Last week brought the annual visit to the accountan for a review of the year’s business for ‘Ruth Sutton Ltd’ and discussion about the coming year. As I anticipated and had planned for, my ‘real work’ as an education consultant is finally winding down after 27 very busy years since 1988 when I left my safe salaried job and set off on my own. In the early years when I was ridiculously busy my accountant wanted me to arrange things differently so that I could make more money and grow my business, which is what he assumed I really wanted to do. This would have involved ‘packaging’ my services with special resources that could be sold to a larger numbers of clients, or ‘franchising’ my consultancy, bringing in others who would do the work under my ‘brand’ and would be hired out to clients under my direction and supervision. ‘As it stands’, he said, ‘you can only be in one place at once, so there’s a clear ceiling to the work you can do and therefore the money you can earn.’ That was true, but it still didn’t convince me to go down the road he was suggesting. Professional relationship and trust was at the heart of my work: if there were others whom I could rely on to replicate what I could offer then they would have to be my partners, not my ’employees’, and setting all that up would take time away from the core work I wanted to do and enjoyed.
As time went by, and my work took me regularly all around the UK and then to Canada and New Zealand, I found a special role in putting these various systems in touch with each other, brokering very productive visits and professional sharing and getting great satisfaction from doing so. That was the ‘goodwill’ that had to be quantified when I set up the ‘limited company’ some years later and which was now coming to an end.
I’ve always maintained that an education consultant’s shelf-life is limited, and is also to some degree a function of the regular high quality work s/he is doing with clients at all levels of the education system. Once that work begins to slow down you have less to offer, and at a certain point you should be prepared to ‘shut up and sit down’. I’d seen some of my peers not do this, drifting slowly from the education business into the entertainment business, with the same old routines, presentations, ideas and decontextualised suggestions, – packaged, slick and still financially rewarding but repetitious and well past their sell-by date. ‘Snake oil salesman’ is too harsh a description, but you probably see the problem. The punters themselves often want you to soften and popularise the message, which is flattering, and it’s easy to succumb when they offer you heaps of money and treat you like a celebrity.
So when it comes to winding up my consultancy business, there is no financial or tangible ‘legacy’ product that can be sold, except the private pension money that I’ve assiduously put away over the years and will now pay me a modest and sufficient amount, if I manage it well. The accountant went once again through all the ideas that had first been discussed twenty five years ago, and with the same result. ‘So what have you got out of all those years and all that work?’ he asked. It wasn’t hard to answer that one: twenty five years of travelling the world, working with teachers, school and system leaders in many countries with a view always to improving the quality of real deep learning and teaching that children and young people receive. That work has been a privilege and a pleasure, and I’m rewarded with good friendships all over the world and countless amazing experiences as a traveller, not a tourist. My only regret is that I didn’t keep a more detailed and consistent diary, although I have a shelf-ful of notebooks, as well as books and articles I’ve written over the years.
There are a couple more work commitments in the diary for the coming year, and then I’m done with the education work and able to focus on learning and developing a different set of skills, as a fiction writer who publishes her own work and does all the promotion and marketing herself. That should keep me going for a while. What I want is the recognition that self-publishers writers are usually denied, and an added bonus would be the chance to sell my novels further afield…. and a tv or film deal wouldn’t come amiss as well. Any offers?