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  • Careers as an Instructional Design Consultant

    Instructional DesignCareersConsulting

    The definition of a consultant means different things to different people, but it is especially important to discover its meaning for yourself. The most obvious answer is “to consult,” or seek someone’s opinion, advice, or guidance; or, seen from the other side, to consult is to offer someone your opinion, advice, or guidance. Think of the many ways you have already been a consultant either giving or receiving advice, guidance, and opinions. You are likely to have already been a consultant in some way today. Being an instructional design consultant is not much different than the other kinds of formal and informal consulting you have probably already done. Simply stated, a professional consultant offers considered opinions related to tailored solutions for specific clients and their needs.

    In this chapter, we will introduce you to the world of consulting and discuss how to set up your business, find a job as a consultant, write proposals and contracts, and succeed as a consultant. We will also provide tips along the way that we discovered as consultants.

    Becoming a Consultant

    As you prepare for a job as a consultant, it is important to establish how a consultant is different from other types of employment. In this section, you will read about what sectors consultants work in, why firms use consultants, what skills you will need, and whether or not consulting is a good fit based on your individual circumstances.

    What’s the Difference Between a Consultant and Contractor?

    As a consultant, you are more likely to work directly with your client rather than through an intermediary organization. If you work for yourself or with other consultants, you will need to choose a business structure, such as a sole proprietorship or limited liability company (LLC). Under either business structure you are likely to receive an IRS Form 1099, which means that you will be paid a gross amount and you will need to pay for your own taxes and medical insurance.

    A contractor is often perceived as someone who is working for a limited amount of time in a narrow role with specific tasks on a larger project within a formal organization. A contractor might work directly for an agency as a W-2 employee (the taxes will be paid by the agency) but work remotely or on-site at the client’s organization.

    There are different tax implications, legal implications, and business ownership license requirements, so be sure to consult professionals such as tax lawyers and certified public accountants (CPAs). For contexts within the United States, you might also find the Internal Revenue Service’s guidance on independent contractors versus employees helpful.

    Where Do Consultants Work?

    Instructional design is a field of expertise that is used across all economic sectors (e.g., corporations, non-profit organizations, military, government, PK-12 education, higher education). The best source of information for employment across economic sectors, as well as information about specific occupations, is the United States Department of Labor. Be sure to review the Department’s Occupational Outlook Handbook and O*Net Online for this information.

    You may need additional or specialized skills, depending on the specific sector. For example, if you consult for PK-12, you may need experience teaching, evaluating, or training in that sector. If you want to consult for the military and often in government positions, you may need to have a security clearance. You cannot obtain this clearance on your own; you must be willing to work for an organization who can sponsor your clearance application.

    Why Do Firms Use Consultants?

    Firms use consultants for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the firm is looking for someone with specialized skills to work on a short-term (or longer-term) project or for someone with an outside or new perspective. Perhaps headcount restraints and the volatility of the labor market require the firm to look for other solutions. While consultants can provide objectivity in their evaluation and advice, note that consultants sometimes have pre-existing relationships with members of an organization’s leadership who may want the consultant to offer an “objective” stamp of approval for a specific direction already identified. There are other challenges to objectivity, such as wanting to please leadership for the benefit of future contracts or some other perk. Of course, some firms hire consultants to be a genuine change catalyst. A consultant could identify current or potential problems as well as potential solutions (e.g., implementing a new learning and development approach to employee onboarding, improving accessibility within training modules, training on new software, evaluating overall quality). A firm might hire consultants to leverage their networks or just do the dirty work of budgeting and/or hiring and firing personnel (think about the movie, Up in the Air in which George Clooney’s character was hired to fire people). Asking a firm’s representatives why they are hiring a consultant may offer additional information to help you to identify what their needs are. 

    What Skills Do I Need?

    The list of skills may seem short, but it takes a good deal of self-reflection to determine if you have the skills required to become a successful consultant. Whether or not you will make a career out of consulting or continue to work full-time and consult on the side, the skills are the same.

    The following list will help guide you through some of the questions you should ask yourself:

    Each of these questions identifies your individual skill set and where you may need to strengthen your skills. This can be done by partnering with others or working as a contractor or W-2 employee.

