1. How did you get
started as a consultant?
2. How do you spend
a typical workday?
I did presentations at local, state, and national English conferences
for a few years. One year, a friend and I discussed doing some summer
AP workshops, and that started the ball rolling. As they say, the rest
I work with schools and districts to improve writing instruction. I
also offer my own hotel-based workshops across the country on a variety
of subjects, mostly writing. When I’m home, I’m writing
curriculum, contacting people about future workshops, doing conference
calls with my presenters.
3. How many hours
a week do you work?
It varies. This business is very seasonal. August and September are
usually fulltime because there is so much staff development done; December,
January, and May are usually quiet; the other months are booked half
of the days.
4. How long
have you been consulting?
5. Besides consulting,
what else do you do?
I write journal articles for publication, take vacations with my husband,
and spend time with our new grandson.
6. Do you like being
a consultant? Why or why not?
I am affecting greater change doing this, teaching teachers how to teach
essay writing, than I did in my own classroom. That motivates me. I
also want to prevent suffering and allay fear in other teachers since
no one did that for me when I started teaching.
7. You do a lot of
traveling, do you enjoy that, or is it just something you have to do
in order to be successful? If you could think of another way to spread
your information without personally traveling, what would that be?
To do this kind of
work, I have to travel. I suspect anyone who travels a great deal would
say the same thing: traveling is hard work, and life on the road can
get you down. I’ve considered doing distance learning through
TV, videoconferences, and CDs instead of doing workshops, but none of
these does the job as well as face-to-face teaching. My workshops aren’t
static speeches; they model actual teaching so that people can get a
sense of what it will look like back in the classroom.
8. Your company has
grown from when you started doing this alone. How many people work for
you now and what types of responsibilities do they have?
I have 3 fulltime
presenters (all retired teachers) who travel as much as they want to.
In addition, I have 5 part-timers who travel off and on. I hope to have
10 fulltime presenters trained by the end of the next school year. They
present the same workshops I do. I spend a great deal of time preparing
them to do that – they observe me and each other, practice, talk
to me about ways to tighten up any workshop. I’ve scripted each
workshop day so that I can guarantee the consistency of content and
delivery. We also meet as a group of trainers every two or three months
to work on curriculum, discuss workshop issues, and talk about professional
items that I want them to learn about and incorporate into their presentations.
I also have a marketing and research director now who sets up exhibit
space for my company at various conferences (such as the Houston AP
National Conference 2 weeks ago and the National Middle School Conference
coming up next year).
9. Is there anything
you miss doing yourself since your company has expanded? Why?
I miss being with
students. I get myself back into classrooms as a volunteer to keep my
hand in and spend time with teenagers. As the company gets bigger, I
have a different set of responsibilities, esp. in monitoring the performance
of my trainers. It’s more like being the principal now than always
being in the trenches. One plus of having trainers, though, is that
I have more time to volunteer at schools doing my program so I can improve
and develop new ways to reach all kids.
10. Besides the writing
program’s benefits, what factor do you think has been the most
important to your company’s success and why?
have said that we offer realistic, tested, and proven ideas that have
worked for us and work for them. They appreciate the practical ideas
we offer from our years of experience. My trainers must all have extensive
experience teaching my program. Some people have said they would like
to be a trainer but don’t have enough teaching experience to persuade
an audience to listen to them.
11. Besides looking
at the state standards for a group requesting your workshop, what other
information do you feel it is important to know about your clients before
SES, demographics of the student body, how many free and reduced
lunch students, ethnicity, age range of a staff, experience level of
a staff, how many principals the school has had in the last 10 years,
whether they are a program improvement/low performing school, pregnancy
rate, 2-year and 4-year college attendance rate, test scores for any
assessment students take, whether the staff is coming voluntarily or
is being required to attend, how many people and schools will be there,
what kind of writing program they have in place already, whether the
English Department keeps writing folders, how often the department meets
to write curriculum and discuss student work. (I had no idea this list
would be that long. I am so used to asking all of these questions automatically
that I was astonished at the number of things I need to know.)
12. How did you envision
consulting when you first started and how do you see it now?
I envisioned doing
this on a weekend here or there, but the calls started coming in, and
there were too many requests than could be filled just on weekends.
These days, I see my job as growing the company, getting a large cadre
of trainers in place, and hiring more people to take over some tasks
I’ve been doing, like scheduling people, arranging logistics for
workshops, following up on requests for workshop information. I need
more time to write, and traveling fulltime doesn’t allow me enough
time to do that.
13. If you weren’t
promoting your writing program, what other type of consulting would
you choose to do?
Maybe visiting companies
of any sort to provide an outsider’s take on things, a person
who is there to ask questions and synthesize the responses in order
to help the company improve.
14. Besides school
districts, what other types of clients have approached you?
thought about approaching some private companies to discuss training
their employees to write better, but I don’t have the time for
that right now.
15. What has been
your biggest challenge?
The same one, always:
persuading my critics to come to one of my workshops to hear the complete
version of my writing program before they criticize it. I have invited
a number of them to come free of charge, offered to comp them, so that
they can have an informed view of the program. No one has taken me up
on my offer. I field a great deal of hate mail about my writing program.
16. What qualities/type
of personality do you look for when hiring someone to join your consulting
They must believe
what I do about kids and writing: all students can think, and all students
17. If you had a
choice to hire a classroom teacher or a curriculum developer from a
publishing company as a consultant, who would you choose and why?
sense of humor
good writing skills themselves
experience teaching my writing program
a desire to teach other teachers; we have a reputation of being incredibly
I need people who have been on the front lines and know kids inside
and out. Teacher groups resist listening to anyone who hasn’t
been there. I can teach a teacher more about curriculum theory; I can’t
teach a curriculum developer enough about teaching kids to give them
I was interested
to see a number of retired teachers working for various publishers when
I attended NCTE conferences over the last several years. Publishing
companies want the same thing I do.
18. What warning
would you give to a teacher starting out in your business?
No warnings but some
advice (which I wish I had had when I started—common cry of small
Decide what product you want to sell.
Search the field to see who is selling similar products, and differentiate
yours from the others. It pays to build a niche market.
Talk to other business owners early and often. Their experience can
save you many headaches.
Get an accountant to advise you on income, expenses, tax issues that
Get a graphic designer to develop a logo, banner, other identifying
Write a business plan with goals to achieve in the next year, next
2 years, 5 years, 10 years. Revisit the plan regularly.
Direct mail works. Buy mailing lists and get a mailing service to
do flyers and brochures.
A website is a requirement. If you’re not on the web, you don’t
exist. And add credit cards to the site. More and more people want to
order online, and this is the cleanest way to do it.
Advertising: look at all the ways your business can advertise its
wares and budget accordingly. For example, I ran some ads in English
Journals over several years’ time but didn’t think the ads
got a good enough response. I increased my direct mail budget instead
and have been pleased with the results.
Join a gym or health club to ensure exercise. It reduces stress, keeps
your health up when the road trips wear you down, and helps you make
decisions. I was interested to read an article recently that outlined
a 60-minute workout that you can do in your hotel room with minimum
equipment –an important thing for me since I never check luggage
and don’t have extra space to carry much beyond what I must.