Teaching can be a great lead generator. It is how I got started in consulting over thirty years ago, and it continues to a nice source of business and income today. Here are five good reasons to consider teaching.
1 – You can begin right away. You don’t need to do extensive marketing or build a customer base. Just check your local university, junior college, or adult education program. Many are begging for consultants (or potential consultants) to share their real world experience, and would love to add you to their catalogs.
2 – Gives you immediate credibility and visibility. Teaching a class implies you know what you are doing, and that you have been vetted by the teaching organization. Of course, you do need to deliver, but if you have the right experience, you are already on the right track.
3 – You can make a few bucks. You won’t get rich teaching, but you can make this marketing method pay for itself, and help support your other marketing efforts.
4 – Develops your presentation skills. This is a very important skill for consultants, and there is nothing like practice to improve those skills. (With over 200 classes under my belt, I’m still learning…)
5 – Showcases your knowledge and experience to potential clients. No, don’t do a hard sell, but if they need more help, you’ll be among the first they will ask. After all, presumably you have already helped them through your teaching.
This marketing method is ideal for potential or part time consultants. Teaching a class presents a very low threat to your employer, and even enhances your value. Along with skills and experience, you’ll be seen as someone with initiative to improve both yourself and your students.
Teaching is how it all began for me. My business partner was already teaching an adult evening class at a local vo-tech (vocational technical school), and recruited me to teach a class. These were introductory electronics classes, so as electrical engineers we were pretty well qualified. The real challenge was to keep it simple.
Even so, at first I wasn’t sure. I’d never taught, but it sounded interesting. Besides, the school was in a bit of a panic, as the instructor for my class had to back out at the last minute due to health problems. So I jumped in, and have never regretted it.
The teaching assignment led to several interesting projects, which only served to whet our appetites for consulting. For several years, the school was our primary client. And yes, we got paid for these extracurricular projects.
- Our first project was to clean up the adult electronics curriculum for the vo-tech. The classes were disjointed, and they wanted to make them more cohesive. We identified several new classes to fill in the gaps, and even recruited engineering colleagues to teach them. Both the school and our colleagues were delighted.
- A big project emerged to develop a two year program on printed circuit board design. Unknown to us, the school had received a state grant, and needed someone to do the technical work. It turned out to be a lot of work, but the grant was generous enough that we made a very nice profit on the project.
- Another interesting project was to develop a seminar on how to select a business computer. This was when the IBM PC first arrived, and the local business community was hungry for unbiased advice. The school wanted to do a semester class, but we suggested a three hour seminar instead. This was quite successful, and gave us or first experience with focused seminars.
- The classes started to generated external consulting. Our first independent project was helping select a computer system for a local medical society. The clients had attended our computer seminar. Other similar projects followed.
As a bonus, the teaching experience gave us the confidence and the skills to offer our own seminars and workshops some years later as full time consultants. These eventually became a significant part of our income. (We have now trained over 10,000 students in our technical specialty, greatly enhancing our client base.) But without the early teaching, we might not have done it.
So where do you start? Check out your local adult education programs (colleges, junior colleges, libraries, etc.) They make it simple for you, as they provide the venue and do all the marketing. They may have prepared classes they want taught, such as introductory accounting, business law, web design, computer programming, etc. They may also have some elementary training for new instructors.
Another option is for-profit training companies. These companies often use contract instructors to deliver their materials. Most are also open to new classes if you are ready to develop your own materials. Keep in mind, thought, that this can turn into a lot more work than expected. Nevertheless, if you have a topic you feel strongly about, this can be a good option.
Can you do this? Yes, if you have the interest and experience. I had a speech class in college and hated it, but when I started teaching basic electronics, I was amazed at how easy and fun it was. The latter is important — there is no thrill quite like seeing the “light go on” when a student “gets it.”
Finally, keep it simple. Stick to the basics. You are not trying to impress your peers — rather, you are trying to convey introductory information. If your students want more advanced information, they may eventually turn into clients. But if not, you’ll still have the satisfaction of helping someone learn more about your subject.
In closing, consider teaching as a potential stepping stone to your own JumpToConsulting.
P.S. - What about your own seminars/workshops/webinars? Another variation on teaching, but much more work up front. As such, generally not recommended until you are establisehd. We’ll cover those in more detail in a future post.
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