    The Most Important Skill

    The most important skill as a consultant in the field of LIDT is effective communication.

    Is Consulting Right for Me?

    As mentioned before, consulting requires a particular skill set. It also requires that you have the time, financial ability, and support system to be a successful consultant.


    How do you know if you have the time to be a consultant? Only you can make that decision. Do you really know how much time you spend performing tasks in the many areas of your busy life? Do you really know how much time you have for a consulting career or even a side job? If you are considering a side job, also consider whether or not your employment contract allows for that.

    There are several time trackers available such as Toggl, MyHours, TimeCamp, Klok, ManicTime, RescueTime, and good ole fashioned paper templates. Be sure to set a specific time and deadline for exploring and deciding, though, or you might end up wasting time learning about how you spend your time.

    Risk Tolerance

    As a consultant, you will not be receiving a steady, salaried paycheck, so there is financial risk involved. You may want to budget money to set aside from your paychecks to prepare for an unpredictable future (e.g., fewer contracts, waiting on payments for completed work). Consulting income ebbs and flows. Toward the beginning of the year, businesses may be trying to determine their yearly budgets, so you will not have any billable hours. Similarly, toward the end of the year, businesses’ consulting budgets may run out, also causing you to not have any billable hours. It is important to know that you will probably not be billing 100% of your work hours. You may not be able to bill a client for every hour you are working. These are considered non-billable hours. In fact, you may only be able to bill 50–60% of your hours to a client. The rest of the time will be spent networking or finding new opportunities. This may seem like it will not take a lot of time; however, spending a lot of time on these two tasks is critical to your success as a consultant.

    As a consultant, you will also need to think about scheduled vacation time, health insurance, and retirement planning. You will not be paid for your vacation time, so you may want to have money set aside. You will also need to cover your own medical and dental insurance and set aside your own retirement funds. 

    Supporters and Distractors

    You will encounter people and circumstances who will support or distract from your efforts. You will need to consider your individual situation and ask yourself if your partner/spouse, family, and friends will support work that may require you to work long hours or travel frequently. Will those individuals support you when your income may be scarce? Will you have to say no to that long-awaited vacation because you have a project deadline?

    The Ebbs and Flows of Consulting

    When I (Yvonne) worked in consulting, managing working hours was like riding a roller coaster. One year, I did not receive a paycheck until March because I was waiting for my client to approve that year’s budget. After the budget was approved, the increased workload quickly resulted in me working 60–80 hour work weeks. I remember scheduling a vacation later that same year. However, due to project delays on the client’s end, I was trying to work while traveling cross-country during an auto-racing event (with very limited Internet at the tracks). Work finally calmed down to a steady 40 hours per week for several months before tapering off again at the end of the year.

    Setting Up Your Business

    Setting up your business will require a lot of decision-making. There may be significant costs involved. You will need to examine your business’s structure (e.g., sole proprietorship, LLC).. You will also need to think about what brand and work environment you want to create as well as what technology (hardware and software) you will need in order to conduct your business. 

    What Type of Business Structure Should I Have?

    As discussed previously, you should decide whether you are going to be a sole proprietor or set up an LLC. Each state has different regulations and fee structures for setting up a business. There are also legal and tax considerations based on your decision. You may need to register separately with your state’s Secretary of State website and with your state’s Department of Revenue website. Additionally, you may want to consider obtaining business insurance

    How Do I Create My Brand?

    As a consultant, it is important to create a brand that sets you apart from the competition. Establishing your brand includes deciding on a business name (this could be your name or having an instructional design-related name), bringing business cards to professional development events, and creating a website and a social media presence. You may also want to design a business logo that can be used on artifacts such as proposals, statements of work, marketing materials, business cards, websites, etc. You can use templates in Canva to help create your materials.


    You should have a website to showcase your business and your digital portfolio. You can use templates in Google Sites, Weebly, Wix, or Wordpress to build your site and then pay to customize the URL to your LLCs name or your name.

    You Are Who Google Says You Are

    Have you ever “Googled” yourself, especially from someone else’s computer? You might be surprised at who turns up. Is it you? By simply adding my middle initial to my name wherever possible, I (Barbara) distinguished myself from a popular Hollywood producer. Now, when someone uses my middle initial in a Google search, the top 10 or so results are all me and my work.

