Starting a Consulting Side Hustle: Just on the Side or New Career?

Starting a Consulting Side Hustle: Just on the Side or New Career?

Adam Cebulski

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

Part III: Just on the Side or New Career?

You’re quitting your job? Aren’t you scared? How will you live?
These are all great questions and ones you’re likely to hear if you decide to pursue consulting as your career path.

Deciding to move to consulting full time is an incredibly hard decision to make and one that is only for a small percentage of those who start doing consulting as a side hustle. It involves a high degree of risk because you may not know when your next project will be coming. Depending on the type of consulting you do, there can be very slow times when you’re worried you may not have income for a while. So deciding you’re going to only do consulting as your primary source of income relies on you having a very established portfolio and reference book, but it also means you have the financial ability to potentially hit some dry months. There’s a few different ways you can approach making the decision. None of them are easy but some forms of consulting make the decision less of a challenge.

Well-Funded Functional Areas
Knowing if your specialty area is well-funded at institutions is an important factor in deciding to go full-time. For instance, if you are solely consulting in student affairs at a programmatic level, there will potentially be challenges with having to increase quantity to bring in an appropriate annual salary while dealing with the challenge of time management for all of those projects. Student affairs is typically an underfunded area not as keen on using external consultants so you will have to do more lower-priced projects where a provost-level consulting project allows for higher prices, but also meaning less projects. It all depends on what area(s) you’re working with, how prevalent external consulting is, and what types of budgets are available.

Project vs Time Pricing
There are some types of consulting opportunities which aren’t project-based but time-based. So instead of having a project with a finite start/end date with deliverables, you may have institutions purchase a percentage of your time. This model is most common when they need to make a large change or do succession planning, but need you to fully understand the scope of the situation. So for instance, they may need you to be on-site or hold a “temporary position” to conduct a full needs assessment and then provide recommendations for change. Often these don’t have concrete end dates, as they’re budgeted for differently, and are usually at a high level at an institution. Typically this means you may be working with one, maybe two, clients at a time but they’re much more robust engagements.

Choosing the right method, and ultimately if you can and want to go full time as a consultant, will often be based on the type and topic of consulting you do. While we know we love working in education and influencing how it operates, we have to make sure the decisions we make are sustainable. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to keep it a side hustle and maintaining the freedom to take on projects when you want them and not have it affect your regular income.

Whether you decide to pursue it full time or keep it as your side hustle, there are definitely some tips to keep in mind while consulting. We’ll close the series with some lessons learned the hard way for those interested in pursuing consulting.

Adam Cebulski

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

Dallas, TX