I’m not a great cook. In fact, for many years, cooking seemed like more of a chore than a hobby. My son is an excellent cook, but I think that was achieved out of necessity (kidding, sort of.) If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. Food is fuel. While this is true, it is also a science. A blending of spices and temperatures and fresh ingredients all resulting in the perfect recipe. The perfect recipe is hard to find. You can peruse the internet, look through binders of recipes from days gone by, ask your friends and tear pages out of magazines but chances are, the perfect recipe is the one you’ve made dozens of times and has been tested and loved by those you are cooking for.
For me, this would be my Grandmother Mamie’s buttermilk biscuit recipe. I’m from the south, so there is nothing I love more than my grandmother’s homemade buttermilk biscuits with fresh blackberry jam. They’re even better if I helped pick the blackberries. There are a few things to know about making these biscuits. For starters, it is best to always use a very old, heavy cast iron skillet. Let me tell you, if you’ve never had the experience of pulling fresh, hot buttermilk biscuits out of the oven, then you haven’t truly lived. The way the butter melts instantly when it hits the biscuit, and then the scrumptious goodness when you add a dollop of honey or blackberry jam, Ooh La La.
As an IEC, I’ve spent many years searching for the perfect recipe to build a strong business, be an advocate for the students I work with, be a bridge between parents and students, and most importantly, equip my students with the skills they will need to be successful both in college and in life. I’ve spent over 15 years perfecting the “perfect recipe” to help me accomplish these tasks. Much like my buttermilk biscuit recipe, this recipe is tried and true. It has been tested, thrown out, reworked and tried again.
Working with students and parents over the last decade has shown me these are the ingredients that have helped me be most successful. These soft skills got me through the challenging days and helped me grow in my business as well as my own personal growth.
The Perfect Recipe for an Independent Educational Consultant
Most recipes list ingredients in order of predominance, meaning the ingredients used in the greatest amount are listed first. Time Management is at the top of my list for a reason. Without it, everything else will crumble. There are many tools to help you with time management and coordinating your calendar. People love these tools and find them very helpful. In my business, I’ve chosen a day of the week to focus on each part of my business. For example:
Make a Plan Monday - Mondays are for making sure I am connecting with my team, communicating with parents and students and returning emails and phone calls. In general, Mondays are for weekly business goals and objectives.
Technology Tuesday - Tuesdays are the days that I focus on the technology plans I have for the week. I designed a scholarship software database that requires a lot of my time (that’s a story for another day.) I map out the plans for that technology on Tuesdays.
Work it Wednesdays - Wednesdays are for networking. These are the days that I’m intentional about building relationships with universities, community members, parents, referrals, mentors and others.
Thriving Thursday - Social Media and Marketing are my focus on Thursdays. I try to be intentional on these days on what message I’d like to be sending to clients, potential clients and others. I also try to send a few handwritten notes each week to thank the people who made an impact in my life during the week. There is power in a handwritten thank you note. Trust me on this.
Fun Friday! - Fridays are my favorite! I love writing and Fridays are the day I often try to steal some time away with a cup of tea and either research for my next writing project or get busy putting pen to paper with the thoughts I want to share. You can find some of these articles on my blog or take a peak at a former post I wrote for CollegePlannerPro.
The Weekend - While I’m not always successful in walking away from the business on the weekends, I make it a priority to spend time with my family and do the things that re-energize me. I learned long ago that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Take the time to recharge for both yourself and your clients.
I love networking. I love meeting new people. I enjoy reaching out to total strangers and also love the privilege of trying to encourage others who need it. I truly believe I can learn something from everyone I meet. Cultivating relationships takes time and tending, but the rewards are great. If I am being honest, the early years of my business were a bit lonely. While I loved the flexibility of my schedule, I missed working with like-minded people and having co-workers to collaborate with. I’ve since learned you can have the best of both worlds.
Teamwork is critical to success. I love my team. The people who work with me are the literal life of my company. I couldn’t do what I do without them. If you are an IEC who is just getting started, surround yourself with other IECs. I remember the many times, hands shaking, I called the IECs that I admired and asked if they’d be willing to spend 30 minutes talking to me so I could learn from them. To this day, I have a mentor who continues to teach me. I’m very grateful for her presence in my life and my company. If you are an IEC with a team of employees, be intentional about helping them grow. I use the same personality testing with my employees that I use with my students to help them find their best path forward. I do my best to utilize each employee’s natural gifts and talents in our working environment. If my team is happy, if they are thriving and doing what they love, then it is a win for us all.
4. Creative Thinking
Don’t get stuck in a box. Have an “eyes wide open approach.” In doing so, you’ll be open to new ideas to solve problems and make your business and coaching style better. With each new student comes an opportunity to grow and learn. The beauty of being an IEC and growing your own company is that no two IECs are alike. Be different and put your own personal flair into all you do and this will be your own “secret sauce.”
5. Conflict Resolution
Conflict resolution is a tough ingredient but one that you’ll need to get good at. I remember when I was young in my business and a family wasn’t pleased with my services. I knew this family personally and was crushed that I had not met their expectations. The truth of the matter is that you as an IEC are a very important part of a team that is going through an incredible transformation in life. Emotions are charged, expectations are high, and parents and students don’t often agree. This can create conflict for sure. Notice I said you are “part” of the team — not the whole team. You can only control yourself in this process. You can’t always control or even predict how the other members of the team will respond. Be ready for conflict. Handle it with grace and class. Stand up for what you know is right, but be eager to hear others’ perspectives. Above all, make sure to recognize that sometimes others will have unrealistic expectations of you.
6. Organizational Skills
Another critical ingredient to a successful recipe is organizational skills. I am so grateful for CollegePlannerPro as it helps with so much of my organization. In another blog post, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite tools and apps that help me with each part of my business, but until then, find a system that works for you and stick with it.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve had as an IEC is learning how to scale my company. There are many models and ways to do this. I’ve tried a few of them and found that some models worked well for me while others were a complete flop. The truth of the matter is there is only one you. You are the expert to your customers and often there isn’t enough “you” to go around. There have been different seasons of my business where I tried to scale in many different ways. Eventually, I learned where my strengths were and scaled in a way that best utilized those. (That is a story for another day.) There are many ways to scale. Use your creative thinking and come up with a few new ideas — you’ll be glad you did.
As I mentioned earlier, having a mentor can be critical to your success. Find the “greats” in this industry and ask them to mentor you. The worst that can happen is they will say no and point you in the direction of someone who may be a better fit for you. Look for the qualities you admire in others and look at the business model that other IECs have chosen. See something you like? Just ask. I’ve found that the IECs of the world are some of the friendliest people on the planet. They are in this business because they love helping others.
Last, but certainly not least, is the final touch to our recipe. It is the icing on the cake, the cherry on the top and the sprinkles to your cupcake. Kindness. While it may sound simple, it is often hard to locate this rare ingredient on the hard days. It is the special sauce and key ingredient in all you do. Kindness goes so far in the process of being a successful IEC. In fact, the college admissions process can be an emotionally charged one for all involved. Kindness is what reminds each student that there is an amazing plan for their future regardless of their test scores or GPA. Kindness is cheering that same student on each step of the way.
Once you’ve got this perfect recipe down to an art, you’ll find that people will keep coming back for more. Students and parents will feel confident with you leading the charge through the college admissions process. You’ll be equipped with everything you need to succeed and everything your clients will need as well.