Consulting in the Pacific. The Sequel.

Everybody loves a good sequel.

There was such an overwhelming response, including many kind words, from readers of my earlier post on Being a Consultant in the Pacific and I’m indeed humbled that my experiences have been so useful for others.

Ever since releasing that post 2 weeks ago several things have been at the back of my mind that I felt were important which I missed out. So let’s get straight into it.

Consulting isn’t the same as full-time employment

Prepare yourself, and your family, for adjustments in how you live when you transition into full-time consulting.

You are not going to get a paycheck on a regular basis and you don’t get the security nor the perks you may enjoy in full-time employment such as medical coverage for your family, travel insurance, superannuation (FNPF for Fiji folks), living and travel allowances, educational benefits, etc.

When I left my last job as the Manager IT with the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency in the Solomon Islands my colleagues thought I was crazy. I left behind a fairly comfortable job with a tax-free six figure salary, medical insurance for my family, and all the other perks of a regional agency job in what is considered a hardship location.

The transition into full-time consulting and starting Traseable with Shauna wasn’t too bad because I had secured several consulting jobs and we had savings. But as we sunk more money into getting Traseable going, living like we did before, and digging into our savings, we missed the security that my previous job provided.

Irregular work and saving for a rainy day

Unless your skills and experiences are highly sought after, you need to accept that you won’t get consulting opportunities regularly.

You should prepare accordingly when you do get consulting assignments and from my experience this is what I suggest when you get paid:

  1. Ensure that your family’s basic livelihood costs are covered for 3-6 months or work towards that.
  2. Save for rainy days when consulting jobs are hard to come by.
  3. Make sure your tax, mortgage, loans, and other financial obligations are covered and you don’t default.
  4. Invest in yourself to grow your chances of securing more work.

I’ve gone without consulting work for a couple months at a time and also been in situations where payments are tied to longer deliverables meaning I didn’t get paid until later in the work. There have been months where I didn’t have any income coming in and only expenses.

In between jobs, invest in your skills and continue learning your craft or something new that will increase your chances of securing work and staying relevant.

Find a niche, become an authority

One way to differentiate yourself from other consultants is to find a niche and be really good at it, even an authority of sorts.

It’s possible and here’s how I’ve done it.

In 2017 when we started Traseable I had a whole bunch of knowledge about fisheries, building digital systems, and the Pacific Islands but no deep traceability knowledge and even less about blockchain technology. Coincidently, Traseable was a traceability start up and our first work in this space involved blockchain tech.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Will Durant

Over time, through interest and application, I’ve crafted a niche out of these different skillsets (fisheries value chains, traceability, digitisation, blockchain tech, and recently agriculture value chains) that we apply in our company Traseable and I get to use in my consulting work.

It has led us to speak at conferences, participate in workshops and conduct trainings around the Pacific region, in Asia, Europe, and even Africa. And I’ve lost count of the many researchers we have spoken to from around the World who have an interest in these things.

With my former colleagues of the Forum Fisheries Agency at the 7th Pacific Tuna Forum where I presented on blockchain tech for fisheries – Port Moresby, PNG, 2019

It has also led to several consulting opportunities including one that I’m about to start on a guide to help governments around the World make the transition to digital value chains, if they desire.

Avoid conflicts of interest

In my previous post I mentioned holding down a full-time job and doing consultancy work as a side hustle.

It’s important that you are aware of your terms of employment in your full-time job if you want to do this. There may be clauses that require you to declare the work to your employer and you should watch out for conflicts of interest between your consulting work and your full-time job.

Integrity is doing the right thing. Even when no one is watching.

C.S. Lewis

My employer was always aware if I took on consulting work and trusted me to do that work in my own time using my own resources. When working for FFA I wouldn’t take on any consulting assignments related to fisheries even though I was offered jobs. On one such incident, a group of countries offered me a six figure US dollar contract to be a consultant for them but after serious consideration I turned them down.

Sometimes the money might be appealing but I believe maintaining your integrity and professional reputation is better in the long run.

Learn to negotiate

Generally, we Pacific Islanders tend not to negotiate the terms of our employment or consulting contracts and often, very gratefully, just accept what is given to us. Nobody ever told me that I should try to negotiate.

Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

John F. Kennedy

Despite being involved in many recruitment decisions, I never realised this until speaking with some islander colleagues who were comparing their experience and salary with their non-islander colleagues. Ever since, I’ve learnt to negotiate a better job offer or consulting opportunity if I thought that I was worth more than what was being offered to me.

Where to find opportunities

Last week I was on the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Jobs website applying for a consulting opportunity in the Pacific that was referred to me. I ended up also applying for another opportunity in the Indian Ocean that I was also suited for.

As I went through this it dawned on me that it’s important to know where to find opportunities aside from your network of contacts and in the daily newspapers.

Not an exhaustive list but more a starting place, here are some places you can look for consulting opportunities.

Local/Regional JobsInternational/Regional Jobs
Forum Secretariat, Pacific Community (SPC), Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) Asian Development Bank (ADB), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), United Nations (UN), The World Bank (WBG), UN Development Programme (UNDP)

As you search for and apply for suitable consulting jobs, two things happen –

  1. You’re increasing your chances of getting a consulting job with every suitable opportunity you apply for, and
  2. You’re building the habit of finding opportunities and applying for them.

Now, go on and find that consulting job

I certainly hope all that was useful to somebody!

I’ve always been of the opinion that as much as possible we should pay the good fortune we receive forward and help others catch a break too. A few folk had reached out with their CVs and I welcome that.

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn here too and drop me a message.

Keep looking for those opportunities and stay safe!

Feature image: On a consulting assignment with the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) in Majuro, Marshall Islands in 2019

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