“Developing a business plan is essential. This is where the scope of work and services will need to be outlined as well as a 3-5 year plan for the business.”— Scillitani
The consultant can provide knowledge from their proven track record of success as a former teacher, teacher leader, principal, or superintendent. Often times, educational consultants have different specializations, but the end-goal is the same: to work with school districts, students, and families to achieve optimum learning success.
Breaking into the consulting world is no easy feat and you are truly an “edupreneur.” SEEN spoke with Crystal Scillitani, education consultant and founder of LeadingUp Consulting, about her experience as an educational consultant, what she’s learned and her success in the business.
SEEN: What are some basic steps needed to start as an education consultant?
Scillitani: Developing a business plan is essential. This is where the scope of work and services will need to be outlined as well as a 3-5 year plan for the business. There are also the technical aspects of starting a business such as filing the appropriate paperwork with the state to establish the business, creating appropriate accounts (bank account, PO Box, phone, etc). This part is not terribly complicated as most consultants can operate under a DBA (Doing Business As) format without having to end up filing any complicated paperwork for taxes. This allows you to have your business name on all of the accounts rather than using your given name and blurring the line between personal finances and business finances and systems.
Once the basics are established, from there you would consider branding components (logo, tagline, online presence such as a website, etc.) as well as determining a marketing plan.
SEEN: How do you initially approach/pitch a school district with your service?
Scillitani: To date most of my paid business has been contracted via social media connections or referral based since I have a large network of professional contacts and have worked in this region for about 25 years.
However, I do often offer what entrepreneurs refer to as “freemiums”, a knock off of the word premium. I will reach out to connections and offer a free workshop for their teachers or principals as a professional courtesy. Freemiums can also be presented via social media in the form of a blog post, video cast, or other format. It gets your brand out there as well as circulating your name. The next time the school leader is considering options for supporting teachers or developing ongoing programs the hope is she will remember your work and reach out to you first. This also opens the door for you to follow up to see how things are going and if you can provide any additional support to the school.
SEEN: What are some of the valuable lessons you’ve learned as an education consultant?
Scillitani: Don’t say yes to everything. You’ll want to take any job that comes your way as a new consultant, but this can often distract you or get your business off course. Define your work and maintain your focus on getting the right jobs, not taking any job that comes your way.
My work is really customized to meet the needs of my client and this is time consuming as I scope out the work and build the professional learning program or work alongside a Board or Head of School on strategic planning. It is easy to underestimate the time commitment that may be necessary to meet the needs of a client so I have learned to choose wisely.
I have also networked with other consultants so when something is outside my standard scope of work I can refer a client to a consultant who provides that specialty area while I focus on mine.
SEEN: Should you have a specialization in your consulting work?
Scillitani: I believe that you should focus on those areas that are your strengths while offering a breadth of services that cater to the current issues facing schools in the area of student achievement, teacher performance, or school operations.
A consultant focused on literacy can offer a variety of services that are all focused on her expertise. It is perfectly fine to have only one workshop or one deliverable and to be fantastic in that area. However, if you want to turn consulting into a full-time business this doesn’t give you the opportunity to have a returning client base who wants more of what you can offer. You would need to consider the scope of marketing necessary to keep yourself booked and delivering that single workshop.
The most important thing is to stay within your wheel house and to know your strengths. Over promising and under delivering can really hurt your reputation and your business. You want your time in front of administrators or teachers to be engaging, memorable, and most importantly meaningful.
Educators are short on time and over-burdened in their work, leave them wanting more.
SEEN: How important is your social media network to your consultancy?
Scillitani: It can be very important in making connections outside your existing network as well as providing a process to keep your business and face out there. I have found LinkedIn to be highly valuable in connecting to other consultants and organizations who like to contract consultants to do their work.
SEEN: Ideally, how much experience should you have in your field before you branch out as a consultant?
Scillitani: I have worked with some really amazing instructional coaches who have less than 10 years of experience and could easily transfer what they know into a successful consulting model. I would say that at a minimum an independent consultant should have 5+ years of experience. The longer you have been in education the more you understand the pitfalls of trends that distract and detract educators.
It is important to have a frame of reference for and an understanding of the practices that have led us to where we are today in public education. There is a scope of historical knowledge, as well as legislative and legal knowledge, that are helpful in strategically working with schools in their improvement efforts.
Education leaders and decision makers need consultants who have a solid understanding of how to support teachers effectively and therefore increase performance results for both teachers and students.
SEEN: What business skills are needed for consultant work?
Scillitani: The most important thing is to have self-discipline and to be a problem solver. You can’t know everything about all facets of business, but you need to be able to effectively do the research and seek the resources you need.
For example, I began attending lunch and learn sessions in the Raleigh/Durham area and met an amazing brand strategy agent because we just happened to sit at the same table during a lunch and learn. These events weren’t going to help me meet clients, but they helped me to meet the right people from the operations aspect of my business. I connected with the branding agent to do my logo, website, and social media branding. These are things that are outside our my expertise so I knew I needed help in this area and it would be worth my investment financially so I could keep my focus on building deliverables and networking with potential clients.
You will need to create a basic contract for services, maintain financial records, and learn about small business tax laws (what you can deduct, how to track mileage, and things along those lines).
There are a lot of great apps and online resources that help in the area of tax deductions and tracking expenses and most of them are free.
SEEN: Advice for someone looking to go into this line of work?
Scillitani: If you are planning to create your own consulting business, be patient and strategic. The process of getting a client base can be slow and it takes time to build a business, don’t get discouraged.
Consider building your business while you are still employed by a school or district and having it as your “side hustle.”
The early days, weeks, and months are filled with networking, building a LinkedIn or other social media base, and a lot of strategy work. This can all be done while you are still working in your current job. There are a lot of ways to deliver content and to coach others and some of this can be virtual as you initially set up your business.
In addition, if you have a traditional school schedule and are off in the summers that is a great time to book workshops.