Every consulting marketing guide and author says pro bono work is a great way to build your network and your business. Every hour I spend doing "volunteer" work is one less billable hour. What am I missing?
In a word, lots. Your value as a consultant comes from a combination of skills, experience, and behaviors. Your success as a consulting firm comes from the combination of your network of contacts and an efficient business enterprise. Pro bono work, done well, is a home run in developing all of these bases of consulting success. If you see an hour of unbilled work as a cost rather than an investment, you will miss opportunities you may not be able to get even through billed work.
A pro bono engagement is a different type of service for a different type recipient in a different type of relationships than with paid clients. Your work is donated because you believe in the intrinsic value of an organization, whether it is for a social cause, your community or an affinity group. You and your "client" can get very close and the value of your skills is usually more appreciated than in a work for hire relationships. Pro bono work rounds out your skills, extends your relationships, brings you int a new area where your skills are used, and does fulfill a need for you to lend your skills to build your community. Tip:
Don't wait to be asked to help in your community. There are plenty of hours that you do not bill in which you could donate a few hours a week or month. Pick 2-3 charitable organizations of interest. Contact the chief executive and say you have skills in marketing, planning, leadership development, fundraising, staffing, or whatever you want to contribute. Ask how you might contribute these skills (or, if you are willing to stuff envelopes, you can do so) for the betterment of the organization. When you propose specific, high value skills like these, you will get a grateful reception and enter a whole new world of possibilities. P.S.
IMC chapters often sponsor community service projects, in which a team of members work with a nonprofit board or executive team to build capacity or on a specific project. Contact your chapter president to suggest a project or join a team (another place you can build your consulting network). © 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA