Launching and sustaining any business depends on three things: Development of a brand, marketing of brand, and truth in advertising. In other words, first, you have to come up with something to sell. Second, people have to hear about and understand what you are offering. Third, your product or service has to work for them if they are going to tell their friends about it. For the social worker as consultant, this counsel can be seen as an organizing structure for the development of your expertise.
The first step, developing a brand, will naturally stem from the contexts in which you wish to practice. Each has unique challenges with internal integration, external adaptation, and coping with new external environments. The successful social worker as consultant will create solutions as products that provide credibility and a clear mechanism for consulting on individual interventions and organizational innovations.
Marketing of the brand is best achieved by word of mouth, but some contexts have other specific idiosyncrasies that provide unique marketing opportunities. Consultants who use marketing resources with efficacy will reap greater returns on investment.
Communicating truth in advertising will increase your word of mouth marketing. People promote what they believe in. You must deliver what you promise. To achieve this, the social worker as consultant must draw on a popular professional refrain: evidence-based practice. Not only should you seek out and integrate proven techniques into your practice, you must assess the context you are working in, evaluate your practice, and disseminate new techniques specifically suited for a specific context. Each context provides you with an opportunity to produce a case study, evaluation report, or training manual to exemplify your competence.
Coaching comes in a number of flavors toward personal, professional, or a personal-professional mix of outcomes. The focus can be on increasing success in business, management, career, relationships, sales, or other endeavors. The International Coach Federation (coachfederation.org) is a good place to start for more information on coaching. They define coaching
“as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential” (ICF.org)
Social workers may fulfill this role. Coaching is not regulated either by title or licensure in most jurisdictions, but social workers will find a niche in emphasis on elements of the social work code of ethics in their coaching practice. Section 3 of the code covers the social worker’s ethical responsibility in practice settings. That is, get the training you need to do the job. Section 6 of the code covers the social worker’s ethical responsibility to the larger society. That is, promote equal access and prevent exploitation.
Challenges & Solutions
The social worker, especially at the Master level, will do well to articulate a difference between therapy and coaching, especially in the context of state licensure. Consider among other differences that therapy involves diagnosis utilizing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), while coaching does not. State certification boards may be of some help. For example, Tennessee wrote its multi-level licensure law to distinguish between what it calls “clinical social work,” which applies the DSM, and “advanced practice,” which does not utilize the DSM. Find your state’s documentation at ASWB.org.
Solve this challenge while maintaining awareness that the human behavior and change process education you have received as a social worker is invaluable to coaching interactions. A model such as the Generalist Intervention Model (GIM) promoted by Kirst-Ashman and Hull (2006) provides seven steps that fit a coaching intervention: Engagement, Assessment, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation, Termination, and Follow-up.
Section 1 of the social work code of ethics details the social worker’s ethical responsibility to the client. The social worker as coach is still bound by mandatory reporting requirements. Best practices such as leading the initial interaction with a statement of confidentiality and reasons for breaking confidentiality will still apply. Disclose conflicts of interest, maintain privacy, and inform your clients toward sustainable self-determination.
One lesson in the variety of social work practice contexts is that process and outcomes are important. This can serve the social worker well in coaching practice inspiring innovative ways to utilize technology and environments to build the client experience. Technology tools (i.e. skype, email, online services) can be used to deliver coaching and receive payment. For example, an MSW at Inner Ambiance (innerambiance.com) coaches via skype, email or phone and receives payment via PayPal. Environments can also be used to provide a setting for coaching. You will hear about zip lines, rope courses, rock climbing, and share circles in wilderness retreats or adventure therapy.
Consider the marketing opportunities. You could take the interdisciplinary approach and offer package-deals: combining health & wellness, life coaching, fashion consulting, and career counseling. Mom and Home-preneurs is another popular market: a market hungry for entrepreneurial training. Consider that banks have a vested interest in the financial health & literacy of its patrons. They may fund your coaching program.
How about these ideas for production:
- Interdisciplinary Holistic Coaching Intervention.
- Entrepreneurship as a Family Effort.
- Financing Your Health and Well-Being.