    Social Media Presence

    Social media can be beneficial to look for work and announce that you are looking for opportunities. Many companies have LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social media accounts through which they may post potential work.

    Companies will be looking at your web presence, so be strategic when you post. Create your own content and share curated content. You may want to post best practices or articles that are related to your business. Creating a LinkedIn account is also a good idea. Using specific keywords and a targeted headline will help guide people (including recruiters) to you. Also, be sure to add a skills section to your profile.

    LIDT in the World

    Tim Slade, creator of The eLearning Designer’s Academy, discusses his transition to become a full-time freelance eLearning designer. https://elearningacademy.io/blog/full-time-freelance-elearning-designer/  After reading this blog post, ask yourself these questions:

    • When do you want to begin your work as a consultant? Do you want to start part-time or full-time?

    • How much time do you have now to plan your transition?

    • What types of projects have you most enjoyed? What skills did you use, and are those skills in-demand in the industry?

    • What services will you offer, and how are your talents unique?

    • What opportunities can you create to diversify your sources of income?

    What Kind of Work Environment Will I Have?

    As a consultant, you will need a place to work. This space will vary depending on your particular needs. There are benefits and challenges to every work environment—whether you work at home, off-site, or have a workspace at the client’s office.

    Working at Home

    There are many benefits to working at home. You will not be sitting in traffic every day, and you will have a lot more flexibility. You also will not be spending money on lunches, gas, or snacks from the vending machine.

    However, you will need to treat it like a job outside of the home. It is important to have a dedicated space at home where you can work—ideally in a separate room that is not your bedroom or family room. This dedicated space should have the appropriate office equipment for your job, including a comfortable chair and functional desk/table space. You may find it beneficial to get ready for work each day and schedule a lunch break just as if you were working outside of the home.

    Some challenges to working at home include isolation and distractions. In a traditional work environment, people are around you all day long. You may only interact with some people in passing at the water cooler, but it is enough to feel connected to others. “Working” at home may mean that you have more flexibility, but this can distract you from doing your actual work. Try to limit these and other distractions (e.g., TV, pets, kids, laundry).

    I Work in a Closet

    I (Barbara) have worked in a literal closet—the walk-in closet of the master bedroom, to be exact. The room that was going to be my office was needed as an actual bedroom. I had been considering a standing desk, and my husband and I joked that I could just stand in the closet and put my computer on the wire shelf. Voila! My new home office was born. Of course, I had to prepare my space so it wasn’t obvious I was working in a closet. While blurring your background is one option, you could also design the space to suit your professional needs. Consider these suggestions from Jered Borup on putting your best self forward on video calls.

    Renting Office Space

    If working at home is challenging because of the distractions, there is also the option of renting a dedicated office space. One benefit is that you have a place to go to, so it feels like you are going to work. These dedicated office spaces offer a variety of services, such as having a physical mailing address or P.O. Box, standard office equipment (e.g., photocopier, printer, and fax machine), Internet, a receptionist, kitchenette, and a conference room to meet with clients. Prices will vary depending on size of the space and services included.

    There are also shared co-working spaces in several markets around the country. You have the flexibility of renting a desk only when you need it, as opposed to renting an entire office on a more permanent basis. It may also be helpful to have other freelancers/consultants around you. However, you have to consider the distractions again. Will you be able to focus on your own work and not be distracted by the projects going on around you?

    If an office space is outside of your budget, find another place you can go to like a library, a community center, an apartment clubhouse, or your local (quiet) coffee shop.

    Working On-Site

    As a consultant, you may also be working at the client’s location. Your workspace may be anything from a cubicle or desk to a shared conference room. The client knows you are there for a short-term project, so you may not have a permanent workspace. If there is a specific dress code or core business hours or work at home policy, you will need to abide by those.

    You will have more direct access to the client, so you may feel like you are more like a member of a team. However, in this case, it is important to remember that you are not an employee of that company, so you may not be able to enjoy the same benefits as an employee, such as use of the gym or discounts. At some companies, you may need to have an employee escort you into the building each day. You may not have access to the same systems or be able to contact people directly (e.g.,  the off-site LMS administrator).

