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Higher Education Consultant – Really?

Multi-point video conferencing screenYou have had a successful working career in a higher education administrative position; you have been a leader in your professional associations; you have received institutional recognition and awards for your excellent service to the institutions you have worked for.  Your administrative career in higher education can be deemed to be a success.  You have met the challenges, shown great leadership, and provided the visionary insights to assist students and your senior administration.  You have thoughts that the next step on your career ladder might be to use your recognized talents and skills to help students and the higher education community by becoming a consultant in your area of expertise.  I agree with you – higher education consulting – a very worthwhile and logical “next step”.

1. What now?  You can:

  • Conduct consulting on your own through the networks you have developed and hope that this source of contacts will support a steady stream of potential client institutions.
  • Contact professional colleagues you know who are current consultants working for Acme Higher Education Consulting and attempt to arrange a meeting with their senior administrators to share your skills, background and achievements in the hope that you can have an affiliation with Acme Higher Education Consulting.

2. The realities:  Suggested “do’s” and “don’ts”

  • If you determine that you want to be a single consultant and use the network you have developed over a successful career in higher education administration, see a lawyer to establish yourself as a type of corporation so that your business (consulting and any consulting income) is not mixed with your personal income and that any legal and liability issues you may encounter as an independent consultant cannot impact your personal circumstances with home, family, and income not associated with your consulting work.
  • How are you going to “promote” and market your services? The first thing that comes to mind is that you’ll attend the state, regional and national meetings of your professional association(s).  That’s good.  And, you’ve talked with a local printer and they have developed very nice business cards for you.  You have, also, purchased some pens with your company name on them and you’ll distribute these at the meetings.  The business will flourish.  Hmmm — not so fast there, my friend.  Did you register your business name properly or have you infringed on the legality of registered business names?  Did you set up a website for your business?  Can you maintain it or is it hosted by a firm that is professional in such matters?Higher Education Consultant
  • You did remember to acquire adequate amounts of corporate liability insurance, right? Some of your client higher education institutions WILL require that THEY be the policyholder of record.  “Hey, what the heck is all this stuff.  I just want to use my skills and knowledge to help the admissions offices or the registrar offices or the financial aid offices of higher education institutions.  I didn’t know I’d have to go through all of this legal and insurance stuff just to do some consulting work on my own for the higher education community.  What gives?”  Most individual consulting businesses fail within two years of start-up. 1

The following is an extract from “Chief Learning Officer” and was authored by Jack J. Phillips, Chairman and Ms. Patti P. Phillips, President and CEO of the ROI Institute in 2017.

“Many consultants offer off-the-shelf solutions that may not be appropriate for a particular problem or opportunity. They can also be reluctant to deliver results that executives want to see. Clients who fund consulting want to see the business value and sometimes even the ROI. Worse yet, consultants can become a habit — once they get inside the organization, they are hard to eradicate.

Consulting can also be a risky business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consulting has the highest failure rate among professional occupations, with as many as 80 percent of new consulting firms failing during the first two years.

Being an effective consultant is not easy. You must have expertise, experience, and a passion for the topic. That’s not to mention the ongoing costs to sustain a consulting practice.

The Four Challenges for Consultants

  • To continue to thrive, consultants must tackle four key challenges. The first challenge is to deliver credible business results to clients. In today’s climate, showing ROI for major projects can be a market differentiator.
  • The second challenge is to keep clients satisfied, particularly in the face of changing projects, fast-paced environments and ever-changing demands. If clients aren’t happy, client referrals won’t develop and it’s difficult to have a sustainable business.
  • The third challenge is to avoid creating a narcotic effect where consultants always need to return to address the situation. The key is to solve the problem, implement the correct solution and eliminate the need for consultants in the future. Although this sounds counterproductive, it’s the best way to sustain the practice in the long run. The focus is on sustainable process improvement.
  • The fourth challenge is to explore the prospect of ROI forecasting and guaranteeing results. Some clients are now asking for a forecast before they go into the project. A few will add the prospect of a guarantee of results. This could be a risky proposition but it’s feasible when addressed properly.” 1
  1. Suggestions for Consulting Success
  • Do establish a working relationship as an IRS 1099 independent contractor with an established consulting firm that knows, markets and promotes the expertise of your skills, talent, and knowledge-base.Do NOT affiliate yourself with a firm that does not conduct this type of business model.  You will only injure your reputation and credibility within the higher education community and within the consulting environment.
  • Do NOT commit to an exclusivity contract with a consulting firm if your relationship with them is as an independent contractor (IRS 1099 employee). First, this limits your opportunities as an independent consultant, and it can restrict you from obtaining consulting contracts through your own initiatives.  If a consulting firm wishes you to be an exclusive employee associated with their firm, make SURE they establish you as an IRS W2 employee with company benefits and (at a minimum) pay you a regular retainer fee for having you as an “exclusive” consultant.
  • If you do have an affiliation with a consulting firm, make sure that any contract for your services with a client institution has the consulting company’s liability insurance needed to legally protect YOU in any situation that may arise that could impact a litigious matter. If they tell you that YOU need to acquire such insurance, have 2nd thoughts about having an affiliation with that consulting firm.
  • Contact the team at focusEDU to have a discussion regarding your interest in higher education consulting opportunities.

1  From “Chief Learning Officer” authored by Jack J. Phillips, Chairman and Ms. Patti P. Phillips, President and CEO of the ROI Institute in 2017.  NOTE:  This author still feels their conclusions are applicable and valid in 2022.

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About the Author:

Herb Riley
Since 2005, Herb has assisted the higher education community with consulting services in all aspects of student information systems and registrar practices. For 17 years, Herb served as the University Registrar at Binghamton University and had a career of over 32 years as an acclaimed practitioner in the areas of enrollment management, admissions and registrar services. In 2014, Herb and a team of like-minded and highly regarded professionals formed focusEDU to bring their skills-sets for providing assessment/evaluation consulting; national search services and interim placement appointments to the leadership of the higher education community.

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