers.

I recently partnered with my friend Victoria Cumberbatch to create a Mastermind for community consultants where we gather twice a month to talk about and grow our businesses. It's a kick-ass group of people and it's shown me the beauty of this gig is there's no singular "right" way to do it. You can charge hourly for pure strategy, you can do a monthly retainer, or you can do a 4-week contract with a list of hands-on deliverables. Hell, you can do one this month and then try the other next month!

I've found that nailing down the right format is less important than getting down to business and talking to the people who have the problem that you're trying to help them overcome.

What now?

I'd like to keep writing about this moving forward, but I'll leave you with the best thing I ever did to get started in community consulting.

I had no job, it was March 2020 (*cough COVID*), and I only had enough savings to hold me over for 3 months. I made a goal to have 100 virtual coffees over 90 days. These calls were 30 minutes to an hour. I reached out to every single person I knew to see if they would listen to me share about what I wanted to do next. At the end of the call I would ask, "After hearing me share, is there anyone who you think would be interesting for me to talk to?"

This initial challenge connected me with clients for my first full year and a half of work. It was not easy, but it isn't rocket science either. If you're considering something like this, I'd be honored to be one of your 100 coffees.

Hit me up and schedule something HERE!

A final note

Before I go, a personal note about self-care.

I couldn't have launched this thing without an incredible support system that cheered me on and celebrated every win, big and small. Below is an image of me being "iced" at a surprise park party my friends threw for me after I got my first client in the heat of COVID May 2020.

I've found I thrive with rhythms in place to guide my time and protect the life outside of work. While I periodically exercise the freedom of working late if I'd like a slow morning, I usually work 7 am to 3 pm with no meetings on Aloha Friday. I also made sure to set up a desk space that felt warm and cozy and made me excited to sit down and work.

P.S. If you liked hearing more of the behind-the-scenes of my consulting work, can you comment below and let me know what resonated with you? I'd like to write more about this, but only if it feels helpful to others!


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