How Durable is Your College Counseling Business?
Every so often, CounselMore puts out a short survey to assess the climate of the college advising occupation. The climate has changed!
We coordinated with our excellent colleagues at Quatromoney, a fin-tech platform helping families plan and save more on the purchase of college. Between their quantitative and our qualitative perspectives, we were able to review the true impact of an unprecedented event on individual educational consultants.
Rightfully, no one claims clairvoyance on any of these issues but there’s much to highlight.
*Majority of respondents said they are unsure if COVID will affect their business in the future
The sole proprietors among us have a certain tolerance for risk. However, this crisis has given the savviest among us reason to pause. The most glaring fact is families won’t have discretionary income to keep up with the Jones and hire a college counselor.
*60% of respondents said that COVID has negatively affected their businesses
In our rapidly growing industry (in the before times, BT) approximately 40% reported opening their businesses within the last 6 years. From previous studies, we know most independent educational businesses hit their stride in the third year of growth. Years two and three are spent figuring out service models while taking on clients; messy.
After 5 years, the initial investment has been recouped. This explains 60% of COVID survey respondents having between 10 - 20 years of experience and reporting they would stay the course for the next season before evaluating their company’s future. Feeling that they have foundation to stand on they are not making any large changes yet.
* 80% of respondents identified as independent consultants
Independent business owners can make changes to their businesses without having to consult anyone. However, on-the-fly business pivots are not a good idea especially in an echo chamber. Changing up a service model, offering discounts or pooling resources are good ideas and each requires planning, even when there’s only one boss to please.
It's a good guess that our service models will be stretched as high school seniors reroute their paths to college. Seniors are already avoiding enrollment deposits, and they are looking at schools closer to home. They're willing to consider lower priced education options, and they're asking counselors to suggest GAP year programs. Counselors will be stuck holding the bag of postponement planning. Having a product plan to embrace that need would be a well executed pivot.
*60% said the current pandemic has affected their business more than the Varsity Blues scandal
This survey result strikes as odd. At the time of Varsity Blues there was paranoia from within our ranks; a worry that what little trust and efficacy our industry had earned, we had irreparably lost. Widely believed, college counselors are seen as high-paid, side businesses whose practitioners are without training, licenses and knowledge. A college counselor will have the same market validation as a professional closet organizer. Each of us painstakingly builds our reputations bit-by-bit. One news story washed everything with a coat of suspicion. But for how long? In retrospect, not long.
Inequitably, COVID has taken its toll on everyone. No one profession is being scrutinized as the culprit for the mess. We know our client lists are filled by word-of-mouth advertising. We know that parents are moved to hire a college counselor when they hear a friend has hired one. When the crisis washes away, people will still need college advice. Perhaps, even more so.
The survey results showed we were all feeling the same pressures and guessing at the same reverberations of this crisis. Those entrepreneurs I mentioned, they’re showing off their pioneering spirit and offering us lessons in durability. Below are highlights:
How durable is your College Counseling Business?
There is no measurement more powerful than how you feel about your business. Recharge your entrepreneurial batteries with easy workable steps. CounselMore is hosting a series of business webinars, bringing in industry leaders to offer perspective and workable steps.
Got time to lean...you got time to clean.
This is what my retail supervisor would say to the 15 year old me as I was chatting with my fellow sales associate. Unfortunately, like a ringing in my ears, the rhyme has stuck with me.
In between customers is a time to reevaluate process, reassess costs, refine service, plan for upcoming growth and yes, clean. This odd downtime could be the contraction you and your business needed. There is value in your business beyond what you have for sale, recognize it as hidden treasure in your file cabinets.
There’s little excuse to not take time to learn the tools you’ve been stumbling through over the last few years. There are YouTube videos, teenagers stuck at home, CounselMore Google Peer groups. You have the time and resources to learn, now gather up the motivation.
