Author Topic: How to gauge interest in a non-traditional entrepreneurial consulting venture?  (Read 410 times)

JanetJackson

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Hi!
I am newish to the forum and have only posted a few times here-and-there, and then I found this thread!
I am a serial side-hustler with one full-ish (30hrs/wk) time job who is finishing school full-time and working a handful of side jobs.

So I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with school and considering my steps post-graduation.  I am considering expanding upon one of my current side hustles after graduation and either going at it full time or at least making it my only side job.

My main question for entrepreneurs is, how did you gauge interest for your work?  Especially if there are seemingly barriers for your clients to reach you (see below)?   

I've worked in some kind of special education setting for a very long time (TA, manager of a job-skills training program, director of a nonprofit education program for adults with disabilities, special education tutor, etc...).  What I have found is a PROFOUND lack of resource connections outside of therapeutic interventions or education programming for those who are differently-abled/non-neurotypical/disabled and their guardians or families. 
This is kind of hard to explain concretely, but I've worked with families & individuals on so many occasions who just need a person to look over a behavior plan and spot potential holes before they waste nine months processing through it, or to look at an IEP and break it down to be more understandable (a lot of parents feel intimidated at IEP/IIP meetings), or sit down and examine career prospects for an individual, or help them quickly find a therapist who specializes in puberty alongside autism ---things like that--- and have found myself being the one who is basically consulting between the family, therapists, the individual receiving service, the school system, county ADA drivers, Life coaches, BcABAs, program directors, etc. etc. to make everything run more smoothly.  Like an investigative symphony director.  I also think having someone like me OUTSIDE of the immediate service bubble can be really helpful, so I think this could be done as remote work as well, and I'd be very open to that as I thrive working from a home office.
I started to think about the fact that what I am really really damn good at is fighting for the individual and being a consultant and advocate for what they want, what can serve them best, and the people within that network while being relentlessly (obnoxiously?) positive.  I'm like a little bulldog for progress, I'm good at it, and I like it (as long as I manage my own burnout tendencies)...... so heck, why can't I be a consultant and do this for a living?

So how should I gauge interest in these types of services to see if this is viable?  Obviously I would need to narrow this scope down a bit and do the actual business planning.... but how will I know if this is something people will pay for? 
This scope of service would likely not be included in any state/county waiver systems because those unfortunately pay far too low and it's generally illegal (depends on the state) to double-stack them or have clients supplement them... so this would be an out-of-pocket expense for families that are often already strained of resources and stressed... BUT I know that I could help them discover new services that would save them money (for example, I once helped a family who only had $200-$300 to put toward a new iPad and necessary (but expensive) communication app to find a grant and get the iPad, five apps of their choice... and then got a company to donate a smash-proof case, and requested that the school write a communication plan into this persons IEP... this saved them potentially thousands of dollars, and they got to keep the $200+) ... and it probably took me about 2 volunteer labor hours and I did it all from home), so I know I am worth it... but how do I sell that idea?

I'm getting a little all over the place here, so I will stop there... but any insights into a non-traditional consultant type gig and how I could gauge interest?  I keep marinating on this idea and it keeps popping into my head as a way to create a growing income for myself while also helping people by playing to my strengths.   

freshstash

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With the right niche and advertising, this should be a workable idea. There are medical advisories that guide patients and families through the medical system out there, and one lady I know who used to work for one branched out to make her own business being a geriatric specialist in the same line. So there's nothing intuitively wrong with the idea. The best way to validate the idea is to talk to as many people in your target market (parents) as possible to find what they'd pay for and what they feel they really need.

You should probably accept that you'll be marketing to high net worth individuals in order to subsidize your work with lower incomes, at best.

LPG

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It sounds like should be on how you can save your clients money, while also reducing their headaches. If they're cash strapped they'd probably love to pay you to reduce their headaches, but can't. On the other hand, if you can promise to save them money they'll be able to afford your services, and the headaches will be one hell of a blessing. I'd go back to some of the people that you have worked with in the past, figure out how much money you saved the, then approach them to discuss your business model. If you have a strong relationship with them, this should be possible. You could quantify how much money you saved them, ask for feedback about how much easier their lives were as a result of your services, and gauge how much they would be willing to pay for you to do it as a consultant. If they're willing to give you a referral, or let you use their example as a case study, then you're using past experience to demonstrate value, and create trust with potential new clients.

Since you're working with clients who are often cash-strapped, you may end up needing to charge after the fact based on their savings. Some model like "My fee is 25% of the money I save you." So if you're able to help a client save $1000, you keep $250. 25% is a number I made up for the example; I'm trying to write about the concept so you can see if it fits.

If you find some higher income clients who are less cash-strapped, then I think you could shift to more of a "Pay me to make your lives easier" model. I would expect the marketing here to focus less on how much money you can save them, and focus more on how you can solve their bureaucratic problems. And you could probably charge more.

Hope this brainstorming helps.

