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Managing Your Consulting Business (4th in Series)



The social worker will certainly be skilled in connecting with and informing clients. The social worker as consultant will also need to manage a business. Social work tends to attract persons whose primary concern is not money, who do not typically publicize their achievements, who favor trust-based relationships, and who are uneasy charging directly for the good they do. The social worker as consultant will need to face these tendencies in the context of business and consider an approach in four areas: legal structure, marketing, contracts, and consulting fees.

Legal Structure

Deciding on a legal structure for your business is important for taxation, expensing, liability, and partnership reasons. It is a decision that should not be made without professional consultation from your tax preparer. After all, your tax preparer will be the individual either praising your planning or lamenting your tax position.

Many social workers have long dreamed of starting a non-profit, but I do not recommend this legal structure for the social worker as consultant. Of course, make your own decision, but make it based on your proposed activity, whether you want a board, the application process (and fees), your ownership concerns, and your reporting preferences.

Non-profits are not the only way to secure grant funding. Partner with 501c3 organizations like universities or community agencies to gain access to grant funding. Partnering also allows those with the proper expertise to administer the grant budget.

Non-profits are also not immune to profit motives. Any business must sustain itself by creating revenue that exceeds expenses. Consider that other options exist for the social worker as consultant to express “social good” as a motive. B-Corporations are one option.

I am in favor of the sole proprietorship structure for occasional projects. If this is your structure, be sure to secure a credit card that will be solely used for business purchases. A mileage log is another tool you may want to consider.

A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is useful when you are signing contracts and taking on some form of liability for project success or failure. It is also a good idea if you are producing a tangible product. An LLC separates your personal liability from your business liability. If something goes to suit, only your business assets are in jeopardy.


Marketing for the social worker as consultant draws on a strength: social skills. But, the most effective social worker as consultant does not engage in social relationships for the relationship alone. Social relationships are external motivation to produce content. This is sustainable marketing in a nutshell. Create a vicious cycle of content creation that engages potential clients, which informs you about the  client’s content desires.

Social media can be a great way to operationalize this cycle. A weblog is the minimum implementation. Use a blog to create a record of your credibility and competence. Organize the entries by your areas of expertise. Include stories of your consulting experiences, and put your skills on display. Schedule your posts to provide at least weekly updates. Utilize automatic posting capabilities. Understand your audience to know how long or short you can make your postings.

Social media tools can be managed for client interaction as well. Understand from the outset that tools like dot coms Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and Kickstarter must be managed actively and responsively. Other tools that can aid awareness and calls to action include for petition services; for formatting email blasts; and for URL shortening.


A well written contract is critical to success in consulting relationships. It makes sense because contracts detail the measurement of success among other things. Include clear information on liability, insurance, and deliverables/outcomes.

Liability. Detail the responsibilities, level of authority, and scope related to the project being contracted. Responsibilities can be as simple as locking up when you leave or as complex as ensuring that e-commerce transactions are tracked in a daily accounting review. Level of authority refers to the role of consultant as leader, manager, or advisor. Leaders implement autonomously. Managers implement what they are instructed. Advisors review data and give suggestions. Scope can be limited to a single event, offices in a region, a recurring program across years, or innovation in the full enterprise.

Insurance. Detail how cost overruns, delays, and other complications will be handled. The point is to provide the client with some assurance of your professionalism. This can be handled in a number of ways. Some consultants only accept 50% of an agreed payment up front. Some consultants include language in the contract ensuring a flat fee no matter the cost overrun.

Deliverables/Outcomes. Detail what products will result from the consultation. Include the schedule of outcomes if the deliverable has multiple components. Consider communicating the targets in financial terms as a way to track the progress and efficiency of the consultation. As you gain experience, explore calculations of return on investment (ROI). ROI can be a way to separate your productivity and efficiency from other consultants or potential client investments. The beginning of good ROI is an understanding of the measures of success that represent value to your client. More than just the deliverables themselves, your client may value positive press, new relationships, or increased staff morale.

