I often get emails from private counselors asking for advice about how to expand and take their business to the next level. While there’s no magic formula to growing a business, here are a few things I’ve learned from great private counselors—inside and outside of Collegewise—over the last fifteen years. Start with these and you’ll be on your way.
1. They make it all about their customers.
Great college counselors don’t get into this gig because they hope to work three days a week and take long vacations (that’s not the way this job works); they get into it because they want to help kids and parents. Sure, there may be lots of other parts of the job they enjoy. But earning and respecting the trust their customers put in them—that’s what gets them up in the morning. It’s what keeps them going through the inevitable challenges that come with running their own shop. And it’s what ultimately makes them successful.
2. They never stop learning.
The best private counselors are always looking to add more to their college knowledge arsenals. They go to conferences. They read articles and blogs. They identify holes in their counseling game and take steps to fill them. They could rest on their laurels after doing this just a few years. But refer back to #1—they know that if they keep learning more, they’ll do an even better job for their customers.
3. They contribute to the counseling community.
A great private counselor’s desire to help kids doesn’t stop with his or her customers. They’ll volunteer for organizations committed to improving college access. They’ll accept an invitation to speak at a high school where they likely won’t get any business. They’ll run sessions at conferences to share what they know and teach how they do a good job. Their generosity builds trust. It helps the greater good for counseling. And it ultimately builds both their reputation and their business.
4. They play nicely in the sandbox with other counselors.
The best private counselors are too confident to fear or bad-mouth their competition. They want to get to know and even collaborate with competitors they like and respect. And more importantly, they hold high school counselors in high regard, as those who are on the front lines helping kids with a lot more than just college admissions.
5. They take the long view.
You’ll often be faced with a decision while running a small business that can be good for the short term, but bad for the long term. Do you turn your speech in front of the PTA into a 90-minute sales presentation, or do a speech so good you’re guaranteed to be brought back next year? When a family picks a competitor over you, do you criticize their choice or congratulate them on their decision? If you know you’re not the best fit for a potential customer, do you take their money anyway or refer them to a competitor who could do a better job? Great private counselors take the long view. They know that doing the right thing, treating people with respect, and building trust is always the smarter path even when it doesn’t lead to a quick payoff.