Membership associations form when people organize around a specific interest or purpose. Day-to-day operations are managed by a chief executive officer, sometimes called an executive director. Associations often have an elected board consisting of a President and cabinet—Vice president, treasurer, secretary, etc. Though the board typically has authority over the executive director, membership associations often hire directors whose long tenure with the association creates a partnering work environment between the executive director and the board.
Challenges & Solutions
The larger they are (or aspire to be) the more dispersed the membership will be. Dispersed membership means that communicating events, voting for elections, and other member services can reach individual members in non-standard ways. Effective membership organizations standardize their communication while seeking to maintain an individualized feeling on the part of the member.
A portal website can be an elegant solution to this challenge. The opportunity exists for the social worker as consultant to implement technology that allows the member to interface securely with the knowledge base of the association. This is admittedly a task for a social worker who brings tech savvy as a skill.
Yet, the ability to understand the actual process and map the needs for information management and sharing can be as useful as actual technology skills. Social workers who are skilled in process mapping can outline the implementation of technology solutions. Add a techy to your team to program or support the open source solutions and your demand as a consultant will increase.
Membership associations are typically staffed by volunteers or part-time employees. From the perspective of the association, these staff must maintain a consistent level of preparedness and ability to respond the needs of members. Turnover makes maintenance of this consistency eve more difficult.
The social worker as consultant is able to use the familiar role of evaluator to map the process of the association. He/she can then use the role of educator to create training materials for new volunteers and staff. The consultant may also organize continuing education, training sessions, volunteer appreciation and employee incentive programs that support staff retention.
Perhaps more than other organizations, membership associations have big dreams, made comparatively bigger because of the resources typically available to achieve those dreams. The social worker as consultant can borrow on systems knowledge to perform a social network analysis identifying potential partnerships that complement the association’s goals. He/she may also develop expertise in negotiating partnerships and drafting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that governs each partnership. The goal is to redistribute and grow resources by more efficient usage, sharing, and the elimination of duplication.
Membership associations have a well-defined audience. Consulting offerings can be specifically tailored to the association and its members. Consider the population targeted by the association and the message the association intends for their brand.
Understand the value-added preoccupation of the association. That is, the “benefits of membership” it wants to communicate to members. If your consulting offering adds value to members, it represents win-win for you and the association.
Membership associations attempt to personalize the member experience while simultaneously delivering efficiency in resource usage. Because of this they have a greater than average technology need. If you know how to utilize websites, blogs, Content Management Software, or perform Search Engine Optimization, social media integration, or create mobile apps, great. If you offer expertise that addresses the technology needs, you have an in with associations.
Consider the following opportunities for development of Consulting Best Practice Documents:
- Partnering for Niche and Branding
- Marketing to association members: Techniques to add Value
- Automation Tools and Best Practices for associations.
- Social media and CMS for associations.
Faith-based congregations are an especially complex context for the social worker as consultant. These entities have the organizational structures and needs of any non-profit, but also have affiliate structures, believe systems, and often liturgical practices that impact organizational management. They are made up of families from across the lifespan, adding another level of complexity.
Challenges & Solutions
Faith-based congregations continually wrestle with the perception of diminishing relevance. As an institution that values the examples of the past, it is sometimes hard for these organizations to respond to new external environments. The members of the congregation risk insistence on maintenance of the status quo even while the status quo fails to meet the mission.
The solution is to co-opt community development models like social capital and capacity building. The social worker as consultant may offer to organize an augmentation of the typical liturgical schedule. Special speakers may be scheduled with attending family-focused activities integrating faith and community service, financial stewardship, individual giftedness, parenting teens or other issues germane to the external environment. You may also offer needs assessment services to assess the needs of the external environment.
Faith-based congregations also wrestle with the challenge of youth engagement. Congregations are at risk of losing the wellspring of congregational vibrancy—a continual influx of young people. The risk is greater when the congregation lacks creative ways to engage the community where it is located.
The social worker as consultant can assist the congregation in a visioning exercise that clarifies and revitalizes their mission. It is often helpful for congregations to face the community with a mission of social justice and the creation of good in their every-day spaces: family, work life, recreation, etc. This means finding ways to provide information, space, and other resources directly targeting those aspects of community life.