    Working From Home . . . or Not

    I (Yvonne) have worked in a variety of environments throughout my career and have learned to adapt to different working conditions. When I was consulting on the East Coast, I was working with a team in Europe and a team in California. Working at home gave me the flexibility to get up early to work a few hours with the team in Europe, take a couple of hours to run errands or head to the gym, and then be back before my meetings started with the team from California.

    I also worked for one company that required everyone to be on-site. Working from home was not an option. However, when the pandemic struck the United States in mid-March of 2020, many of us had to immediately shift to working from home (Friday, March 13th was my last day in the office). At the beginning of the pandemic, my husband and I were privileged enough to have separate office spaces at home where we could equip our offices with standing desks and comfortable desk chairs. Many of my co-workers were working from bedrooms, closets, and family room couches because they did not have a dedicated office space. We had to establish a routine and separate work life from home life. We ate breakfast and lunch and took our lunchtime walks with the dog together. During the rest of the day, we would be in our separate spaces to work.

    Think about what kind of office set-up you currently have. Do you have a dedicated room or space? How can you work without distractions? What furniture and equipment will you need to have to be able to effectively work at home?

    What Kind of Technology Will I Need?

    You will need to consider what technology you will use, such as a lightweight laptop, a separate desktop, an external monitor, a docking station, and a high-quality Internet connection. Depending on the quality of cell service at home and your cell phone plan, you may need a home phone with a dedicated line. You will also need to consider how you will be connecting with clients if you need to host video conferencing. You might want to consider using an external webcam and a USB headset depending on what is built into your computer.

    You will need to consider what technology you will use, such as a lightweight laptop, a separate desktop, an external monitor, a docking station, and a high-quality Internet connection. Depending on the quality of cell service at home and your cell phone plan, you may need a home phone with a dedicated line. You will also need to consider how you will be connecting with clients if you need to host video conferencing. You might want to consider using an external webcam and a USB headset depending on what is built into your computer.

    Most organizations will require you to have your own software licenses . Instructional designers use a variety of software for design and development, and some programs may only run on a PC that runs Microsoft Windows. This may impact the type of computer you purchase. 

    For video creation, you may need to use Adobe Rush, Adobe Premiere Pro, TechSmith Camtasia, Vyond, or Powtoon.

    For eLearning authoring tools, you may need to use Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, iSpring, Evolve, Adapt.

    For graphic design, you may need to use Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Express, or Canva.

    You will also want to consider how to store your assets. You may need to use Dropbox, Box, or a physical server as backup. If you are working with International and European contacts, you will need to ensure that your data storage service is compliant with EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a data privacy law.

    You may also need to purchase more general business software for word processing, spreadsheet creation, and presentations. Tracking your invoices and business expenses will require financial software like Quickbooks.

    Finding a Job in Consulting

    Finding a job as a consultant has a lot to do with your goals. Based on those goals, you need to set the pace for the transition to becoming a consultant. You may need to start slowly, tackling a few tasks each week and “poking around” for opportunities.

    Where Do I Find Opportunities?

    There are different ways to find consulting opportunities. The process closely mimics a traditional job search. Searching online job sites, building a social media presence, and networking are the main ways to find opportunities. Be sure to check out the U.S. Small Business Administration’s set-asides for small businesses, such as those owned by women, veterans with service-connected disabilities, and those who are socially and/or economically disadvantaged. Some state governments offer similar set-asides, so be sure to check with offices in your particular state. You may find it easier to secure subcontracting opportunities with larger organizations that can tackle large government contracts that are likely beyond the capacity of most small businesses, especially if you do qualify for special status with the Small Business Administration (SBA) or other federal or state programs.

    Sites That Collate Jobs

    Traditional job boards like SimplyHired, Indeed, or USAJOBS may list consulting jobs. Consulting boards like Learnexus or IDlance are also helpful. ATD and The Learning Guild both have job boards.

    Local Groups

    Speaking at local events in your community is a good way to network. As noted in the skills section, effective communication and self-marketing are key skills to have as a consultant. Joining a public speaking group, such as your local chapter of Toastmasters International, will help build your confidence as a public speaker; this experience will also give you the opportunity to network with other professionals. You never know when and where you will find a consulting opportunity. Check out your local chamber of commerce for networking events.

