Category: Careers & Work

My Typical Week as a Consultant

Everyone manages their time a little differently, but I’ve been asked several times what a typical day or week looks like. I’m an independent consultant, so my schedule is different from people who work full time for a single company. I work from home and have a pretty flexible schedule. It’s hard to say what a single day is, but here’s my basic weekly pattern.

My Typical Week as a Consultant

Every day

I usually start my day with email and moderating my LinkedIn group (eLearning Global Network). I do other social media (Slack, reddit, Twitter) during transitions, especially if I’m switching from one project to another. That gives me a little mental break between tasks.

I take a 20 minute nap most afternoons. I have found I’m more productive when I get a quick power nap, so it’s worth taking the break.

Monday morning

First thing Monday morning, I catch up on email and work on my business. That means following up with prospects, working on my website, catching up on my blog if needed, networking, etc. Sometimes this is some professional development time spent reading or taking online courses.

It’s so easy to put off working on my business that I decided I need to do it right at the beginning of the week. I always have something I could be doing for a client, but I try to “pay myself first” and put at least a few hours into working on my business every week.

Monday afternoon

Client work. Right now, I have 3 different projects for clients.

  • Storyboarding a course on child care standards
  • Storyline development for a tech startup
  • Revisions to content in an LMS that I converted from face-to-face

I try to have two projects in progress at all times, ideally staggered so they’re in different phases. I prefer having some variety. I love writing and storyboarding, but I can only write for so many hours in a day before my productivity drops significantly. If I have one project that requires writing and one that requires development, I can switch between the two and keep my productivity higher.

Tuesday

Tuesdays are usually client work, sometimes including phone calls with SMEs or project managers.

I know I’m most productive in the mornings, so I try to tackle my hardest or highest priority task before lunch.

Wednesday

Wednesdays are usually more client work: storyboarding, development, or LMS work.

Thursday morning

I spend at least 45 minutes on my blog on Thursday so I can publish a new post every other Tuesday (at least that’s the goal). Every other Thursday, I join the meeting for the Online Network of Independent Learning Professionals. That’s a virtual community for freelancers and consultants.

Thursday afternoon

I try to schedule calls and appointments on Thursday afternoons when possible. That means I have calls with prospective clients, SMEs, or project managers. I also do some client work.

Friday morning

On Friday mornings, I wrap up my client work for the week.

Friday afternoon

Friday afternoons are spent closing out the week. I send status updates to clients, update project plans, and set goals for the next week. Every other Friday, I review and categorize transactions in my accounting software so tax time is easier. If I have time, I do some client work or reading for professional development.

What’s Your Schedule?

What’s your schedule? How do you budget and manage your time? Let me know in the comments.

Looking for More?

Liked this post? You might also be interested in my tips for staying productive while working remotely.

How to Become an E-learning Freelancer Vol. I-III: Book Reviews

Richard Watson published his ebooks on the practicalities of freelancing in the elearning field last fall. The books are a series in three volumes, with information expanded from his blog posts on freelancing. All three combine Richard’s personal stories about his freelancing journey with practical tips for creating and running a freelance business.

Volume I: Launching Your Freelance E-Learning Career

As you’d expect in any book about starting a freelancing career, this book includes very practical tips about setting up a business structure, self-employment taxes, and accounting. For example, you’ll find advice on when to hire a bookkeeper or CPA instead of managing the finances yourself (and the difference between what a bookkeeper or CPA can do for you).

Chapter 4 has practical advice for what hardware and software are necessary and helpful. This chapter differentiates this book from other general sources on getting started with freelancing. You can find information elsewhere about creating a business website with WordPress, but few sources list specific hardware recommendations for a computer for elearning development.

In my opinion, the most valuable information in this volume comes before the practicalities of technology and finances though. The book starts with big questions.

  • Is freelancing a good fit for you?
  • What are your goals? How do you set good goals for your business?
  • What are your core values as a freelancer?

