How to Become a College Planning Consultant

Strike Up the Band

Now that you've laid the groundwork for your new college admissions and financial aid consulting practice, you're about to take a giant leap forward in its development. You're about to become an advertiser.

Experts say that businesses should plan to spend 2 to 5 percent of projected gross sales on advertising, even (or make that especially) during the lean early years. So what if you don't have much in the way of gross sales? You might have to use your second- or third-year projections to determine your budget. For example, if you use the $15,000 Year 2 projection figure suggested by Sklarow of IECA, your advertising budget would be just $300 to $750. If you project gross revenue of $40,000 in Year 3, your ad budget would be $800 to $2,000.

What's Inside

Most educational consultants finance these ad costs out of personal savings, especially considering how very low they are. And speaking of how paltry these figures may seem, you might think it's not possible to get much bang for your buck. Au contraire-it's all in how you spend that buck. So here's a look at some of the techniques that work best for educational consultants-and some that don't.

Creating a Brochure
Brochures are hands-down the best advertising vehicles you have because they allow you to present a fairly substantial amount of information in a compact package. A brochure can be as simple as a single-fold piece that fits into a standard No. 10 business envelope or as elaborate as an oversized multifold piece with pop-ups and die cuts. The rule of thumb for brochure printing used to be that you'd pay $1 per four-color piece. But today, with the internet and instant access to printing companies around the world, you'll pay much less. In fact, one printer we found online charges just $350 for 1,000 8.5-by-11-inch brochures, or 35 cents each, and will even lay out the brochure for an additional nominal charge.

If design is not your strong suit, you'll probably want to outsource the project, either to a professional freelance designer or to a college student majoring in art. You can find freelance designers listed in the Yellow Pages under "Graphic Designers." If you need a freelance writer to assist with the copywriting, you can find one in the Yellow Pages, too, under "Writers." The local university should also be able to direct you to a talented advertising or marketing major, as can any professional advertising organizations in your community.

Information that should be in an educational consultant's brochure includes:

  • A list of services with descriptions
  • A list of the schools where you've made placements (as soon as you have a list to speak of)
  • Testimonials from satisfied customers (very important!)
  • A description of your credentials
  • Full contact info (name, address, phone, fax, website, e-mail address, etc.)

It's not necessary to publish your prices in your brochure. If you really want to divulge your prices upfront, as Sedona, Arizona, consultant Judge Mason does, you may want to have them printed on a separate piece of paper that can be tucked into the brochure. Otherwise, your brochure will be outdated every time you raise prices.

While the parents of college-bound teens are likely to be your largest target market, Steven Antonoff, the Denver consultant, points out that you should also target professionals like psychologists, pediatricians, and anyone else who works with kids in this age group. "I recommend sending 'update' letters to professionals who are interested in knowing the skinny about what's important to teens," Antonoff says. "These aren't 'I just want to remind you I'm here' letters. Instead, I might tell them about an article I ran across and tell them they might be interested in it, too, because they see a lot of teens. Then at the end of the letter, I remind them about my services. Good consultants need to do this because it gives them visibility."

Burlington, Vermont, educational consultant Sarah Soule uses a similar approach, but with a different audience. "Every fall, I send out a letter to friends and acquaintances who have kids entering their junior year to remind them I'm here," Soule says. "I've been very fortunate that they refer me to other people, so much so that all my clients have come from referrals."

High School Programs and Playbills
Programs that are either sold or given out at various high school activities can be reasonably good advertising tools, mainly because they go directly to the audience you wish to reach. Programs created for various high school activities like homecoming, theatrical performances, or graduation usually have ads in the back, and they're usually very inexpensive-perhaps $100 or so. Of course, in the case of graduation programs, your ad is not meant to reach the happy graduates or their parents as much as the parents of students who will be graduating next year or the year after that. On the other hand, research shows that 25 percent of college students do not graduate from the college they initially enroll in, so perhaps you might have an audience among the graduates' parents after all.

You usually don't even have to go to any expense to have the ad created. It's possible that either the students in the school's advertising or art classes will do the honors as a work-study program, or the program may be sent out to an outside company for typesetting. In any event, use the space to congratulate the graduates/athletes/thespians and give your name, business name and phone number. No hard sell is necessary, especially since as you know from an earlier discussion, it's quite common for people to save educational consultants' business cards and other information "just in case," then to call when "just in case" becomes "soon" or "now."

Pitfalls to Avoid
Now that you've completed the curriculum necessary to launch your own educational consulting business, you're ready to embark on your new life of college visits and admissions essays. You'll find this foray into self-employment will be exhilarating, satisfying and downright fun. After all, you'll be master of your own fate. You can work as much or as little as you wish to meet your financial and personal goals. You'll also never have a boss looking over your shoulder or a daily 5 a.m. wake-up call for a rush-hour drive to the office. And people will actually pay you for doing something you love. What could be better?

At the same time, you need to do a reality check. Underfunding can be a particular problem for college planning consultant businesses, since it's quite common for consultants to earn nothing or even have a net loss in the first couple of years. You'll need to have something to carry you through those first couple of lean years to the profits that are more likely to start showing up in Year 3. In fact, financial experts recommend having enough savings in a readily accessible account to cover six to 12 months of living expenses because you certainly don't want to have to shutter the business before it has a chance to ramp up just because you don't have enough cash on hand to meet your expenses. So before you launch the business, check your personal funding sources, then fill in the gaps with a source of funds like a line of credit or an unsecured personal loan. Then make sure you're frugal with the cash so it lasts.

Naturally, there are other reasons why businesses fail. According to SCORE, the 10 key reasons businesses fail include:
Lack of an adequate, viable business plan
2. Insufficient sales to sustain the business
3. Poor marketing plan: unappealing product, poor customer identification, incorrect pricing and lackluster promotion
4. Inadequate capital, misuse of capital and poor cost control
5. Poor management skills: lack of delegation, leadership and/or control
6. Lack of experience and knowledge
7. Lack of managerial focus/commitment
8. Poor customer service
9. Inadequate human resource management
10. Failure to properly use professional advice, i.e., accounting, legal, financial, etc.

It's important to note one last reason why some businesses don't survive: Their owners have trouble dealing with all the freedom mentioned above and instead slack off and neglect to spend as much time as they should on the business. If you have the dedication and commitment necessary to stay focused on your business when the temperature is perfect, the sky is blue and a boat or the mall is calling your name, then you should be able to make your business work. If not, then you might want to look into taking a time management course or two.

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