    Networking at the Chamber

    My (Barbara) local chamber of commerce has a weekly coffee connection hosted at a different partner’s business. It’s an opportunity to meet and greet 60–75 people and provide a 30–second commercial (“elevator pitch”) about myself. I always, always come prepared with business cards.

    Imagine you are going to attend a similar event and have 30 seconds to talk about yourself and your expertise. What would you say?

    Professional Organizations

    Joining a professional organization and meeting other professionals is a great way to find opportunities through online job boards and networking events. Some suggestions are ATD (both national and local chapters), ISPI, USDLA, AECT, Quality Matters, or OLC, depending on what meets your needs. Remember that many organizations offer membership discounts for students.

    Career Services Office

    Do not be afraid to head to your current or former university. Career services may have mailing lists to join or networking events to attend.

    Targeting Specific Firms

    You can always search for consulting companies as if you were a potential client. This can help to find lesser-known firms.


    Cold-calling is a lot like dating. You will need to make a lot of phone calls to get your foot in the door. Be brief and say that you will follow up with an email. If you do not feel comfortable calling, you can also send an email to the company or organization. In either case, have a script ready to sell your services and know that not every meeting will result in work.

    Converting a Job/Internship Posting to a Consulting Gig

    Another option is to apply to a traditional job or internship posting and sell your consulting services. Be sure to include the benefits of using a consultant for this type of position. However, it is helpful to know who the decision-maker is instead of sending your resume and cover letter through an electronic system.

    LIDT in the World

    In this recorded webinar (58 minutes and 32 seconds), Cara North, an instructional design consultant at The Learning Camel LLC, talks about taking charge of your career. She also offers helpful tips about partnering with others, the cost of freelancing, and paying it forward: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/5tipscara

    After watching the video , ask yourself these questions:

    • How will you leverage social media to grow your business?

    • How will you partner with non-profit organizations or higher education institutions?

    • Where would you like to present?

    • How can you start implementing post-mortem (lessons learned) into your current work?

    Writing Proposals or Contracts

    Now that you have been able to find an opportunity, you are at the proposal and/or contract stage. Depending on the size of the firm, the proposal and contract may be combined. The proposal/contract will be very detailed and will need to be thought out carefully.

    What’s the Difference Between RFP and RFQ?

    You need to know two “big picture” items to convert a request for proposal (RFP), or request for quote (RFQ) into a contract: the scope of work being sought and your capacity to meet the scope of that work. Read the scope carefully and if you have questions, email the point of contact listed. You need to completely understand the scope of the work required in order to accurately gauge your capacity to take on the work.

    What I Learned From the Contract I Didn’t Get

    When I (Barbara) learned that I did not win the contract I had applied for, I felt relieved. As I reflected on why I felt relief instead of disappointment, I realized that the scope of work was too much of a stretch for both my area of expertise and my capacity to manage the project. The contract would have required me to hire additional associates and manage employees, which, as a consultant, I had not done before and really was not that interested in doing. What did I learn? I learned I needed to become more proficient with a couple of emerging technologies. I also learned that my capacity is not always as large as my enthusiasm.

    How Do I Respond to the Request?

    The “call” for a proposal or quote will have specific formatting and submission requirements. Be very careful to follow these requirements. Answer every question and respond to every section with the requested information—no more, no less. Do not assume details; clarify any questions you have. Even in clarifying the details, reach out to only the point of contact listed and only in the way(s) listed in the call.

    The components of your proposal should precisely match the questions and sections stated in the call. Use the exact same language and titles. Do not add sections or attachments unless those are requested. If the call neither explicitly accepts nor declines such additional information, ask the listed point of contact if the additional information you think will be useful would be accepted by the organization. Remember the adage that less is more; too much information or too many examples could make your proposal look unfocused and unprofessional.

    Many calls, especially for larger contracts, will specify the timeline after proposals are submitted. While it may be okay to follow-up with smaller organizations, especially those with whom you already know a point of contact, you do not want to breach an established protocol by pestering employees or becoming a nuisance with overt or veiled attempts at follow-up. If you cannot follow the steps outlined in the call, then an organization might assume that you cannot complete the project within established guidelines either.