Consulting Fees

The social worker as a consultant must switch from a mindset of pay based on the job market to payment based on the market value of expertise. As a rule of thumb, I suggest beginning with the following amounts:

  • Bachelor Degree/5 Years Experience = $50 per hour
  • Master Degree/15 Years Experience = $75 per hour
  • Doctoral Degree/20+ Years Experience = $100 per hour

Consider that special or unique expertise may support higher fees. Your services are worth what you get paid for them. Of course, notoriety and demand also impact your fees.

Many consultants prefer the simplicity of flat contracts. Typically, a flat contract is a calculation of the amount of hours a consultation will require. Estimate the total number of hours you will need to complete the project. Multiply that number by 3. Propose this total to the client. The multiplication recognizes that projects always have unforeseen time delays including revisions as the client better communicates his/her vision. You may consider reducing the multiplication based on how well you know the client and their needs. Familiarity usually means fewer revisions and therefore less time.

Keep in mind that beginning consultants may need to complete pro-bono work. That means working for free! In return for pro-bono work, ask for written recommendations or agreements that the client will act as a reference.

Generalist Practice and Expertise

Consider one final perspective on your consulting business. Social workers are trained generalists. This means that they develop a breadth of knowledge across multiple systems. This generalist training can be a great asset. The social worker as consultant will know systems and have contacts in various community posts.

Yet, this asset needs to be managed in the context of building a business and a brand. Consider that your expertise, though benefitting from breadth of knowledge and contacts, must be distillable to a brand. Expertise is the specific knowledge and skills applied by the social worker as consultant along with specific practice contexts and tools employed. Your brand is the communication of your expertise in a way that potential clients can remember, recite, and relate to. It will not function to say, “We do whatever you need.” It is more functional to advertise, “We are experts in city-level elder care and gerontology data mapping.” Maintain your generalist base, while you practice communicating your brand.

Dr. Michael Wright: Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a Social Work Helper Contributor. He offers his expertise as an career coach, serial entrepreneur, and publisher through MAWMedia Group, LLC. Wright has maintained this macro practice consultancy since 1997. Wright lives in Reno, NV.


Yes. Learning by doing is a great teacher, when you tune in to the lessons.

You are certainly welcome. If you have any questions or brainstorms, feel free to share with me. I’m often inspired by the minds of others.

Usually have to work at it!…Joan Beckwith.

My pleasure, Rachel.

politicalsocialworker says:

This has been a great series. Thank you for giving us some direction in how to get off the ground.

Relando Thompkins, MSW says:

This is such a wonderful series, and it is helping me tremendously!! Thank you for sharing your insight.

I’m glad you are enjoying them, Relando. I can’t wait to discuss video projects with you. 🙂


How to Grow Your Nonprofit With Little Budget



It should come as no surprise that devoting time to a cause can be fulfilling. When you start one of your own, you will transform your life.

But establishing a nonprofit to take up said crusade comes with lots of barriers, namely financial. Traditional businesses often must figure out where the money will come from to make their vision a reality, and nonprofits are no different.

For nonprofit leaders with know-how and ideas but scarce financial capital, it’s an uphill battle. But it’s those who recognize their new nonprofits’ non-monetary value and how to translate that into viability who can bring those causes to fruition.

A Little Marketing Goes a Long Way

What nonprofits lack in budget, they more than make up for in positioning and branding. Organizations can mask their financial shortcomings by properly marketing each themselves and spotlighting who they are and what they can do.

That starts with communicating your purpose or company “brand.” Identifying your brand lets people know who you are and what you can do for others, which can go a long way in creating long-term relationships. From there, you want to avoid potential conflicts of interest or even the appearance of one: As owner, officer, or director, you should never personally profit from any transaction with your organization.

Once you’ve settled those things, you can market your nonprofit to its fullest potential. The next step is to take those attributes to events and platforms that feature opportunities to rub elbows with financiers with values similar to your own.

