UPDATE: Check out the new Edupreneur section of my website with more resources for doing educational consulting!
I get emails on a regular basis from educators who want to make the move into consulting, but aren’t sure how to get started. They envision themselves coaching teachers, providing professional development, and supporting schools and teachers in a variety of ways, but can’t find any formal or official way of making the career shift.
I have to admit–I don’t know, either! I am by no means an expert in making a business out of consulting. I’m still pretty amazed that it’s happening! But since there isn’t much on the web to help people out, I thought my perspective might be helpful. So, this post will explain what worked for me.
The most important step should be taken by anyone who thinks they may want to do some consulting in the future. Actually, it should be taken by everyone! And that first step is: figure out your passion. Do you love helping teachers integrate technology into their instruction? Are you passionate about sharing best practices in a particular subject area? Does the idea of teaching other people how to reach students with disabilities make your heart pound with excitement? “Education” is a really broad area, so narrow down your area(s) of expertise. For me, this was obviously classroom management and helping teachers enjoy their work.
Don’t worry about whether your passion is “monetizable.” Mine didn’t seem to be, and I followed it as a hobby for many years when I was a classroom teacher without any forseeable way of making money. My advice is to focus on what you love and do the work because it brings you joy–make that the definition of success for you. There is no shortage of experts telling teachers how to do their jobs. There IS a shortage of experts who are willing to dedicate themselves to providing educator support–even when there is no immediate pay off for them–because they love what they do and genuinely care about teachers and kids.
Next, establish yourself as an expert. No one ever gave me an official stamp of approval and classified me on some mysterious list as THE Classroom Management Expert. I just put my ideas out there on the web! I started in 2004, and over time, teachers responded to my techniques in increasing numbers and I gained credibility. Having a masters degree and National Board Certification lends a sort of official-ness to my credentials, but I think it’s the voice and experience of a real person that matters most.
Site visitors kept urging me to publish a book, and in 2008, I wrote The Cornerstone. I really enjoyed writing it and released Awakened this past July. Thanks to the internet and major changes in the publishing industry, it’s getting easier and easier to starting your own publishing company as I did, or even just self-publish your book. If you feel like you have a book inside you waiting to be written, go for it! Write about what you know and love. Being a published author will lend you credibility, book royalties will boost your passive income flow, and you’ll have a manual for teachers and schools to purchase when you give professional development seminars.
Of course, you can get your name out there and establish a strong reputation in many other ways. I think it’s crucial to develop a professional community network through Twitter and blogging. Ask questions, participate in conversations, read books, and share what works (and what doesn’t) in your experience. Let your website or blog serve as a collection of your work and experience. Attending and presenting at conferences, both online and in person, is a fantastic way to connect with other educators. If these types of networking and idea-sharing activities don’t excite you, then you probably won’t enjoy consulting. Networking is never ending in this field and should be done just because you love connecting with educators, not because you’re hoping to get work . The most successful consultants I know maintain an extremely active web presence because they like sharing ideas–they’re already booked years in advance, but they network out of passion. For the most part, they’re just there to give and to learn.
Be prepared to read and write constantly. It’s important to stay current in the field, so read LOTS of blogs (and discuss them in the comments.) Relationship building is integral, so even when reading books, I’ll still go online and leave reviews on my website, Amazon, etc. to spark discussion and share ideas. I answer every email I get from teachers on any subject from room arrangement to behavior modification to parent communication issues. I respond to each and every comment on my blog. Is all of this required? No. Do I get paid for this? No. But reading and writing online is a big part of being a consultant in the 21st century, and if the very thought of those tasks exhausts you, you’re better off thinking of a different line of work.
So, how do you actually get consulting jobs? Think outside the box in terms of work opportunities. You’re probably going to have to let go of the dream of job security, health benefits, and a pension. Most (but not all) consultancy work is part time, per diem. For me, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Being an educational consultant means I have complete and total freedom to accept the work I like and reject what’s not the best fit for me. I make my own schedule and I don’t get bogged down in the politics that comes from being employed by a school district.
Working for a consultancy company can be fantastic. In New York City, there are several private companies who hire consultants and then school systems negotiate contracts with the companies. The organization I work for now is contracted with the NYCDOE as well as several regional religious boards of education, and I get the majority of my work through them. Sure, the company takes a cut from my earnings, but their outstanding reputation also means they get a lot of contracted work and command top dollar for it. They also set up the payments, negotiate the number of days and hours worked, hold meetings with the DOE, and handle other stuff that can really be a drag if you have to handle it yourself. And contrary to popular belief, the companies I’m familiar with (four major, nationwide organizations) do NOT micromanage the work. There is some paperwork to complete for documentation purposes, of course, but the goals of the consultancy and the way those goals are met is determined jointly by the consultant and school administration. The work is very much customized and school-based; the consultants are not required to push an agenda or sell a product. It’s solely about meeting the needs of kids and teachers. If this flexibility is important to you, make sure the companies you apply to work with hold the same ideal.
Use a feed reader to keep your eye on the job listings. To debunk a major myth: Craiglist is not a bad place to find work! I got hired by three major companies through their Craigslist ads! I set up a specific search on Monster.com, Craiglist, and The New York Times, and had the job listings sent to me via Google Reader. This way, not only were all the listings permanently archived for me, they were also searchable: I could type “coach” or “consultant” into Google Reader and read only the listings that fit what I was looking for if I didn’t want to scroll through all of them.
Being an independent consultant–working for yourself or your own company–is another option. I do that, as well, as the owner and founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services. Out of personal preference, I don’t actively look for independent consulting work, but I do regularly have schools, districts, and universities invite me to speak and conduct professional development for them. All of this work has come through my web and social media presence: someone reads my stuff, likes me, and gets their organization to book me. I don’t have set rates and usually way under-price myself because I know the budget crunch everyone is facing. That’s fine! These are all people who sought me out because they respect me and my work–they want me to help them implement my ideas, and I’m excited to do it!
Sometimes people ask questions that make it very clear they want to measure my success in concrete terms: How many books have you sold? How much revenue do you get from your website? How many days a month are you working in schools? I crunch the numbers a few times a year to make sure I’m being fiscally responsible, but I don’t pay close attention to any of that stuff on a daily basis. I measure my success as a consultant this way: Am I living out my passion? That sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, but it’s been the key to my contentment in this field where money is not guaranteed and many of the tasks don’t result directly in gaining income. Always do what you love because you love doing it. Some projects will bring more money, recognition, and opportunities than others, but if you complete each one because of your passion for the field and a sincere desire to help other people, EVERY project will be worth doing.
So, that’s been my experience. Over to you–questions? Disagreements? Anyone on their own path to being a consultant? Anyone taking a more business-minded approach to this career shift? Tips? Advice?
I’ve set up a new Edupreneur section of my website with more resources! Also, I am now available on a very limited basis to work one-on-one to answer your specific questions about getting started as an educational consultant or becoming a “teacher-preneur.” Phone consultations can be arranged for teachers anywhere in world! If you have iChat or Skype, we can speak ‘face-to-face’ over the internet via video chat. I can help you get started with:
* educational consulting
* conducting staff development
* instructional coaching
* publishing your book
* social networking
* building a website
* blogging best practices
* monetizing your blog
* creating and selling teacher resources
The rate for phone/video chat consultations with individual teachers is $49 for thirty minutes. Send me an email and let me know what your needs are, and if my current schedule permits, we’ll set up a time to chat!
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