I regularly hear from people who aren’t sure if they want to be freelancers or if they’d be happier as an employee. Independent work isn’t for everyone. Figuring out if it’s a fit before making the leap is important. Identifying goals and values helps increase the chances of being successful as a freelancer. I didn’t use as formal a process as what Richard recommends when I started my business, but I really like the core values section as a way to clarify what kind of business and clients you want.

Volume II: Marketing Yourself and Finding Great Clients

The second book on marketing and finding clients is useful both for people just getting started and those who have been working independently for a while but need to improve their business.

I struggled to name my business, and my professional brand is still split between this blog and my company, Syniad Learning. Richard explores the pros and cons of branding as an individual or as a company. Whatever you decide, he offers advice on how to do that branding and how to build a portfolio.

The chapters on finding clients are great for everyone, even as reminders to those of us who have been working on our own for a while. Richard digs into bad clients, including why they’re harmful and how to avoid them. More importantly, he provides suggestions on finding better clients and keeping those clients as long-term partners.

Volume III: Managing a Successful E-Learning Project

In addition to tips on keeping projects running smoothly, the third volume includes information on writing proposals and determining project costs. If you’re looking for specifics on what to include in proposals and example language, this is a good place to start.

Richard also details the pros and cons of hourly versus project-based pricing, a continual topic of discussion even among experienced consultants and freelancers. (In the interest of disclosure, I’ll note that Richard cites my post on elearning hourly rates as a source for benchmark data.)

I enjoyed the chapter on closing out a project is finished because that’s an area where I think I can do better myself. I haven’t always been consistent about reflecting on what went well and what didn’t, but the list of questions included in this book is a good place to start that conversation.

Overall, I think all three books have a lot of practical advice, especially for those who are thinking about making the leap to freelance or who are just getting started.

You can buy all three books on Amazon:

If you’re looking for more books to read, check out my book recommendations on Amazon.

6 Tips for Staying Productive While Working Remotely

I’ve been working at least partially from home since 2006. I love it, but it does require some deliberate effort.  I find that I’m actually more productive working remotely than I am working in an office. Here’s how I do it.

6 Tips for Staying Productive While Working Remotely

1. Set a Schedule

I set an alarm and get up in the morning like I always have. I have a normal schedule of when I work, when I take lunch, and when I stop in the afternoon. That schedule is somewhat fluid, and I often work an hour or two late in the evening after my daughter is in bed. I find that having a baseline schedule, even a flexible one, makes it easier to separate my work and personal life.

While many employers worry that remote workers will be too distracted by home and not get anything done during the work day, I find the opposite is true for me. I find it easy to get sucked into email or work when I should be “off” in the evening.

2. Get Dressed

I get dressed in real clothes every day; if I stay in my pajamas I’m not motivated. I wear comfy clothes, but I know people who wear nicer clothes even working from home because it helps their mindset. I once worked with a woman who wore a suit every day working from home for years because it was how she could be most productive.

3. Seek a Change of Scenery

I work from Panera or a coffee shop once or twice a week because the change of scenery is helpful. In fact, if I’m running a little behind on a project and need a really solid day of work to get caught up, taking my laptop to work from another location for a few hours is often the jolt I need.

4. Plan Face-to-face Interaction

Working remotely can be isolating. I’m happier if I schedule lunches with friends or former coworkers. Once or twice a month is enough for me, but you need to find the right balance of interaction for your personal needs. That face-to-face interaction is important, even for introverts like me.

5. Pay Attention to Your Natural Rhythms

I pay attention to my natural rhythms. For example, I know I have an easier time writing in the mornings, so that’s when I do my heaviest work. I leave boring administrative tasks like invoices and accounting for the early afternoon when I hit the post-lunch slump.

I take a 20 minute nap nearly every afternoon. I learned years ago that I’m more productive with the nap than without. If I don’t get a nap, I at least take 5-10 minutes to close my eyes and meditate or do progressive muscle relaxation. You might not need that, but listen to your body and figure out what you do need. Maybe you need a walk in the afternoons or a few minutes outside in the mornings. Maybe your most productive time is after lunch, so you can schedule your heaviest work for that time.

