One of the most shared articles on my blog is a simple infographic that provides tips on how to build a personal teaching network. Similar to a personal learning network, a PTN is creating a plan to teach and contribute in positive ways in the digital world. This is a great way to be an active and contributing digital citizen, and to share from your life, learning and experience. However, some people contact me, asking how they can get involved in educational consulting. Where and how to do start? While there are hundreds of ways to do this, I offer the following eleven bits of advice, but note that these are not tips on how to get rich. These are for people who genuinely want to share and help others. I realize that making a living is important, but this is really just about making a difference for me. Some find it possible to make a full-time job out of the work, and that is quite possible. However, it really starts with tip #1.
1. Decide what you want out of this. Do you want to be a full-time speaker and consultant? Do you want to do it to learn and build connections around shared passions? Do you just find it rewarding to help and share with others? Do you want something that supplements your full-time income, but that keeps you sharp and learning? Those are many reasons why people get into educational consulting. A good first step is to be honest and clear about your reasons. That will impact the other steps. And it is good to revisit these often. It is fine to change your goals and purpose. Just know that this will also require you to change your approach to many of the next ten items.
2. Pick 1-3 passion areas and focus on them. Commit to them for at least for 2-3 years. After that time, you can always adjust, add, or remove areas based upon your goals, interests and aspirations. However, it takes time and focus to establish yourself as someone who truly is a leader in a given area, and focusing will allow you to be a person of depth…a go-to person in these areas. To be honest, I don’t completely follow this advice, but I still encourage others to do so. By focusing, you can build more depth, establishing yourself as a skilled and knowledgeable person in this area. I’m not a huge fan of terms like expert or guru, but if you persist in a few areas long enough (and share what you are learning), people will likely refer to you in this way. For example, I was at a conference several months ago, and a colleague heard someone talking about “the badge guy” who is at the conference. It took me a moment to realize that the person was talking about me. I’d not said a word about badges at the event, but somehow the word got around. How did that happen? Well, I read, write, and think about badges a great deal. Over time, people come to recognize you for the time, effort and work that you put into this area.
In terms of picking passion areas, some people encourage you to choose topics in high demand, hot topics that are driven by mandates or something that builds demand in the field of education. I realize that taking this into account is important if you need or want to do this for your full-time income. However, I choose to instead identify passion areas that are truly things about which I care deeply. If you are going to invest much of your time in an area, have a compelling why behind this choice. Why is it important? What difference will it make in the world?
3. Read and study everything you can about your 1-3 areas. Make it your goal to be the most knowledgeable and/or skilled person on the planet in those areas. Who knows if you will ever achieve that goal, but striving for it will help you grow and learn a great deal. You don’t have to wait until you think you’ve arrived. There will likely almost always be some who are behind you and others ahead. However, your thought and work in the area will be a valuable contribution to he field. and work. You might want to start by figuring out who the leaders are in the field, learning from their work and writing.
4. Find the novel stuff. Don’t just look at the popular books. Get into the research. Read the “boring” and technical articles, and books that others don’t bother to read. They may be boring, but I find amazing ideas in such sources. Analyze these resources, and then share them with others in a more interesting and easy-to-understand way. Collect novel ideas, approaches, models and examples. Become the person who does more than Tweet what 1000 others have already Tweeted. Some of the jewels in your area are often found in dust-covered research reports and doctoral dissertations, in largely unknown groups that are doing amazing things in your area but are not telling anyone, in older articles and books about which many have forgotten. Find these jewels, polish them, and display them with the world to see.
5. Get in the field. Reading and study is great, but if you want to be a consultant, you want to get into many different types of contexts that are doing good (or bad) work in your passion areas. Visit these places if you can. Interview people. Be as curious as a 1st grader. And, if you have time and the ability, help out. Also ask if people are willing to stay in touch. You are building a network around your area of interest. As as visit and interview more, you will find that new places will also what you to share about your work with them. Do so generously, but not to sell anything. Just share because it is a passion, because you care about it and you genuinely want to help. In addition to learning from others, do something yourself. Build something. Design something. Create something. Become a person who has both knowledge and skill in your passion area.
