Starting a Consulting Side Hustle: Final Thoughts & Recommendations

Starting a Consulting Side Hustle: Final Thoughts & Recommendations

Adam Cebulski

Senior Director, Office of Research & Strategic Initiatives, Campus Labs

Part IV: Final Thoughts and Recommendations

How many times have you looked back and said I probably wouldn’t have done it the same way again? I’m going to close this series with some lessons learned from myself and other consultants in the field. Keep in mind every situation will be different and these are just recommendations from our experiences.

Understand the market for your subject area.

While this may sound like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised to know how many people start consulting because they think it brings in the big bucks. It’s important to understand the nuances of institutions and the vast financial disparities across them. You could work on a change management project for one area and they will pay a certain amount, while the same project in another area is funded at half the cost. It’s just the reality of how institutions allocate money and the degree at which they use external consultants. Using a consultant is more common at a Provost level than it is for the Director of Student Activities. It is important to be realistic about your pricing whether that is your hourly rate or your final scoped project price.

Learn how to compete with the big dogs.

There are companies or divisions dedicated to consulting for higher education. They have the reputation, the portfolio, and the references. So what makes you better for the project? You need to be able to answer that. Get familiar with the companies in your space and learn how you fill a gap. Are they known for missing deadlines or poor customer service? Do you have the exact background for the project? Know you may need more in your sales arsenal besides just being cheaper.

Create a scope of work/contract template.

You and your client need to be on the same page about the scope of the project and the deliverables. There is nothing more frustrating than working with a consultant who doesn’t give you what you expected or working with an institution who keeps changing their mind. Every project you agree to, and I will even say unpaid ones, should have a scope of work or contract where you outline the issue, the steps to addressing or assessing the issue, and the deliverables for both sides. Are you going to run focus groups and provide a written report? Is the institution expected to commit regular resources like staff time to assisting you? Both parties need to know what they will be held to. Make sure to invest the money in getting a lawyer to review your template.

Never agree to a non-compete.

You’re a consultant and word of mouth is your sales funnel. You should never agree to a non-compete that is geographically or topically bound. By agreeing to a non-compete, you are potentially taking projects off the table for yourself. For example, if a state school in Wisconsin wants you to consultant on developing a new program for one of their student services departments, then chances are, if that project is successful, other schools will want to reach out for the same type of project, especially in Wisconsin.

Maintain ownership over your intellectual property.

Understand as a consultant you’re being hired for your mind. There’s a value placed on your thoughts, opinions, and background. If you develop a model for something that’s your property, it can be enticing to sell the rights to that if you’re offered a large sum of money. It’s a choice you’d have to make but it’s important to consider the ramifications of that decision. You are not peddling the same cookie cutter program and you need to be able to articulate how you create custom solutions based on campus needs and therefore, you’re not willing to release ownership of your model or theory. Again, make sure IP rights are part of scope of work.

It’s 2016, consulting doesn’t have to be in-person.

One of the biggest things I hear from people hesitant to engage in consulting projects is the lack of ability to travel. We’re at a point in time where technology has broken down this barrier. Much of my own consulting work is done virtually through email, document sharing, and Skype. A lot of projects don’t involve a ton of interaction with groups of people where in-person dynamics will be important (e.g., focus groups). It’s cheaper for the client to not pay travel costs and you won’t have to take vacation time from your full time role.

Looking back at my own career, I realized I didn’t follow many of these tips - from starting too early to signing too strict of non-disclosure agreements. Choosing a consulting side hustle can be an incredibly rewarding decision not only financially, but professionally as well. Often times the experience it gives makes you a better professional for your home institution and can open a lot of doors for future advancement. Have anything to add? I’d love to hear your stories or tips. Tweet me at @adamrcebulski using #learnforward to share!

Missed a post? Read the entire series here.

Adam Cebulski

Senior Director, Office of Research & Strategic Initiatives, Campus Labs

Dallas, TX