How to be an Education Consultant
A quick primer
I get several messages each month from people — usually teachers — reaching out for an informational interview to learn about what options exist to be an education consultant. I’ve had the conversation enough times now that I’m sharing out this quick primer of what normally gets discussed. Maybe it’ll save you the cup of coffee you were going to buy me or help you come prepared to our coffee with novel questions that really make me think.
Most likely, you’ll realize I wasn’t the right person to ask in the first place.
Start with self-evaluation
Working as an education consultant is very different than teaching. Knowing who you are and what makes you happy can spare you embarking on an adventure that leads to unexpected misery that should have been predictable.
A few questions to consider:
- Full time vs Part time? Are you ready to go all-in or are you looking to build something on the side while you have the stability of a job? What can you afford to do?
- Are you ready for the impact on your identity? Being an educator is a central factor of my makeup. It’s who I am. And even though I don’t personally feel any difference between who I was before vs after becoming a consultant, others talk. It can be hurtful, frustrating and distracting. How will you feel about it?
- How comfortable are you with uncertainty? Knowing your comfort level with uncertainty may help you eliminate options that aren’t right for you. Being an independent contractor means you don’t have a salary and have no idea how much you will earn in a year. Gigs with frequent travel inherently mean more exposure to travel delays and disruptions. Startup life can come to an abrupt end when the company goes out of business. Know your comfort levels and proceed appropriately.
- How entrepreneurial are you? For most consultants, there’s a degree of hustle that’s required to do well. It’s also important to ask yourself whether you want to be your own boss or work for someone else.
- Which way are you running? This is the most important question. Are you running to a new opportunity or are you running away from your current situation? The people I know who are successful and happy doing this work definitely ran to it. The work is just too hard to be anything other than what you want (or even NEED) to be doing. I can’t speak for others but my own experience is that this path is a calling, not an escape pod.
It’s healthy to assess where you are and decide you need change. There’s nothing wrong with running away from a job that isn’t making you happy. And if getting out of teaching is what lit the fire under you to explore other options, I suggest you check this one off the list because it’s probably not what you’re looking for.
The traditional pathways
I can only speak to my own situation and — to a lesser extent — what I’ve observed. Thus, this is probably not a comprehensive list and may not even be a useful one. You clicked on a free post and might get what you paid for:
- Join forces with a known legacy brand. There is an established company like a textbook publisher, adopted software, curriculum or branded strategy in your school or district. As a teacher user, you are one of the high fliers. Maybe you even help out with train-the-trainers PD to build capacity with peers. They know you, you know them, and eventually one side makes an overture that leads to going in-house with that company.
- Apply for a posted position. You find a company doing something that looks like a fit and they have an opening that requires your skills. I think these are rare and suspect that while the jobs are posted, they typically go to someone with an existing relationship. (To that end, always be networking so that you have those existing relationships!) It’s good to know ahead of time whether any sales will be expected and also worth your while to inquire as to existing business so you can have a sense of how stable they are.
- Independent Consultant: hometown hero variety. There are a lot of independent consultants that only have one or two clients. This person was often a full-time employee with that district and is now doing the same or similar work, just for fewer hours, no benefits and lower overall compensation (but at a higher rate than their salary). It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. I suspect most of these folks are either career employees or doing specialized central administration work not easily replaced.
- Independent Consultant: free agent variety. This is probably what you think you’re interested in pursuing. You have expertise, skills, passion and/or a message that you want to share with teachers, schools and districts. With your help, they will change the world!
Cracking into this last world is tough. Even tougher is making money (you want to change the world but you also have to financially make ends meet). You get started by broadcasting your special expertise, skills, passion and/or message so that potential clients know you’re an option. Present at conferences, tweet, blog, livestream, and make a habit of letting people know you’re available because they won’t otherwise think of you when they are making a list of potential consultants. And know that those other consultants are already doing a lot of the same things, plus they’ve published a book or two and have a thriving teacherspayteachers.com store, and they are chasing the same gigs you are.
You are wise to avoid attempting to be all things to all people. Focus on a strength that gives you a competitive advantage and go hard; if you fail, you’ll want to know that wasn’t because you didn’t put enough into it.
In honing in on a focus area, it’s a good idea to consider the fact that you’re about to be eating, drinking, smelling and dreaming about it. When it becomes all-encompassing, will that feed your passion or kill it? I believe it was the founder of Mail Chimp who I heard describing the difference between Doing what you love and Loving what you do. The latter is the sweet spot; doing what you love is a great way to transform it into something you hate. For example, when someone who loves to eat doughnuts goes to work in a doughnut shop, they are likely to quickly get to a place of never wanting to eat another doughnut again.
Are you running TO the consulting space or FROM your current situation? Consulting isn’t an escape pod.
Most folks I know start out doing this as a side hustle while teaching. It’s awesome to get $500 or $1000 or more to go across the country and give your first workshop. That cool jet-setter vibe fades a bit on the first month of paying for your own health insurance when you’re doing the work full-time.
You start to calculate how much work you’ll need to chase in order to earn as much as your teacher salary was. Then your dad will remind you that you no longer have a pension so you’ll need to add in enough to contribute to your retirement and budget time to manage your fund allocations. You’ll also have to handle billing and gently chasing down an unpaid invoice from 3 months ago that’s really killing you because it includes flight and hotel that you paid for out of your own pocket.
Just as you’d be misguided to look to Instagram to get an accurate sense of someone’s real, everyday, 24/7 life, know that the sexy and cool visible aspects of being an education consultant are a fraction of the work for most.
You landed on this post (or reached out to me and I sent you the link) because you are interested in pursuing a future that includes education consulting. I value that and hope I’ve been a worthwhile resource.
This post isn’t about trying to scare you away. It is about answering both the questions you came with as well as some of the questions I think you need to leave with.
Between my teaching duties and consulting work, I wake up every day super excited about my jobs. It’s challenging and complicated and busy and demanding and subject to many factors beyond my control, and it’s also a source of constant joy. I truly love and believe in every project I’m on.
I said that the most important question to ask yourself is whether you are running from your current situation or to the consulting space. This is a great place to be but you have to want to be here and be willing to work harder than you ever have in order to stay.
Thanks for reading. If you liked this post, please click to clap and recommend it to others! If you have thoughts to share about this, I hope to learn from your own response post!