Believe it or not, I was able to convince my college to hire me. I’m not talking about work study, being a bookstore stockboy, or being a research assistant for a professor. I’m talking about closing a deal for thousands of dollars. In this post, I’ll provide some back story as to how I was able to have the opportunity to even come up with the pitch, the pitch itself, and the lessons learned from the work. As a small disclaimer, as a student I respect my university tremendously—as a consultant, I learned from them what it means when people say large organizations are “slow.”
It all starts with finding a need.
How did I come up with the idea of even pursuing this pitch? It all started with accessing the problem my college had—we had severe budget cuts during the fiscal year. The only reason I was privy to this information was due to my role as student body president. During the first few meetings with school administration during my last academic year in college, I learned that our college, along with other CUNYs, hadn’t met their goal that the Board of Trustees set for getting more students.
The lack of increase in tuition was one of four factors that contributed to the millions in budget cuts that we’re going to occur. After sitting down and actually contemplating on why this particular problem was occurring, it dawned on me that I should check out the college’s social media & paid search marketing efforts. Low and behold, they weren’t launching any paid ads or producing content of any value to potential students or the parents of those students. This was my in, the opportunity I was looking for.
Devising the pitch.
Coming up with something of real worth to present to school administration wasn’t easy. It took me two weeks just to have the stones even to share this idea with my Fraternity brothers for feedback. After carefully thinking about what I learned from both my internship and doing pro bono digital marketing for a bar near campus (I still got something out of it, free food and free beer which wasn’t a bad deal if I do say so myself) I came up with a 43-slide deck for my presentation.
The reason why this deck was so long, and by all means I don’t recommend doing something this long for any presentation, was because I knew I wouldn’t have been taken seriously (at the end of the day, I’m too young to be taken seriously for anything right now). If I didn’t make sure I showed both school admin and the marketing department that not only I knew what I was talking about—but, that I also put it into the context of their specific needs, none of this would have worked. Also, I had already assembled a small team of two other student government members that would help me in my efforts; this increased their confidence in my ability to not only create a sound project but, also execute on it.
Negotiating the price.
The two most important lessons I gained from the overall experience was:
- Always write the service contract yourself.
- Bid high for a high price.
If it weren’t for a close friend of mine, I would have left a considerable amount of money on the table. I believe the main reason why the college administration agreed to pay my team and me as much as they did, was because the labor was relatively cheap in terms of industry standards and we wrote the whole contract ourselves. It also helps that they didn’t go through the hassle of signing it but, that’s beside the point. If a client is willing to pay you without signing a contract for whatever reason you still want them to do so, it puts both of you in a position where each party is fully committed to each other’s success. I believe this was the first sign that there was only going to be so much we could have done for them.
The challenge I’m glad I faced early on.
The biggest challenge with working for any big client as a digital markeitng consultant is this—the internal communications process is slow as hell, meaning that you’re going to have to plan at least two weeks ahead to get anything approved for launch. I lacked experience in this one aspect of doing digital marketing consulting; I didn’t anticipate that the one deterrent to my success would be not preparing for slow communication in between tasks. Although, I wasn’t successful in fully executing on the marketing plan I was at the very least, able to show the importance of why their efforts should be focused primarily on social and search advertising and not on subway or television ads.
Other lessons I learned were:
Your client, regardless of their size, will want all reports on a consistent basis. It’s important to let them know early on that marketing is a marathon and not a sprint. Metrics don’t improve overnight. You want to at least report on new ideas you’re working on so they can add their insight into the mix.
Have a dedicated team member to set up phone calls for Q & A whenever needed. If you’re this person, you have the hardest job. Client retention is key to recurring income. My biggest regret is not giving enough attention to thinking about building a long term relationship with my college so I could have had them as a client after I graduated.* Your team’s size should reflect the size of the account.
This is something I’ve debated with my colleagues for quite some time now. I still believe that we could have done a better job if we had at least three to four more students on our team. A team of three college students wasn’t enough to solve the problems a big institution like my college had.
In the end, although I wasn’t successful in the execution of my first account, I at least learned how to get one. That experience has proved invaluable as I continue getting new clients and building my team at digiquation.com, the startup I work at now. Whether it’s in digital marketing or any other consulting practice, it never hurts to start early. Regardless of your age, there is something that you know; that is intrinsic in the experiences you’ve had that can be of value to a client. You just have to figure out how to successfully communicate that—and then have the team and knowledge to execute the plan you’re being paid to do.
*The experience gained from this one part of my collegiate career was the most valuable by far, and I am forever indebted to the City College of New York for giving me a chance to help them. If you check their Facebook page now, you can see the ads they are launching to get more attention. A special thanks to Tammie and Safiyyah, without your help, none of this would have been accomplished.
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