There are a lot of things I’ve learned along the way about small business and being in charge of my own admissions consulting firm. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a member of a Facebook group I’m a part of. She sent me a bunch of questions about my life, my work and how I felt about it, so I thought it was a great opportunity to share some of the experiences of my day-to-day with you all! Here’s the first edition of the 5-part Founder Focus series. Enjoy!
What exactly is your job?
When I tell most people what I do, I usually can’t just stop at stating, “I run an admissions consulting company.” The phrase “admissions consulting” doesn’t really mean much to most people outside of the world of higher education. We (The Art of Applying team) primarily help working professionals apply to the world’s top policy schools, business schools, and law schools to earn their master’s degrees in those areas. We also help our clients apply for fellowships and scholarships to fund their studies. I founded The Art of Applying in 2010 while I was at Harvard with a $10,000 fellowship from Harvard Business School’s Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship. I now have a team of 10+ consultants, most of whom are alumni of these top schools. My consultants live all over the world and work with clients remotely on their applications. We help with guidance and strategy on everything from figuring out if you should apply this year or wait, deciding on the best test prep strategy for your budget, ways to strengthen your application profile, which schools to apply to, which stories to tell in your essays, editing, polishing and perfecting essays, choosing your recommenders and preparing them to write strong letters, preparing for interviews, making the most of school visits, applying for fellowships and requesting additional funding, and choosing between multiple offers. Think of us as the accessible, dedicated, expert guidance counselor you wish you had in high school and college. In the coming years, we hope to expand more into college applications, additional graduate degrees, and offer more in-person workshops.
How did you market yourself to land your first client?
My very first paying client was my boyfriend at the time. I told him I wanted to start charging people to help them get into grad school and to my surprise and delight, he asked to be my first client. I charged him something like $3500 for unlimited help with 3 applications. He was a nontraditional applicant, and I felt confident I could get him into a great school. He got admitted (from the waitlist) into Northwestern Kellogg, his #1 choice business school. However, we broke up shortly afterward. I am grateful to him and all of my earliest clients for believing in me in those early days. I got my other first clients through the magic of the internet. I started a blog (theartofapplying.com) and started giving away a LOT of high-quality information about how to get into grad school. I also answered questions for free at the website Beat the GMAT to raise awareness. When people came to my website, I captured their email addresses via an opt-in form and then sent out a weekly newsletter to my subscribers letting them know about the weekly blog post. I have used this formula for the past five years. It works! If you want to learn more about using free content to get paying clients, it’s called “content marketing.” Also – make sure you aren’t just giving away free information on your blog; you need to also have some services listed and be willing to actually charge people the prices you post on the site.