For nonprofits with limited funds, I suggest looking to corporations to sponsor a campaign. Dress for Success, for example, held a “clean your closet week” by asking professionals to donate clothing, and the campaign generated $400,000.

And when you find an actual sponsor, it can be a useful way to find other organizations that align with your mission. Let’s say you connect with a corporation known to work with homeless youth. It’ll have relationships with many other corporations that work with this same service sector, which can establish a ripple effect.

Do Good on a Discount

Outside of knowing how to sell your cause, the following tips are useful to help your growing nonprofit continue to scale:

1. Think intangible. When you’re on a tight budget and don’t have money to involve your nonprofit in initiatives requiring a cash investment, start off by marketing non-financial resources, such as your time and industry knowledge.

Not only will it provide your organization some much-needed exposure, but it’ll also give you and your other teammates a better idea of the work involved and a brief overview of your chosen nonprofit sector. Plus, it’s not a bad way to make connections.

2. Give in to the youth movement. Look for volunteers at area high schools. Talk with the local school councils and ask whether it’d be possible to create a partnership that would allow teens to volunteer for a school credit or as an extracurricular activity.

Position the volunteer opportunity as a way for teenagers to prepare for the future. After all, volunteering improves not just communities, but also participants’ social and communication skills. In fact, they often reap better advantages at college and on down the line.

3. See how the pros do it. Follow the activities of larger nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations. Check with international organizations like the United Nations; you may find opportunities for involvement and gain access to their funding pool.

Take NeedsList, for example. The online platform was created to help small grassroots groups connect with NGOs across the world in need of shoes, SD cards, and other supplies. Donors can choose to donate goods, money, or time, which brings us full circle.

As the adage goes, it’s not what you know but whom. No other sector exemplifies this more than nonprofit. For foundations on a shoestring budget, make connections, think about what you have to offer, and deliver on your purpose each step of the way. Then, you can let your personal transformation begin.

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Social Good Doesn’t Require a Non-Profit



You want your business to be a force for social good. Most importantly, you want to meet the needs of some target population with the warmth and care reminiscent of the most nurturing presence as opposed to a cold, heartless corporation. You believe your only option to be registration of your business as a non-profit. Chrystalyn Reid of non-profit Queen Esther Ministry states that she didn’t consider anything other than a non-profit, “Because I wanted to help people without worrying about a profit-making business.”

Social Good Dreams

Other options exist, but I want to first challenge your start-up launch with several organizing questions:

Are you under the impression that non-profits always have low budgets and low pay for employees? The average non-profit CEO makes between $97,000 and $123,462. Seventy-six of 4,587 charities pay their CEOs more than $500,000 per year in compensation. Seventy of those have an annual budget above $13.5 million.

Have you created an Outcome Logic Model for your social good business identifying the revenue streams that are possible within the business operations? The typical non-profit today makes only 21% of its revenue from donations. Over 72% comes from program service revenues which include government contracts. Many of those contracts are open to non-profits and for-profits alike.

Have you considered how your board and funding structure will impact the mission of your social good business? You may have heard recent public broadcasting stories about mission drift or mission creep. You will want to ensure that your business bylaws are written to guard the mission.

Another Option: B Corp

A B Corp is an organization founded for social good. According to the B-Corp website, B Corps “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems.” Over 2,221 B Corporations are now certified from over 50 countries and 130 industries.

The choice of a B Corp structure over a non-profit structure for many is a question of funding. They choose non-profit proposing to fund the business through grants. A non-profit is the choice for those who want to provide a tax write-off to their donors and want to be eligible for grants that specify that only 501c3 corporations may apply. Yet, that explanation is a premature determination about how your corporation can make money. More specifically, if you conclude that your social good company can ONLY make money through donations from donors who require a tax write-off,

More specifically, if you conclude that your social good company can ONLY make money through donations from donors who require a tax write-off, non-profit is your only option. On the other hand, you can create value beyond the tax write-off. You may develop revenue streams other than grants. You could have a non-profit partner organization. In these cases, you may consider starting a for-profit with B Corp certification instead.