    Learn More About Writing Proposals for Federal Contracts

    For more information about writing proposals for federal contracts, we recommend the video (4 minutes, 49 seconds), Write Winning Bid Proposals on Federal Contracts: 6 Tips & Tricks From the Other Side.

    After viewing the video, ask yourself these questions:

    • Of the 6 tips and track, which one do you find the most challenging?

    • What is your plan for implementing the 6 tips and tricks?

    How Much Do I Charge?

    Determining cost is always tricky. There are pros and cons to using an hourly rate versus a fixed rate. When you are first starting off, you may want to use an hourly rate until you get a feel for scoping projects. You can charge a different hourly rate for managing the project versus production work. If you charge an hourly rate, you run the risk of not calculating enough hours to complete the project or not charging enough to cover your overhead (taxes, business expenses, travel, etc.). That being said, it might be better to use fixed-rate billing rather than an hourly rate. Remember that you are selling your value, so think of your cost in terms of a set value—not by how many hours it takes to complete a job. With a flat rate, your clients will know exactly what they will be paying. There are benefits to both sides. It’s really dependent on how financially comfortable you are.

    Learn More About Hourly Rates

    For more information about different types of rates, we recommend the video (8 minutes, 35 seconds), Consultant Fees - How Much Do You Charge? After viewing the video, ask yourself these questions:

    • How many working days per year will you have?

    • How many billable days per year will you have?

    • What is your daily rate for clients?

    As a guide, The Learning Guild's “Degrees for L&D Professionals: What, Why, and Worth?” provides salary information and degree expectations. This may provide a starting point for you to determine what your salary should look like. Another great resource is from Harold Jarche. Although his information is from 2007, the ranges are still very much in-line with what instructional design consultants charge today. You will notice that business tasks cost more than production work. Overall, the range for consulting may be from $25-$200/hr depending on what type of work you will be doing.

    Learn More About Determining How Much to Charge

    For more information about determining how much to charge, we recommend the TEDx Talk (8 minutes, 13 seconds) “Know Your Worth, and Then Ask For It” by Casey Brown, pricing consultant. After viewing the video, ask yourself these questions:

    • What do you love about what you do?

    • How comfortable are you stating your own value?

    • How would you answer the value questions listed starting at the 2:33 timestamp?

    • How are you letting doubts and fears define your value and limit your earning potential?

    • Are you diminishing your value in how you communicate your value?

    What Are the Standard Contract Components?

    A contract between you and your client will ensure that your interests are protected, the work is clearly defined, and you have established communication and compensation expectations. These contracts typically have a standard set of components. Consider developing your own template for the components of a contract that you want to use. Even if the firm has a standard contract, having your own template can help you ensure that your important points are included.

    Some of the components are rather obvious, like the names of the parties involved. The contract should include directly, or reference as an attachment or appendix, the specific scope of work to which both parties agreed. You and a representative of the organization should initial each page of the contract as well as fully sign the last page. Ensure that the scope of work is signed separately if it is not included as an embedded component of the contract.

    Other important components of the contract are the list of deliverables and the timeline of when those deliverables are due. Remember that deliverables occur on both sides of the project and not just from you to the firm. For example, what access to resources, like key individuals and documents, will you need to be successful? Make sure there is written confirmation that such access will be granted, and include such permission and access as part of the detailed timeline. Clients’ approvals of different stages of a project, especially a large project, should also be included. How long after you share a design plan or set of storyboards should the client offer feedback and approval? Include the specific dates or time range (for example, “within five business days”). For planning purposes, be sure that you know all of the tasks that need to occur to reach each benchmark along your timeline and that the timeline is approved by both parties.

    Finally, communication expectations and information for both primary and secondary points of contact should be listed in the contract. In terms of communication, how often are status reports expected, and to whom should those reports be submitted? Are there different individuals who grant permissions, answer questions, and receive status updates? What are acceptable ways to communicate (in person, email, telephone, postal mail)? The approved or preferred methods of communication should include the names of specific individuals (at least one primary point of contact and one secondary, backup point of contact) and their direct contact information, such as individual email addresses, room numbers, or telephone numbers.