CounselMore meets with new members everyday who feel skittish about new software or Google drive. In just a few weeks we've watch and celebrated with counselors who thought they were perpetually on the wrong side of of the tech divide. When they cross the divide it's like finishing a summer camp ropes course. You can do it!
Reassess your website. Review the websites of your competition, what they do well and what you should do better. Your website is your calling card and aesthetics are important, but so is content. Brainstorm a list of questions you receive from potential clients and find where those can be answered on your website.
Most educational consultants have created documents, worksheets, assignments, explanation materials, assessment tools, and the alike over the years. They own multiple versions of the same document. Opening their Google Drive is like standing under an avalanche of miscellaneous folders.
Take this opportunity to drive a psychological streetsweeper through your back office. Delete, delete, delete. If you can’t bring yourself to delete, make an ‘Old Stuff’ folder and move the old out of your way. Organize the hundreds of downloads/uploads that block the view of your desktop. Imagine opening your laptop and seeing your cat screensaver (is that a cat?).
This isn’t just about lowering your stress level or smoothing your tech experience, it's about unlocking the value you have built in your company’s infrastructure. Once you have uncovered these materials, you have the opportunity to group, edit, rebrand. When this crisis is over your business will need a grand reopening; clean up your brand.
Students are already asking about gap year and deferring admission. Asking if they will lose admissions if they don’t enroll by May 1. There is much uncertainty, and the admissions decisions that have been announced are updated in your CounselMore data. You do not need to spend your time tracking these updates. Although what you do know, correct, because and especially now, we need to take care of each other and there’s too much change for each of us to go-it-alone.
How you manage will be how your client’s manage. Easing client anxiety will go a long way in the post-crisis marketplace. It’s true we don’t have all the answers to every student’s question but we haven’t lost our counseling skills or college lists. Continue planning with your students, practicing as-if all was right in the world. Offer updated college lists and the confident-aire your students need. Remind yourself, that your business needs its #1 sales person leading this effort. Reassurance is for sale today. Acknowledge the uncertainty, but don't indulge it.
Many neighborhoods use Nextdoor.com to communicate local information. Communicate with your audience by posting college updates or helpful snippets of advice. These sites are heavily regulated for advertisement, but strictly providing information to the community now will put your name top-of-mind later.
Now is a great time to seek out relationships. Businesses are all in the same boat, looking at ways to engage their audiences. Loan your skill set to these businesses for free webinars for their clients, free access to your online resources, a live Q & A session, or ask and collaborate on an offering.
Planning an online essay workshop would be a large project to plan and execute. It could also be a whole new product for your business. Before taking on the planning, look into off-the-shelf resources used by your colleagues. These are fully prepared workshops with instructions, presentation materials and giveaways. Look to the CounselMore site for a list of resources. Or continue reading this blog.
Expanding your product line
Be on the lookout for the next series of blog posts that tackle expanding your product line; it isn’t just hourly or comprehensive, how can a cost to product ratio can be turned on its head, how can we minimize costs at no expense, or construct a pipeline before the next down-turn and more.
Our colleagues have walked this road or seen similar paths. Learn from one another. Join us at our weekly roundtables for CounselMore members. And be on the lookout for our new partnerships. These collaborations are bringing you more tools, more service, mare education, more community, all to CounselMore, for you!
Prelude to our formal announcement:
In an effort to provide IECs and their clients easier access to personalized college affordability planning, CounselMore will soon add Quatromoney’s functionality into their College Search & Student Management platform. You will soon be able to offer your students much more (and yes, you will pay the same price).
The two companies will also co-market together in their mission to help families find the right college matches and the most affordable. CounselMore and Quatromoney don’t believe in black boxes, we believe in exposing the details of admissions and college costs. Because informed choices are good choices. It’s that simple.
Written by: Margaret Rothe: Visionary Extraordinaire, Entrepreneur, and Founder of CounselMore 29 years of higher education experience, a Master of Higher Education Student Affairs, and owner of HigherGrounding, a college consulting firm; Margaret’s latest endeavor-CounselMore, a college search and professional management tool.