Mission Creep & Creepy Mission

Many launch non-profits because they believe that the money is not as important as the difference they can make. They focus on the people that they will help, the social good proposition, and the lives that will be changed rather than the bottom line. “My mission was never to make money. It was something that God called me to, to make a difference for women aging out of the foster care system,” Reid says about her non-profit.

This often means that these social entrepreneurs also neglect to focus on sustainability. Therefore, Marvin Olasky can tell the story in Renewing American Compassion of the multi-million-dollar social welfare building with few visitors. He compared this to a beloved, yet poorly funded child services non-profit. The non-profit operated with client numbers above its capacity.

Social workers and others working for social good are coming to grips with the fallacy of money as a dirty word (or after thought). They are also redefining their business models to avoid mission creep. They diversify offerings to access additional revenue streams without overextending the mission. The innovative method involves building programs for sustainability as well as mission achievement. They couple a profit mechanism within the service provision mix as the social good business model. The result are programs that support themselves.

Mental health agencies have been doing a version of this at the insistence of managed care organizations—billing for specific services. The difference in more recent innovations is to go beyond the billable scope of practice. Include a more holistic service cadre for clients. Those extended services, formerly out of scope, are funded through private donations, fundraisers, and now sales of manuals, merchandising, or sponsorship agreements.

The take away is that profits are not the enemy of social good. Failure to meet the mission is. As Reid of Queen Esther Ministry confirms, “As I’ve learned more about my business, I know the value of diversifying my revenue streams in addition to honoring my mission. I’m now exploring other revenue ventures through my business like holding a Summer camp.”

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Why 2017 Is the Year to Join Instagram




Did you know that by the end of 2017 around 70.7% of all brands are expected to have a profile on Instagram, or that businesses who have utilized their post boosting advertising options have been successful in 70% of cases?

A new report looks at these stats and a lot of other interesting data, which suggests 2017 is the year your business should join the popular social network.

A Large and Engaged User-Base

To have success in your marketing campaigns you must be able to get consumers invested in your products or services by creating an emotional response. Interacting with your target audience is the only way you can build their trust and accomplish this goal. This is where Instagram becomes such a powerful tool.

The platform is growing at a fast rate with over 300 million users logging on every single day. These users make an average of 95 million posts, which generate 4.2 billion likes!

The 18 to 30 demographic (the holy grail for a lot of businesses) accounts for 55% of Instagram’s users in the United States.

Furthermore, around 50% of all users follow at least one business’s account.

If you want access to consumers, Instagram offers a direct link which an audience broad enough to benefit any business large or small. Where the network really stands out, however, is its ability to engage users like no other.

Despite having far more active users every day, Facebook, for example, is not able to generate the same rate of likes, shares, and comments on posts. This is because Instagram focuses mainly on visual content, including photos, video clips, live streaming, and stories that expire after 24 hours.

Visual content is simply much more eye-catching and requires less mental attention than walls of text. The savvy marketer who can post professional shots of products, add value with informative videos, and craft a friendly and accessible brand image by showing the inner culture of the business – is almost certain to boost conversions and sales.

The Right Approach

Of course, accomplishing this is easier said than done. Fortunately, the infographic also gives us some insight to get you on the right track.

Building trust requires you to tread a fine line between over-selling and under-selling. Top brands post on average 4.9 times a week, so it’s wise to follow a similar pattern.

You must also remember to post at the most opportune times. Business accounts offer all sorts of analytics, so over time, you can narrow down what time is the best for your individual target audience. However, in general, the most users are active on Wednesdays at 5 pm. For newcomers, this would be a good time to post your most important content.

The data also explores the most popular emojis and hashtags, which can also be important when targeting your audience and getting them engaged.

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