6. Blog and Tweet – Share what you are doing and learning. You can’t share too much. Use the blog as your learning journal, but keep in mind that you are writing for an audience as well. Using Twitter allows you to build a network of people with shared interests, but it also becomes a place where you can share links to new blog posts, inviting others to follow your work. This step is what leads to over half of my keynote presentations and consulting jobs. However, you want to produce substantive, distinct (even unique) content…and you want to do it often. I average 3-5 blog posts a week at the moment, but at least committing to 1-2 articles a week is a great start. Also, make sure that you use a blog where people can subscribe and follow in ways that work for them. Some still use RSS, but having an old-school email subscription is still preferable by many. This allows you to also see the growing following that is developing around your blog.
Some disagree with this part about blogging. They instead argue that it is better to create a newsletter and get people to subscribe to it. Then you share what you are learning in the newsletter…only with the subscribers. I’ve met many who had great success with this model, building a strong following. And, this allows you to know how large of a following you have. This is not my style. I put my stuff out on the public web, free for all to read and share. That is because my ultimate goal is not about building a client base, but about contributing good and valuable resources for the world. If it turns into consulting or speaking options, that is fine. For me, blogging is part of my calling as as learner and teacher. However, I work full-time in another role and I don’t aspire to be a full-time consultant now. So, I choose invitations and requests carefully. I look for the ones that really connect with my passions and gifts, and I decline others. You obviously need to figure out what works best for your goals and life circumstances.
7. Start building that Personal Teaching Network – Check out my past articles for this one. Pick 5-7 items and get going. You have something to share, something about which you are passionate. Go for it. Don’t be afraid to identify yourself as a consulting who is happy to work with interested people. In time, you will find opportunities and get invitations, but people need to know that you are open to and interested in this work. For many, this means getting out there and doing good, even if it is volunteer work. Along the way, this also helps get the word out.
8. So, be sure to have a section on your blog or site that tells people who you are, what you do, your qualifications and accomplishments. People are “shopping” for who can be of most assistance. Help them out.
9. Similarly, display your work. People want to know that you really know what you are talking about. That comes from showing what you know and what you’ve done in the past. If you get to be in the news, present a webinar, or present in an online conference; put that on a page on your blog. See if you can link to the events and recordings. Show a list of who you’ve worked with, what projects you’ve completed, presentation topics, etc.
10. Help people. Be generous. People will eventually start to comment on your blog, interact with you on Twitter, and contact you through your blog (That assumes that you set up a contact form. Did I mention that you should set up a contact me form? Do that.). When they do, be kind and reply to them. Show good digital etiquette. Thank them for taking the time to reach out to you. Never say no to a request to chat. It is fine if you have a busy schedule. Be honest about that, but at least offer a few minutes for a phone chat or Google Hangout. Or, you can just email back and forth a bit. This is consulting too. Educational consulting is a form of educational entrepreneurship, which is a sub-category of social entrepreneurship. As such, it is about social good. I believe this has to remain the focus of good educational consultants, even when there are financial realities.
11. Don’t be afraid to share your fees. You can search the web for how much people charge for speaking or consulting. There are plenty of resources to review on pricing. It is good to be aware of these, but ultimately you need to decide what your goals are, financially and otherwise. If you are content with $25 / hour or a few hundred dollars for speaking…and you can afford that, then go for it. However, don’t devalue what you have to offer. You have something of value to offer, so don’t be afraid to charge for it. I’ve done educational innovation consulting for almost half that time, and I didn’t ask for a dollar for most of those years. I gladly accepted payment or honorariums if they were presented to me, and I asked that people cover any expenses…that it not cost me to do work for them. At this stage, I do charge. Again, it all depends upon your goals and needs. With that said, still more than half of those who contact me have a pre-existing budget and make a price offer before even asking my rates. It is very rare that we don’t find a mutually agreeable rate. You have needs and so does the other person. However, do note that every time you speak or consult, you are building new connections that may lead to other opportunities down the road.
These is not an exhaustive list and there is plenty of room for doing things differently. This is not how to maximize profit. It is just the path that I’ve found to be rewarding…especially in terms of helping me to live out my calling and to have a positive impact in the education sector.