6. Keep a To Do List

I use Remember the Milk for my daily to do list. I use Google Calendar for my schedule, and I use various spreadsheets for specific projects. I am always more productive when I have a prioritized list of my tasks to complete. Breaking larger tasks into smaller ones also helps keep me on track.

Your tips?

If you currently work remotely (or have in the past), what did you find helpful in maintaining your productivity?

 

Adapting Resumes from Teaching to Instructional Design

Current teachers who are looking to make a career change often ask me for advice on how to adapt their resume for instructional design. Teachers already have many relevant skills for instructional design, but they don’t always know how to convey that to employers.

Principles for Adapting Teaching Resumes

    • List writing, lesson planning, and content creation first: Switch the order in which you talk about your skills and accomplishments. Instead of starting with teaching and training (even though those are the skills you use the most), put creating lesson plans and curriculum first. Emphasize all the points about writing over the ones about being in the classroom.
    • Say more about lesson planning and curriculum creation: You can probably reduce how much detail you spend on the actual teaching and focus more on the lesson plan creation. In many respects, it’s more important that you created curriculum and lesson plans to meet objectives and give students opportunities to practice skills. The fact that you then taught those lessons you created is secondary.
    • Use active verbs: Use active verbs to describe how you “designed,” “created,” or “wrote” lesson plans and “developed” curriculum, activities, and handouts.
    • Include objectives and assessment: You may want to include how you wrote objectives and assessed student performance in meeting those objectives.
    • Mention collaborative development: Talk about collaborative work. Committees are OK, but collaborative curriculum design is better if you have that kind of experience.
    • De-emphasize or eliminate course info: If your current resume talks about specific courses you taught, de-emphasize or remove that.
    • Remove or reduce standards: If your current resume mentions specific state or national standards that you are meeting, remove or reduce that. I would remove them for most corporate work, but those standards might be relevant for some highly regulated industries or for higher ed jobs where you need to meet accreditation standards.

 

Adapting Resumes from Teaching to Instructional Design

Example Revision

As an example, let’s look at how my resume evolved over the years. My summary for my first teaching job was pretty much just a list of what I taught, and therefore not very effective.

Original Version

Music and Band Teacher

  • General Music: Kindergarten, 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades
  • 5th grade Beginner Band and small group lessons
  • Junior High Band
  • High School Band, High School Music Appreciation and High School Pep Band

First, I summarized all of that teaching into a single bullet point.

Revision 1

  • Taught General Music, Band, and Music Appreciation for Kindergarten through High School

Next, I added a bullet point about content I created. The new bullet point comes first

Revision 2

  • Designed curriculum for a pilot high school Music Appreciation class, including readings, review worksheets, quizzes, tests, and group projects for engaged learning
  • Taught General Music, Band, and Music Appreciation for Kindergarten through High School

I followed a similar process for my second teaching position.

Revision 3

Music, Band, and Choir Teacher 2000-2002

  • Developed curriculum in collaboration with other teachers in the Specials team to ensure consistency and alignment with long-term goals
  • Measured student achievement of objectives
  • Revised plans in response to assessment of student understanding
  • Adapted instructional materials to meet varied needs, including learning disabilities
  • Provided technical assistance to fellow teachers using Excel, Word, and PowerPoint
  • Taught General Music, Band, and Chorus classes for 5th through 8th Grade

Music and Band Teacher 1999-2000

  • Designed curriculum for a pilot high school Music Appreciation class, including readings, review worksheets, quizzes, tests, and group projects for engaged learning
  • Taught General Music, Band, and Music Appreciation for Kindergarten through High School

Some of the old versions of my resume listed other skills and tasks performed. Phrases like this might be helpful in resumes as well.

Researched best practices in education to continually improve teaching.

