How My Consulting Practice Has Evolved

Evolution - stages of development


I was talking to a consultant friend the other day who felt like she was failing, because she was changing her business model to provide a different kind of service than she originally intended. She seemed disappointed in herself that she couldn’t make the first thing work.

I tried to reassure her that her experience was perfectly natural, and actually very savvy, because it meant she was being more responsive to what her customers really wanted. She was simply pivoting to something more meaningful and relevant to her customers, even if it was their idea and not hers! (more…)

Don’t Get Too Far Ahead of Your Clients

Running ahead


I have to say that I am really pretty sick of talking about nonprofit annual reports.

But every year, I pump myself up to talk about them again in December/January and June/July when nonprofits are panicky about producing them.


Because it’s a huge pain point for nonprofit communicators, and they are our clients.

One of my very first websites and training programs a zillion years ago when the Internet was still a drooling baby was dedicated to nonprofit annual reports precisely for that reason.

I registered in February 2006 (like I said, a zillion years ago). Someone else had the .com at that point, but I got it shortly thereafter when they let it expire.

My online revenue on that topic alone convinced me that maybe I really could do a whole online business around nonprofit communications in general and write a book about it.

And I have certainly moved on to much more sophisticated and much more interesting topics since 2006.

But here’s the thing: There are just as many nonprofits struggling to do their very first annual report now as there were then, and probably more (I have the Google Analytics to prove it). And they need help too.

So guess what . . . We provide some basic nonprofit annual report tips on our website. I still update the webinar deck every six months.

It’s OK to move on to the more advanced, more intellectually stimulating stuff. But don’t leave your clients too far behind.

I’m not going to name names, but I’ve seen a few top consultants and authors get too far removed for the people who brought them to the dance, and now they are back to being wall flowers in their fancy esoteric niches, and borderline broke.

Pace yourself, based on where the majority of your client base really is.







What Clients Actually Get from Me

Ocracoke Island, NC, where I go to find my own  sense of calm every summer.

Ocracoke Island, NC, where I go to find my own sense of calm every summer.

Every six months, 10+ nonprofit communications directors start a mentoring program with me. During our introductory calls, I encourage them to ask me questions.

Most of the time, the questions are logistical or about the specific topics we will cover on the schedule, like messaging, online marketing best practices, and marketing teams.

But there are always one or two people who ask really insightful or smart questions like, “What do the most successful people who do this program have in common?” or “What is the real outcome of this program for people who work hard at it?”

When I got that last question a couple of weeks ago, the word that instantly popped out of my mouth was “calm.”  They get a sense of calm at work.

They get the confidence to know they are making good decisions and following best practices, and that creates a sense of calm in what is usually a very chaotic job.

(I liked the word “calm” so much that I have since created a whole coaching framework around it, but I’ll talk about frameworks in your consulting business another time.)

My point here today is that you can have all the bullet points you want about the services you provide and your expertise. But at the end of the day — or at the end of a long consulting relationship — what are you really leaving your clients with?

That’s the real prize for both you and them.



Survey: Tell Us About Working with Nonprofit Clients

Survey: Tell Us About Working with Nonprofit Clients

Wonder what nonprofits think about working with consultants? We are finding out with a new survey.

And nonprofits want to know what you, as a freelancer or consultant, think about working with them, so we are asking about that too!

Take the quick survey now, and I’ll share the results in a week or two. I’ll share what the nonprofits said, and what the consultants/freelancers said, with the Get Nonprofit Clients community.

But first we need some data, so please take the survey now.

If you are both staff at a nonprofit and a consultant, you’ll need to pick one role or the other when completing the survey.

Customer Service Lessons from a Bad Freelance Designer

Customer Service Lessons from a Bad Freelance Designer

I hired a freelance graphic designer for a small job, in hopes that he would really impress me and I could give him lots of assignments. It didn’t happen. Granted, this person is working full-time and freelancing on the side and appears to be a newbie.

But I’m always looking for good, fresh talent to help with client projects, so I’m willing to give the freshmen a try. Sometimes they work out; sometimes they don’t. This experience definitely fell in the Don’t category and I’m turning it into a lesson in customer service for creative professionals new to freelancing.