JanetJackson

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It sounds like should be on how you can save your clients money, while also reducing their headaches. If they're cash strapped they'd probably love to pay you to reduce their headaches, but can't. On the other hand, if you can promise to save them money they'll be able to afford your services, and the headaches will be one hell of a blessing. I'd go back to some of the people that you have worked with in the past, figure out how much money you saved the, then approach them to discuss your business model. If you have a strong relationship with them, this should be possible. You could quantify how much money you saved them, ask for feedback about how much easier their lives were as a result of your services, and gauge how much they would be willing to pay for you to do it as a consultant. If they're willing to give you a referral, or let you use their example as a case study, then you're using past experience to demonstrate value, and create trust with potential new clients.

Since you're working with clients who are often cash-strapped, you may end up needing to charge after the fact based on their savings. Some model like "My fee is 25% of the money I save you." So if you're able to help a client save $1000, you keep $250. 25% is a number I made up for the example; I'm trying to write about the concept so you can see if it fits.

If you find some higher income clients who are less cash-strapped, then I think you could shift to more of a "Pay me to make your lives easier" model. I would expect the marketing here to focus less on how much money you can save them, and focus more on how you can solve their bureaucratic problems. And you could probably charge more.

Hope this brainstorming helps.


Hey LPG, that's totally helpful!  I certainly know the higher income clients are out there... but I need to get over my superhero complex re: "leaving the poor folks behind".  What I'd considered was a scholarship fund eventually, that I'd give the option of donors and higher income clients to make donations to.  That funding could eventually help pay me to take on a few low income clients each year.
That is the best balance I've come up with so far.

I like your idea about the percentages, although I worry about the extra work quantifying some stuff (how do I account for saving them lost time, etc?).

I am absolutely going to do a case study, and am thankful you brought it up.  Testimonials are always useful on a website too!

Smokystache

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It sounds like should be on how you can save your clients money, while also reducing their headaches. If they're cash strapped they'd probably love to pay you to reduce their headaches, but can't. On the other hand, if you can promise to save them money they'll be able to afford your services, and the headaches will be one hell of a blessing. I'd go back to some of the people that you have worked with in the past, figure out how much money you saved the, then approach them to discuss your business model. If you have a strong relationship with them, this should be possible. You could quantify how much money you saved them, ask for feedback about how much easier their lives were as a result of your services, and gauge how much they would be willing to pay for you to do it as a consultant. If they're willing to give you a referral, or let you use their example as a case study, then you're using past experience to demonstrate value, and create trust with potential new clients.

I'd second this. The challenge is that (especially in helping professions) people will always say "That's such a great idea!" - but that does not mean they will get out their checkbook.

Your description of what you can offer reminds me of an acquaintance who does this for people who are looking at assisted living/nursing care options in my community. He happens to work for a local hospital, but he's known as the guy you should talk to (for free) to simply discuss various options, community programs, and local resources as you or your parents are approaching the time of needing help. I'd recommend that as a way to start with everyone: "I will sit down with you, review what you're doing and provide some options. If you are confused, stressed out, and overwhelmed with all the different options, let's chat about it for free." (all done with a lot of listening/empathizing, of course). But be very clear about the next steps and the fact that you will be charging for all future services.

Personally, I'd avoid the idea that your services are based on a percentage. I'd set a rate and then discount it for families likely cannot pay your full rate. You can certainly emphasize the fact that many times you find resources or streamline services that actually reduce their costs. But I'd set an hourly fee for your services.

I'm not sure if this will help in your situation, but I really like The Irresistible Consultant's Guide to Winning Clients by David A. Fields. It is geared more toward straight business-type consulting, but he has a chapter on the early steps of finding people who have a significant problem with the means to pay for a solution and how to figure out how to market directly to them.

Random Marketing Idea:
- put together a brief presentation on a newer therapy/treatment and offer to provide it to an agency, parent-group, etc. ("If you're wondering what XYZ therapy is all about and how its benefits and if it can help your child/family member...") You don't have to be an expert or a practitioner, just know more than most of your audience. You could also present it to school counselors & psychologists, special education teachers, etc. Weave in brief examples of how you've worked with families to streamline care, correct misconceptions, and make connections with good resources.

I hope you'll keep us updated! Best of luck!

Cassie

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It sounds like a great idea!  Yes some families can and will afford to pay and for the poorer ones maybe some grant $ can be applied for and obtained. Maybe some of the social service agencies would contract with you on a case by case basis.

Goldilocks

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Oh that sounds like such an interesting job!
And yes talking for free (maybe limiting it to a half hour to hour) and giving options of additional things you can do to help and how much it will cost.
If you're worried about charging people who can't afford it, you can do a sliding scale. I know a therapist who charges ten dollars for every ten thousand you make a year. So someone making $30,000 would pay $30/hour, $90,000 would be $90/hour, etc.

JanetJackson

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Thanks everyone!
I started building my Website last week!  Now I am realizing I need to take a Wordpress class or something because I have no idea what I am doing even with youtube helping me along... My site is looking pretty sorry.  BUT, I am determined, and I'll figure it out :)

I just read (ok, glanced at) a behavior plan this morning that's being suggested for a teen that I know and poked holes in it like swiss cheese.... which reinforced my belief that I bring a really important perspective to the table.  If they'd signed off on this plan, and spent 6-12 months trying it... it simply would not work, it would be inconsistent with his goals, and produce negligible positive outcomes... PLUS, they've essentially wasted 6-12 months of service that will expire when he turns 22 (ages out of the school system)!!!  How frustrating! 

Thanks for all of the support!