Designed and implemented curriculum for multiple classes for varied age and ability levels.

Assessed student understanding and adapted instructional materials to meet varied needs.

Translated long-term goals into daily objectives

Looking for more info?

Tools That Make Consulting Easier (And a Few More I Need)

Tools for ConsultingI have now been working as an independent consultant for over 5 years. These are the tools I use to run my business and work with clients. I’m a one-person business, so I need tools that let me manage the business side of things efficiently. This list is constantly evolving, and I have a list of solutions I need as well.

Collaboration and Communication

  • Zoom: Zoom is my preferred platform for video conferencing. I have used all the other major tools (WebEx, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc.), but Zoom works with the fewest technical challenges. It also includes the option for calling in on a phone rather than just VOIP, so you can get better quality audio. For $150/year, I can host unlimited high quality group video calls with up to 50 people.
  • Google Voice: I use Google Voice for my business phone number. This is a free service I can forward to my mobile and landline phones. I schedule my Google Voice number to go directly to voicemail outside of business hours .
  • Dropbox and Google Drive: I use both Dropbox and Google Drive to share files with clients, depending on the clients’ preference.

Stock Images

  • Storyblocks: Storyblocks (formerly Graphic Stock) is the source for many images for my blog posts and presentations. I use it sometimes for courses, depending on the content. It’s $99/year for unlimited downloads. I love it for backgrounds and basic images where I don’t have terribly specific needs.
  • Can Stock Photo: When I need more specific images for courses (e.g., a non-white male teacher talking to a female elementary student), I mostly use Can Stock Photo. Credits are fairly reasonably priced, and subscriptions are also an option.

Other Tools

  • Google Sheets: I use Google Spreadsheets to track my time, collect review feedback, and do light project management.
  • Remember The Milk: I manage my daily to-do list with Remember The Milk.
  • WordPress: This blog is on a free WordPress.com site; my business website and portfolio were built with  WordPress and hosted by Dreamhost.
  • Amazon: I use Amazon Affiliate links for my book reviews. I don’t make much income this way, but $250 a year is better than nothing.
  • HelloSign: I used to digitally sign contracts with Adobe Acrobat Pro (and sometimes still do if a client sends it), but mostly I use HelloSign for digital signatures. If you don’t sign documents often, you can do 3 signatures per month for free.

What I Need

I have a few needs for software currently. If you have found a great solution for these, let me know in the comments.

Update 2017: My original text is below so you can see what I was considering in 2016, but I have decided on Wave for accounting. I’m still using Google Sheets for project management, but with an add on called ProjectSheets.

  • Basic Accounting: I have been using QuickBooks Self-Employed for tracking expenses. I like how it automatically syncs with my accounts and makes it easy to categorize transactions. Unfortunately, the program repeatedly and spontaneously insists on adding my personal accounts as well. They also recently broke their mobile app so I can no longer categorize transactions on my phone. I’ve had enough glitches in the last few months that I don’t quite trust it anymore.
    Wave is the first one on my list to evaluate because it’s free. If I can do what I need with that, I don’t need to pay for something else. Several people have recommended Freshbooks, but it’s more expensive and I don’t think I’d use many of the features. Xero and FreeAgent have also been recommended. If you have experience with any of these, I’d love to hear about it.
  • Project Management: I currently manage projects in Google Sheets. It’s fast and simple to set up, and it shares perfectly with clients. This works OK for basic projects and small teams. It’s hard to visualize what’s happening though, and I’m starting to hit the limits of what I can really do. I’m starting to investigate other options now. I used Easy Projects with a past client, and that might work. I’ve heard positive reviews for MavenLink. There are some other free and low-cost options as well.

Your Tools?

What are your must-have tools? Any suggestions for accounting or project management?

As mentioned above, I use affiliate links on my blog. Several of the links above are affiliate or referral links. If you make a purchase after clicking these links, I get a small payment. Some of these links (including the Storyblocks  and Dreamhost links) also give you a discount.

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