Summer time, with the long days and far away vacations, offers a lot of opportunities to think, evaluate the year ahead and the results of the last six months, and eventually, to make that decision that will dramatically change your current state of affairs for good. As an academic, the summer is the favourite time for conferences and academic networking in general, with more time for finishing your articles and books, and enough time for job hunting.
But what if you decide to start your own business? How does it sound, that, to start your own academic business? Not very tempting for many, but believe me, there is nothing wrong with the idea of business, as there is nothing wrong at all to get a job and a salary for your time spent at work. The only significant difference might be that you are your own boss, and with the exception of some bureaucratic aspects and the financial accounting that is always outsourced, all you have to do is to focus on your plans.
The downside of being your own boss, including when it comes to “academic business,” is that you must be in charge of finding contracts, speaking or research assignments, publishing contracts – unless you have your own agent – networking, and social media management. All of those top priorities have to be done by no one else but you. Working together with another fellow academic might be a good idea too, if both of you are aware of the common objectives.
The one thing that you should consider when switching to a business/freelancer career is a clear evaluation of your daily costs and needs. Calculate carefully how much money you need for paying your monthly rent, debts, daily meals and books (the association is not accidental), phone and Internet, health insurance, as necessary, for your children, and other family obligations. Based on these results, you can plan your approximate financial needs.
The most important assets you have when you start such a project is your credentials, together with your network. Setting up a website introducing your profile, with links to your publications and achievements, as well as references can be a simple yet efficient start. Meanwhile, try to define as well as possible your audience: university students looking for orientation? fresh academics looking for job advice? research institutions looking for advisers and insightful researchers?
The temptation is to be very enthusiastic about your first project and not to have high financial expectations. And it might work like that, but each opportunity needs to be evaluated carefully from the point of view of the risks, opportunities, weaknesses and strong assets.
The more interests you have, the better, but at least for the first year, I would rather recommend that you work on medium-term projects, testing various variants and alternatives while permanently checking the results. When you are not happy, or when you see that you are at a dead end, you better take a new opportunity. And keep testing as much as possible. Keep a diary, and try to analyse the different stages you went through. Being in touch with other academics in a similar situation, eventually with an extensive experience might help you to correct and avoid some common mistakes.
This is just the beginning; a lot of work and challenges are waiting for you. Be ready to experience disappointment, even desperation – what about that contract that haven’t been paid in a long while? - but also rewarded and accomplished. Be ready to take the challenges and move on!