    Costs, Payments, and Penalties

    You will need to determine the costs, payments, and penalties involved when billing a client. You will also need to identify when you want to be paid and what your cash flow will look like. Let’s think about this situation: You state that you will invoice biweekly, net 30. What does this mean? It means you will start working on day 1, submit an invoice around day 15 (bi-weekly is every other week), and then the 30-day clock starts. The client will have 30 days to pay the invoice. What does this mean for you? You will not see a check until 45 days after you have started the work. How will you pay your bills if you do not have income for six weeks? Unfortunately, that first check may be delayed by the mail and the client’s accounting department. So, in reality, you may not see a check for nearly two months. You may want to change your payment terms to net 15. You can also include a penalty for late payments. A typical charge is 1.5% compounded monthly for late payment.

    Non-Disclosure and Non-Compete Agreement

    Both of these provisions protect the client. Non-disclosure prevents the consultant from discussing trade secrets, client lists, and other pertinent information. It may also prevent you from listing the company name on your website. You should get permission from the company (in writing) to use them as a reference or mention that you did work for their company.

    Non-compete prevents you, as the consultant, from starting up your own business after consulting at a company for a designated time period, which could be from six months to two years (any more than that and you should consider whether or not you want to take the position), and within a certain geographic area (which should be focused and not broad like “East Coast”). It may also include information about not soliciting clients or employees from that company.

    An important note is that not all states allow non-compete agreements. They are governed by state laws, so check with your state to determine whether or not you can include one in your contract.

    Early Termination of Contract

    Unfortunately, contracts may need to be terminated early. This could be for a variety of reasons, but it should be reserved for really serious issues such as non-payment. In the contract, there should be a clause about terminating the contract early. This clause should include a minimum timeframe for written notification of termination (e.g., 30 day, 60 day) and if there is a penalty associated with early termination.

    Succeeding as a Consultant

    After you have finished your first project (and subsequent projects), a good tip is to think about what lessons you learned—lessons of what worked, what did not work, and how you can move forward. Apply what you have learned to future experiences in the field.

    How Do I Adapt to Changing Needs?

    As a consultant, you will be juggling both your personal life and your professional life. You may need to move to a different city or state, or your kids may need you to have a more flexible schedule in order to be more involved with their extracurricular activities. You may need to hire additional resources to assist you while you work on multiple projects. 

    Clients may change depending on their needs and budget. Additionally, as the economy changes over time, your focus on a particular industry may change. Who knew the high-tech industry was going to take a hit in the early 2000s, the mortgage industry was going to experience a crisis in 2008, or that there would be a global pandemic in 2020? Be prepared, and have a safety net for the leaner times.

    What Do I Do When Things Go Wrong?

    As with anything in life, there may be times when something goes wrong at the company, in your personal life, within the client/consultant relationship, or with something outside of either’s control. During these difficult times, you have resources available to you. Ask for help from a mentor when you need it. You can find mentors through the SBA (check out SCORE) or your network.

    How Do I Maintain and Grow My Client List?

    The best way to maintain and grow your client list is to keep working. Be careful of relying on a single client. While the work may be steady and lucrative for a while, the client’s needs or budgets may change. One way to grow your client list is to look at other firms that do work similar to the work of your current clients. However, remember your non-compete or other agreements before investigating if those firms have similar needs.

    Another way to grow your client list is to reconsider some of the decisions you made at the beginning of your consulting journey. Do you want to broaden the kinds of consulting work you are willing to do or perhaps the kinds of clients for whom you are willing to work? New opportunities may have popped up since the last time you looked in your area; there might be new firms or changing needs. Repeat some of the steps in the Finding a Job section to see what might be new.

    Meanwhile, the best way to maintain your client list is through simple relationship management. Always provide quality services. Occasionally reach out to offer casual greetings or an article you know is relevant to your client’s work without seeking anything in return. You might even consider sending seasonal cards, small fruit baskets, or offering free webinars to the firm’s employees or associated organizations. Always remember to maintain the relationship in ways other than just soliciting work.

    How Do I Stay Current?

