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Global Flipchart #14


January 2019
| Global Flipchart #14

Facilitation as a career: Some suggestions

By John Butcher

Are you committed to a career in facilitation? Or just “kicking the tires” to see whether you feel you are a good fit for the profession? Here are some suggestions that emerge from almost 30 years as an independent facilitator. They are directed primarily to readers who are considering working on their own, or within a facilitation company.

  1. Get some work experience before becoming a full-time facilitator. We do not need to know everything about the clients we work with. But it helps to have some first-hand organizational experience somewhere to better appreciate the challenges that clients might be facing.
  2. If the lack of a predictable income will worry you, consider becoming an internal facilitator, instead of an independent. I have generally done okay financially over the course of each year. But there have also been long stretches without billable time.
  3. Look for work initially in sectors in which you are known and in which you have some experience. Build your practice out from there.
  4. The vast majority of your work as an independent facilitator will likely come from repeat business and referrals. You can do promotional work and make cold calls if you like to keep busy between assignments. But don’t expect people who have never heard of you to offer you work.
  5. Thank people who refer you to other clients, and colleague facilitators who pass work to you. Such simple gestures of thanks are becoming distressingly rare.
  6. Avoid overbooking. From the client’s perspective, the only reason you are in business is to do this specific assignment. One of the worst things you can do is be (and act) distracted during one job because you are preoccupied with another.
  7. Do not seek or accept work that you do not know how to perform. This is, first and foremost, an ethical issue. Even if you are able to fake your way through the assignment, you have still violated professional standards. And accepting a job, then calling colleagues to try to figure out how to do it, will destroy your credibility among your peers.
  8. Develop your own “voice” as a facilitator. Regardless the contexts in which you work, being genuinely “you” will always serve you best. You will still want and need to educate yourself about cultural or other issues you might encounter in a session. But group members are always more comfortable with a transparent style or personality than with someone playing a role. Your “voice” will also help you to carve out a niche for your business.
  9. Limiting yourself to a few clients, regardless how good and well-paying they are, is very dangerous. Your business can crumble with a change in management. And your experience and scope of practice will be limited when you start seeking new clients.
  10. Charge a reasonable amount for your services. What is the going rate for facilitators with your experience in the region in which you live? (In Canada, fees that are the norm in very large cities might be unreasonably high in less-populated or economically-diversified areas.) Factor in your life and work experience outside facilitation: you bring the entire “package” to your work. And do not give in to the temptation to “low ball” your quote for a job you especially want (or that you especially need). Since the bulk of your work will come from referrals and repeat business, you do not want to be stuck with a daily fee that will not sustain you in your business.
  11. By the way, if you want to help a client by reducing the amount your charge, do not, under any circumstances, lower your daily fee. Instead, simply amend the time you charge (e.g. by absorbing your preparation or follow-up time). See “referrals and repeat business” above.
  12. Develop some additional tools besides your expertise in process facilitation. Some potential clients might be looking for competence in team building or leadership development or coaching. These skills might also help you to bridge “dry” periods in your facilitation practice.
  13. Stay away from groups and organizations that you do not like working with, or whose values you cannot respect (or who are unreasonably slow to pay, or who are otherwise rude and inconsiderate in their dealings with outside consultants). It is not worth the damage to your self-respect, and you might well let slip just how you really feel. (Having said that, I cannot remember turning down a potential client for those reasons, even though I have heard lots of things in facilitated sessions with which I did not agree or that made me uncomfortable, and have had plenty of clients who were tardy in paying).
  14. Continuously seek feedback. We are rarely good judges of our own performance. And we tend to be harder on ourselves than others are. But sometimes we indeed screw up. If possible, apologize to the group. Reflect on the experience and try to learn from it. Clients have typically (I am grateful to report) felt better about my work than I did. But self-doubt can be a constant companion. While it can help spur us to improving, never let it cripple you.

Good Luck!

John Butcher is a Canadian facilitator, based in Ottawa. He has held the designation IAF Certified™ Professional Facilitator since 2001. In 2015, he was inducted into the IAF Hall of Fame.