‘Repurposing’ Material Helps HR Consultants Increase Bottom Line

By Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR Jul 2, 2008

Consultants know that time is money, and no one can get more hours in a day, so creative HR consultants are finding ways to increase the value of their hours by the “repurposing”—the revising, reusing and reselling—of materials or programs developed while on one job to other jobs.

In addition, many consultants find that repurposing can create lucrative sidelines and opportunities such as using a client as a case study in a presentation, writing a book based on various lessons learned or best practices, and creating products (such as podcasts and DVDs) based on presentations.

Vincent Laganella, owner of the Laganella Consulting Group in Jacksonville, Fla., advises companies on how to be more successful in outsourcing. Laganella maximizes productivity by productizing proposals and service offerings. For example, the consultancy uses the same proposal template to articulate its standard processes and work samples for its eCommerce web site development, he says. Out of a 10-page proposal template, the consultant usually needs to tailor less than five paragraphs and one financial table based on unique customer requirements, he adds. That approach reduces the writing and review process from days to hours, thereby giving the account managers more time to interact with clients, he says.

It is relatively easy to work from templates to be exponentially productive, but there are important steps to take to minimize errors and embarrassments. Consultants who reuse a client-specific template need to remember that the first step in the modification process should be to find and replace the old client’s name with the new prospect’s name and initials, he says. A better way is for consultants to use generic placeholders—like <client name>—in templates rather than changing the name with each proposal. “Nothing will turn a potential client off faster than seeing the name of a competitor in their proposal,” he adds.

In addition, consultants who use Microsoft Word need to check the document properties (File Menu—Document Properties) for important details like client, author, reviewers and templates. The important thing here is to ensure the templates being used are the property of the consultant. “I’ve received proposals from vendors that I know for a fact stole a template from someone else and discovered it by checking the document properties that were never modified,” he says.

Shel Horowitz, marketing and business ethics consultant and author of seven books including Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First (Accurate Writing and More, 2003), says, “While I haven’t made it a priority, I’ve certainly looked at some of the content I’ve created over the years as stepping stones toward reuse.” For instance, after starting a blog, Horowitz gathered up his best posts and pitched himself as a syndicated columnist.

Laganella and Horowitz say there are many opportunities for HR consultants to repurpose their work, not just for client interactions. For example, Horowitz is repurposing columns from a publication—Monthly Frugal Marketing Tipsheet—that he writes into an e-book that he plans to sell as a standalone product. Horowitz plans to include the e-book as a purchase incentive for those who buy another of his books, Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World (Chelsea Green Publishing, Rev Ed, 2000) as a way to keep that book current, he says. In addition, a good chunk of Grassroots Marketing was reused from earlier books, he adds. “I also keep a large collection of the radio programs I’ve hosted with the intent to turn them into podcasts.”

A Line that Should Not Be Crossed

While repurposing in many situations can help increase consultants’ productivity and build value for clients, there are lines that must not be crossed, says Michal Ann Strahilevitz, an associate professor of marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. “I am all for reuse, but there is an ethical dilemma here,” says Strahilevitz, who conducts research on socially responsible business. While it is obviously not ethical for a consultant to sell a company research conducted for a competitor, the area is further confused because defining the competition is not always easy. For example, it is well known that Coke competes with Pepsi, but does Taster’s Choice Coffee compete with Pepsi? In a situation where a researcher is studying the risks and benefits of caffeine, Taster’s Choice Coffee becomes a competitor with Pepsi, she says.

In addition, it needs to be clear to consultants that anything that is reused requires the permission of the client who paid for its initial development, Strahilevitz says. But even with permission, consultants should not charge the full fee for work already billed to another client unless there has been full disclosure.

Horowitz agrees. “What I don’t do is repurpose material I’ve prepared for a paying client,” he said. “I create that from scratch, each time, although of course certain themes and strategies show up again and again.”

Mary Key, a HR management consultant and leadership pillar director at the Institute for Corporate Productivity, offers guidelines as to when reuse is and is not appropriate.

Reuse is appropriate when:

The intellectual property has many applications.

The clients are in different industries and customized materials for their specific situations will serve them better.

A consultant has replicable systems that allow for the leverage of the material and personnel to make the consultancy more scalable.

A consultant wants to accelerate customer response time by applying best practice elements from other projects.

Reuse is not appropriate when:

A consultant charges clients for something that is developed for them specifically and then the consultant reuses it.

The intellectual capital is not the property of the consultant.

The consultant has not conducted an analysis to determine if the program being reused is appropriate for other clients.

Full disclosure is critical, say the experts. “This is not just about ethical issues; it is about legal issues and not wanting to hurt your reputation. After all, as a consultant, your reputation will always be your most valuable asset,” Strahilevitz says.

Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues.

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