mnmlist: The Educational Bootstrapper

I’m a teacher for three days a week and I run a small business on the other days. There really hasn’t been a better time to think about sharing your skills with a wider audience and getting paid in a different way. The following are some of the things I’ve learnt along the way, and they may be helpful to anyone thinking of setting up a little sideline or small educational business. (Bear in mind that my aim is simply to make a living, not a fortune, doing something I like; for more hard-hitting business advice, you may need to look elsewhere.)

1. Test your ideas

I do this more or less constantly. I test my theories and those I’ve read, I look for counter-opinions and I’ll strike up a conversation about behaviour and relationships with anyone, anywhere. I even test opinions that I don’t agree with.

2. Read

I’ve read more than a few books and some have have been more useful than others. However, all have added to my expertise and, just as importantly, added to my confidence in speaking about my subject.

3. Question

I don’t decide on my opinion and approach, and then just stick with it. I am always questioning my own position (Socratically) and this means I’m always better prepared when other people question my opinions.

4. Identify the pain

The pain of poor behaviour is obvious and widespread. Identify what your offer will do to alleviate the pain that schools are suffering.
Then tell them.

5. Be prepared to shake some trees

You will not be discovered. Sorry. Invariably, it is necessary to get out there and put yourself in front of people and to shout about your strengths a bit.

6. Don’t be afraid of stating what is obvious to you

Your obvious is not always obvious to everyone.

7. Offer your services for free at the beginning

If you can’t sell your services at first, give them away but with some caveats. For example, when I was just starting out, I used to deliver lunchtime supervisor training for free. However I always asked for expenses and asked that a senior leader was present during the session. This was a great way to showcase what I had to offer.

8. Don’t expect universal support for your new venture

Some of your colleagues will treat you a little differently. They might think you’re saying you’re better, when in fact you are saying you have some strengths you think you can usefully share. Also, some may think you’re selling out by starting a business. They may even be a tiny bit jealous that you’re having a go. Most people though (including the important people in your life) will be right behind you and that’s all you need.

9. Accept that you’ll have to do plenty of stuff you might not like in order to do the stuff you do

Licking envelopes and chasing “leads” isn’t a massive amount of fun. As well as the job it says on your business card, (the thing you really like doing) there’s also marketing, maintaining a website, invoicing, tax-returns and loads of other stuff to be done. It’s more than worth it in the end though.

10. When you do charge, charge enough

In my experience people are more than happy to pay a fair price for great work that will have a real and lasting impact. I offer a money-back guarantee on everything I do. This shows how confident I am in the quality of what I deliver.

11. Do not think (too much) about the competition

Let’s take a running analogy. When you’re out on a run, it’s easy to be disheartened when someone runs past you. However, think about it. They may be running a shorter distance, have different aims, have more time to train, be sponsored or have the support of a team. It’s really important to stay focused on your aims.

12. You don’t need lots of money

It’s called “bootstrapping”. In my case, I just needed an understanding and supportive wife and an equally supportive boss who let me test my thing in the real world before I went down to four, then three days per week in school. In the beginning I made my own, very simple, website and only when I got some money coming in did I get someone else to make a better one. I only spend money when I have it. Even if, like me, there are people happy to invest in you, you might still want to make it by yourself.

13. Be prepared to get stuff wrong, and then carry on anyway

It doesn’t always go right. You can put lots of thought, effort and cash into something and it turns not to work. Dust off. Go again.

14. Use PPH

If you’re a freelancer, you need www.peopleperhour.com. There you’ll find hundreds of people who can quickly and cheaply do the stuff you can’t do or can do but haven’t got the time. It’s invaluable.

15. Blog

You don’t know what you think until you’ve written it down. Find out what you think. Blog.

(I practised blogging for a year on this very blog. It really loosened my blogging juices – as you can tell from that metaphor.)

That’s it. What stopping you?

Tell me what you think on Twitter @futurebehaviour or App.net @gregperry