I just started work with a student interested in becoming an entrepreneur. And rightly so: he’s handling the business end of a clothing line that he started with a designer friend of his.
Let’s call him Nate. Nate is hungry. While his friend works at his drafting table, coming up with LA-chic t-shirt designs, Nate is learning how to code online (using Code Academy) so that he can be hands-on in handling the development of his company’s web presence. He’s working on sourcing the materials, which has, surprisingly to him, been a significant challenge. Nate is doing all the negotiating, managing the budget, heading up the marketing. And he’s excited about all of it.
At least he is at this stage: he’s still very much at the outset, still in very close contact with the electricity of the IDEA behind the business. He’s got a long way to go. I think he’ll pull through, but I know from experience that there is a long road ahead.
For students that are interested in staking out their claim in the workplace of tomorrow—those who want to compete with the rest of the market to carve out their own special niche—I think there is added value to working with an independent counselor. It’s the perspective of what it takes to be independent. Two primary ingredients that comprise “independence”: freedom and responsibility.
As an independent counselor, I am solely responsible for the content of my offerings, quality control, client relations, marketing, managing finances, networking, and professional development. It means finding solutions that will make my business viable now, in 2014, as well as developing ways to keep it competitive in the coming years. It means learning how to cultivate an online presence. Anything I can’t do on my own I need to contract out, which in my case means vetting, budgeting, negotiating, effectively communicating my needs, and monitoring the work of another person.
It also means balancing all of my survival-related needs with the moral imperative that comes with this field. At the end of the day, all of us are in it for the kids, families and communities we serve, with equalizing access to postsecondary education one of highest ideals. That is no small thing to pull off when you are entirely reliant on your time and effort to put food on the table and keep the roof above your head. I keep finding myself in conflict between all the help and information I want to give out for free and my need to make a living.
I don’t think that a moral imperative is exclusive to the business of independent counseling, either. Any business, from products to services, from education to fashion, can set its sights on somehow making things a little better for everyone. We hear it all the time when we’re young, but as we get older, the spirit of service often becomes somehow stale or obscured. It gets compartmentalized, tossed into the community service bin, which many kids wind up associating with the drudgery of fulfilling quotas, putting in the time that someone else says will give them a leg up in college admissions.
For an independent counselor, your ability to guide and inspire is only as potent as the spirit in which you conduct your business. And it’s that same sprit that kids like Nate will have to nurture and learn to protect once the securities of home and later the college environment dissolve into the past.
By Nick Soper