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A month in a consultant’s life: how I spent my time

I am increasingly obsessed with time. Maybe this is a consequence of aging. I see time moving too swiftly. I strive to make the best use of every moment.

I have conducted multiple experiments over the years to see how I can make better use of my time and be more productive at work.

This article concerns my tracking of my work time over a period of one month or 20 workdays. It will yield insight into how this freelancer (or independent management consultant) spends his time. Hopefully the results will still be useful more generally.

I also hope to address the misconception that freelancers spend all their time delivering their service. We must realize that freelancers are still running a business, and therefore need to make time for all the usual business functions within their work week.

“Necessary endings”: why we need to make them to move forward

We are all called upon to make endings in our work and personal lives. This can be a painful process that many of us postpone until it is too late. Endings can also be enabling – they can help us get unstuck and move forward in the right direction.

Learning how to end things is both a life-skill and a leadership-skill.

However, it is one of the things that my clients most struggle with – how to identify when to end something and knowing how to do it in the right way.

The book “Necessary Endings” by Dr Henry Cloud is profound and changed how I work with endings. It is the book that I most frequently recommend to clients. I encourage you to read it. This article pays homage to the wisdom in this book.

This article discusses some themes from the book that are most relevant to my consulting work. It adopts an organizational focus, while the book also explores the role of endings in our personal lives. This article will get you thinking more about the inevitability and value of endings.

Social enterprise glossary

I’ve designed this glossary to help social enterprises and non-profit organizations in South Africa think clearly about their strategies and business models.

Strategic clarity involves clear thinking, and clear thinking requires clarity of language. Many of us also rely too much on jargon, which clutters our minds and encourages lazy and fuzzy thinking.

Here is some of the terminology that I regularly use in my consulting practice and lectures, and my short descriptions of what each term means in simple English.

Charity and philanthropy need to work hand in hand

Charity is seen as a virtue by humanists and all major religions. But it has also been polarising. Some people believe strongly in it and feel that it reflects the inner heart of humanity, while others believe that it cultivates weakness and dependency amongst the underserving. Even the ancients grappled with the very practical implications of charity.

Nowadays, the news is full of stories of philanthropists who have given their fortunes away to help others and for the betterment of society.

This article explores the concepts of charity and philanthropy, the similarities and differences, and when each is appropriate. It is not a deep dive into these topics, but rather a high-level review.

This has been one of the hardest articles for me to write. I’ve thrown out two earlier versions, started from scratch and done more research and thinking. Even though I’ve been in this field for 22 years, I’ve realized how my passion for social entrepreneurship had obscured my appreciation of charity. I’ve also learned when charity is the only moral and appropriate response to a situation.

Donors 10% overhead requirements do more harm than good

In the effort to be a good custodian of their philanthropic funds, some donors impose a cap on overhead expenditure (i.e. indirect costs). This amount is typically somewhere between 10%-20% of total grant value.

These organizations, and much of the public, believe that by limiting such expenditure, they will be getting more value-for-money; that the endeavour will be more moral. This belief is based on a superficial view of how non-profit organizations achieve impact.

While there may be contexts when this rule is appropriate, its blind application can easily harm good organizations.

Justifiably, this method of funding is frequently referred to as the “starvation cycle”.

This article will explain what is meant by the 10% overhead cap, how it can easily do more harm than good, and how donors can use much better measures to judge the merit of their philanthropic investments.

Setting up a side business: it is not the “holy grail”

I strongly believe that non-profit organizations should strive to cultivate additional income streams, including earning revenue from social enterprise activities. This helps to fund operations, build reserves and manage risk.

Some non-profit organizations choose to earn revenue from a “side business” – an undertaking which is distinct from their core offering.

While I support this sentiment, I believe that organizations tend to make two mistakes in how they implement these ideas. The first mistake is to underestimate the complexity, time and costs to achieve this. The second mistake is for organizations to embark on such a venture before they have strengthened their operations and improved their thinking. The third mistake is to neglect opportunities to earn an income which are more readily available.

This article discusses this second and third mistake. It suggests that the establishment of a side business should be the result of a journey and not the first step. It encourages organizations to improve their functioning and attend to weak areas, before they start looking outside of themselves for solutions. It also reminds organizations to thoroughly investigate opportunities to earn an income that may be closer in reach.

Market don’t fundraise!

Those organizations that market themselves well have a distinct advantage over those that don’t.

Marketing and public relations (PR) helps to amplify an organization’s brand. It helps them to command an adequate “share of voice” and stand out amidst all the other organizations that are competing for our attention.

I believe that fundraising needs to align with marketing and PR, and form part of a concerted strategy. This will make it much easier for a social enterprise or non-profit organization to raise funds or win customers.

This article will explore some of my thoughts about the importance of marketing and PR, and tactics that organizations should consider in each of these areas. It will also touch on how these organizations should navigate the online world.

Brand is a magnet for opportunity

This article will share some of my thoughts about value of branding for social enterprises and non-profit organizations, and how a good brand exerts a magnetic force around them.

Those organizations that have stronger brands are more likely to attract good funding, business opportunities and partnerships. This is a simple truth I’ve come to realize in my 20+ years of consulting.

I’ve also recently worked with a brand designer and public relations specialist on some projects and have gained recent insights into the value of this discipline. Here is some of what I’ve learnt.

Career advice for a young professional in the social sector

I recently received a thought-provoking email from a young graduate who had some work experience with a non-profit organization.

Because her message was so sincere and endearing, I decided to provide a proper reply.

This article contains my career advice for her and other young professionals in a similar position. I will share my career philosophy, insights from my own career, and some collective advice from other consultants I work with.

Strategic conversations are more important than strategic planning

When was the last time you had a conversation about your organization’s strategy? A deep conversation about what it must do to fulfil its destiny? These conversations are priceless. Many social entrepreneurs find them more useful than conventional strategic-planning sessions.

This article discusses the value of the strategic conversation. It also provides some suggestions for how to cultivate this good habit with your leadership team.

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Cultivating strategic clarity.

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