Lack of new models may be another concern steeped in allegiance to traditions. Faith-based congregations, especially those who value an evangelical mandate, may only conceptualize one or two ways to reach out to persons who are not members of a faith community.
The social worker as consultant can help congregations to redefine evangelism as the activity of supporting individuals toward increased self-sufficiency through group leverage, participation, and shared investment. That is, a congregation of members can achieve more than an individual along. The mechanisms of the faith community can be intentionally ordered to communicate this corporate opportunity.
More than one model of congregation exists. Models exist with various goals relative to faith practice, commitment, and liturgy. Models range from seeding, nurturing, to germinating. The consultant with expertise in matching the model with the congregation will be able to reinvigorate congregations as the external environment of the community changes.
Innovations from within are also an important opportunity. The social worker as consultant may be called upon to assist members to articulate the changes they want to see. Tools may include spiritual gifts inventories, leadership training, and social network analysis (especially toward utilizing cliques to identify special interest segments of the congregation).
Supported by hope and belief in what is not seen, faith-based congregations may offer a perpetual fountain of community development. As consultant, you can help these organizations hone their focus in social justice, peace, social good, altruism, mediation, community development, youth development, addictions recovery, family intervention, and so much more. They bring the inspiration and the certainty of success. You bring the ability to clarify vision, script an action plan, market, monitor, and evaluate success.
Consider the following products you may create as your expertise:
- Do your part of the Great Commission: what’s your niche
- Guide to innovating your Congregation.
- Marketing the Social Good: methods to communicate goals.
Non-profits are unique consulting contexts because of how they use revenue, the staff they employ, and the populations they typically serve. As with other organizations, successful consultation hinges upon an understanding of the mission and operations. What sets non-profits apart is their governance and funding structures. The social worker as consultant will want to make clear whether he/she is working at the pleasure of the board, the executive director, or a project manager. This helps you know your audience and it will impact your preparation for contract presentations and deliverable presentations. It is also important to know whether the contract is funded through grants. If it is, there may be money for travel, expenses, or mandates specific to the funder that may inform your contract proposal and negotiations.
Challenges & Solutions
Many non-profits are great in the business of doing and not so efficient in the art of training and equipping staff. This offers an opportunity to the social worker as consultant. You will be in demand if you demonstrate that you can develop a system of training as a method of sustaining staff, board, and donors.
Non-profits carry a large documentation burden. Though many complete their federal and state paperwork, they are often less diligent in maintaining documentation that can be used to inform other stakeholders and improve efficiencies. Non-profits are busy providing services and often do not effectively maintain information like building plans, annual reports, newspaper clippings, client impact stories, intervention effectiveness evaluation, and daily operation information like client wait times. A consultant who could computerize the process evaluation and automate collection of this data would be valuable to a non-profit.
Another feature of a non-profit is the intentional correcting of the problem that necessitated the non-profit. That is, non-profits intend to work themselves out of a job. You can observe this on a curve as decreased capacity to sustain gains. As time goes on, data like number of people served tend to level off. The solution is to employ other data both to make the case for continued intervention, and to inform changes in mission that address new needs.
The social worker as consultant can evaluate hidden costs and hidden sources of operational data by mapping the step-by-step process through the program, identifying data that is available, and tracking it via computer. Be careful not to waste (especially data, the most bountiful resource.) The skilled consultant can utilize data to leverage new funding and revenue streams.
Staff development is a huge market in non-profits. Professionalizing, certifying, and continuing education of staff is important because of turnover and changing environments. Changes in population, regulations, best practices and more can necessitate new training.
The social worker as consultant can be instrumental in bringing elements of social entrepreneurship to non-profits. The goal is to create a mechanism for production that complements the service provision of the non-profit. The non-profits own proven best practices can be compiled into training for sale to other non-profits or educational institutions.
Adding a production element to service provision can diversify the fundraising of a non-profit. The social worker as consultant can articulate mechanisms for revenue generation from production, donor-base, and grant funding streams. The most successful examples of this principle employ clients in the production element as a function of the non-profit services. In this way, the sustaining of the non-profit and service to the client is a structural win-win.
Consider these production possibilities:
- Services Training & Continuing Education
- Sustainability: Non-profits that produce products
- Diversification in Fundraising Primer