    Staying current is an important part of being a successful consultant, and it requires some introspection. Think about your reputation as a consultant. Do you perform quality work and deliver the materials on time? Are you still networking with others in the field by speaking at local events and conferences? Do you need to update or refocus your skills? Are you using the most up-to-date software? Are there gaps in your knowledge? These are all things you should consider in order to stay current


    Now that you have been introduced to consulting, we hope that you are walking away with some information that will help you decide whether or not consulting is a good fit for you. Consulting can definitely be an exciting, yet challenging, job. It can force you out of your comfort zone and provide many great opportunities to hone your craft within LIDT.

    Think About It!

    1. Instructional design and educational technology are broad fields, and you are unlikely to have the expertise or interest in all areas. Therefore, define some of what you will do as a consultant by noting what you do not want to do. Start an ongoing list of instructional design and educational technology tasks. Then, chart those tasks across four quadrants based on your interest and expertise. Look for consulting opportunities in your high interest and high expertise quadrant.
      2x2 auadrant highlighting high interest and high exptertise

    2. Set a timer for three minutes of brainstorming. Once the timer starts, write down the names of specific business owners with whom you have a personal relationship or are acquaintances. An acquaintance is someone who is close enough that they would remember you if you saw each other at a store or at a social gathering. Remember to include other consultants because they are business owners too. After three minutes of creating this list, request to schedule at least one informational interview with one of these individuals each week. The purpose of the informational interviews is to learn more about the broad economic sector of their business as well as their particular company. Conducting these informational interviews will help you (a) learn more about the types of problems and needs found in that industry and (b) consider whether you would like to work as a consultant within that industry.

    3. Think about this situation: You recently participated in a networking event at your local Chamber of Commerce. You met a small business owner who was intrigued by your services. They ask you about instructional design and if it could help with a problem involving their personnel. The following week, you meet with them to share more about the field. How will you define instructional design in a single sentence for someone who is completely unfamiliar with the field? Next, compose a list of at least three questions you might ask in order to learn more about the business owner’s personnel problem and whether your services might be able to help solve their problem.

    Additional Resources

    Business Sites
    IRS: independent contractors versus employeeshttps://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/independent-contractor-self-employed-or-employee
    EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)https://gdpr.eu/
    U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)https://www.sba.gov/
    SBA: Business Insurancehttps://www.sba.gov/business-guide/launch-your-business/get-business-insurance
    SBA: Choose a Business Structurehttps://www.sba.gov/business-guide/launch-your-business/choose-business-structure
    SBA: SCORE Business Mentoringhttps://www.sba.gov/local-assistance/resource-partners/score-business-mentoring
    SBA: set-asideshttps://www.sba.gov/federal-contracting/contracting-guide/types-contracts
    SBA: socially and/or economically disadvantaged small businesseshttps://www.sba.gov/federal-contracting/contracting-assistance-programs/small-disadvantaged-business
    SBA: veterans with service-connected disabilitieshttps://www.sba.gov/federal-contracting/contracting-assistance-programs/veteran-contracting-assistance-programs
    SBA: women-owned small businesseshttps://www.sba.gov/federal-contracting/contracting-assistance-programs/women-owned-small-business-federal-contract-program
    Quality Mattershttps://www.qualitymatters.org/
    Google Siteshttps://sites.google.com/
    Job Boards
    The Learning Guildhttps://www.learningguild.com/
    Networking Groups
    chamber of commercehttps://www.chamberofcommerce.com/chambers
    Toastmasters Internationalhttps://www.toastmasters.org/
    Time Trackers
    Activity Logs (paper trackers) from Mind Toolshttps://www.mindtools.com/a52felv/activity-logs

    Yvonne Earnshaw

    Kennesaw State University

    Yvonne Earnshaw, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Design and Technology in the School of Instructional Technology and Innovation at Kennesaw State University. Dr. Earnshaw has an extensive industry background in technical writing, instructional design, and usability consulting. Her research interests include user/learner experience, online teaching and learning, and workplace preparation.

    Barbara M. Hall

    National University

    Barbara M. Hall, PhD is a Professor in the Sanford College of Education at National University, where she also participates on the curriculum and assessment committees. Her consulting work involves evaluating online learning programs and designing, facilitating, and assessing asynchronous discussions. Her research focuses on intersubjectivity in peer dialogue.

    This content is provided to you freely by EdTech Books.

    Access it online or download it at https://edtechbooks.org/becoming_an_lidt_pro/becoming_an_instructional_design_consultant.