In these troubled times for school budgets lots of experienced and capable senior leaders are suddenly finding themselves without a role. For lots of them becoming a freelance education consultant can seem an attractive possibility. If you’re thinking of taking the jump here are some factors to help make your venture a successful one.
As with any business you will need to have a strong area that marks you out as different from the rest of the pack. There will be literally thousands of consultants out there providing general school improvement planning or teaching and learning audits – but how many specialise in, say, raising boys’ achievement. Focusing on your strength will enable you to cut through the pack when you first get started.
To a large extent your business will be built on referrals, so plan to overdeliver on your first jobs. Make them love you and ask if they’d be willing to refer you on to other clients. By doing this you’ll get a regular client and hopefully lots of new ones too.
To start with you won’t have any existing business – so speak to all your old contacts from previous roles to see if there’s anything you can help with. This will seem like tough going but will at least give you something to start with.
Your first months are likely to be lean months whilst you’re building up your client base, so make sure you have a bit of a cushion so that you can weather it. Bear in mind as well that you won’t be getting a regular pay cheque like you used to and there will be a lag between delivery of the work and payment. Budget for that too.
When you first get started it shouldn’t be profitability that’s the issue, rather it’s cash. You’ll have a couple of months with nothing coming in at all, even if you’re working like the blazes. So do your best to mitigate it – put all but the most essential purchases on the backburner, and make sure you invoice as soon as possible.
The transition to a freelance role can be a difficult one. Consider getting a part time position or another form of regular work which perhaps pays a bit less well but gives you a bit of a regular income. You can always scale down the committment as you start to get more consultancy work in.
You’ve got a number of different options if you’re a consultant – limited company or sole trader plus 3 or 4 different potential VAT programmes (if you register at all). You’ll also have the issue of your personal tax to deal with which you’ll need to stay on the right side of to avoid any unpleasant surprises. So get good advice from an accountant. This is one area where you really don’t want to go wrong.
As a freelance consultant your value all comes through from your experience with teaching. The further away you get from the classroom the harder it is to provide the really practical strategies that will help your clients. Instead there’s always the risk of sliding towards the parody of the education consultant, who got into consultancy to get out of teaching. So keep your hand in and keep your skills sharp.
As a freelance consultant you can get put into some pretty difficult situations – asked to give advice on areas you’ve had little experience in or plunged right into a school’s politics. Say no if you don’t feel you can do a job your best, or that you don’t want to – some jobs just aren’t worth the hassle.
Ultimately life as a freelance education consultant isn’t for everyone. There’s a lot of travelling involved and some people just don’t like the lack of certainty as to where their next pay cheque’s coming from. So if you do decide to take the plunge – make sure you enjoy it. No decision is ever irreversible.
If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and would like any further advice, do tweet me @creativeedu and I’d be happy to help in any way I can.
If you’ve already gone freelance, and are looking for work, had you considered training? If that sounds like something you’d be interested in you can always apply with us here.