1) If you don’t know a client’s gender, don’t guess. After emailing a few times, Designer Guy called me, and asked for Mr. Miller. This was a call to my business line, so while I am married to a Mr. Miller, I said “There is no Mr. Miller here.” To which Designer Guy replied, “Oh! OK. I thought you were a man.”

Yes, I have an odd name. But why not just ask for Kivi and go from there? I was annoyed with the sexist assumption and should have ended it there, but I decided to give him a second chance.

2) When a client gives you specific instructions, follow them. I gave Designer Guy two specific instructions: no bleeds and make it go with the design of a particular website. I gave him two photos to use. I also asked for two different mockups from which to pick.

What did he deliver? One version with a full bleed of one of the photos with my text thrown on top of it. It bore no resemblance whatsoever to the URL I asked him to match. Strike two.

3) Don’t take jobs if you can’t meet the deadlines. When I asked Designer Guy where the second comp was, he said he didn’t have time to do it. I admit this was a rush job (he had four days in between getting my copy and photos and producing a draft for me), but I was perfectly clear about the schedule when I described the job.

If you don’t have time, don’t take the assignment. If you run out of time, be upfront with the client. Don’t hope they won’t notice. Strike two and a half.

4) Don’t change your terms at the last minute. When I told Designer Guy that the draft didn’t work, because it didn’t meet my two main criteria (no bleed and matching the URL), he demanded full payment before he would deliver the final product. Mind you, I hadn’t even seen a product that met my needs yet, nor had he previously requested any payment upfront, even though we did discuss his total estimate for the project.

Because my deadline was nearly upon me, the only way I could have paid him anything was if he took credit cards or PayPal. But he wouldn’t take either, insisting on cash or a check. I had no way to get him payment and get the final product within the time I had left (less than 24 hours), even if I were willing to do so. If he had taken credit cards or PayPal, I probably would have given him 50% and hoped that his second draft worked. But the idea that I would pay in full when the only thing delivered completely failed to meet my needs was laughable. Strike three. He’s out.

I stayed up late that night and did it myself.

What I Tell Nonprofits about Evaluating Freelancers

What I Tell Nonprofits about Evaluating Freelancers

When I talk with nonprofits about hiring freelancers, I suggest they focus on four questions when making the decision. Put yourself in the nonprofit’s shoes for a moment and consider how they might answer these questions about you.

1. Is this freelancer a good listener?

As important as creative skills are, the ability to listen to a client’s needs and to incorporate them into the project are critical.  Freelance projects will include many variables, such as audience, message, and tone, all of which require that the client and the freelancer work together to get it right. You should treat this relationship as a partnership, which requires that you both listen well.

2. Does this freelancer seem flexible?

Much of communications and marketing is subjective. While some elements, such as correct grammar and word count, are objective, whether the piece meets the client’s needs in terms of style is highly subjective. A good freelancer knows this and will work with her client to get the style right, even if the first draft is way off.

Also, as the project progresses, a client may very well change her mind about how she wants an issue handled or what elements should be emphasized.  Your ability as a freelancer to “go with the flow” and adjust accordingly is important — within reason. Be clear about the number of drafts and the scope of work upfront and ensure that your clients understand how much they can change before a different payment structure kicks in.

3. Do I like this freelancer’s portfolio and client list?

I suggest that nonprofits who are hiring freelancers for the first time review portfolios looking for experience with a similar project or with a similar organization in subject area, size, or some other meaningful measure.  All professional freelancers should provide work samples and client lists and testimonials on their websites.

4. How do this freelancer’s other clients describe their relationships?

I tell nonprofits to check references. What they see on a website is a good start, but I suggest they make at least one phone call before hiring a new freelancer.  Speaking directly with another client is one of the best ways to judge how well a freelancer works with people. I encourage nonprofits to look for freelancers who have received multiple projects from the same client. Repeat business is always a good sign.

If you work for a nonprofit, what questions do you ask yourself before hiring a freelancer? If you are a freelancer, do you think these questions are the right ones to ask about you? Share your thoughts in the comments.