A really thoughtful client asked me some good questions a while back, and I’m just now getting around to answering them. His questions got to the heart of some of my core counseling philosophies, practices and approaches, so I wanted to post them here too. Bit long in places, but hopefully not boring.
I have some questions. Please see them as completely genuine questions. I am only interested in your work and what is important to you. Actually, if my native language was business schools official language, I think I would enjoy doing your work!
How do you get your clients (you work on referencing your website? Lot of word of mouth? Groups and forums?…)
About 70% of my clients come from referrals, and the rest find me through my website. The balance is shifting more towards the latter as I add more and better content to my website. I just switched to this website format (WordPress) last year and I really love it because it allows me to provide the tools and information that my clients and I reference repeatedly in a friendly format, while also allowing new clients to find me through the search engines. I try to provide what I consider the most useful information, so I don’t have a lot of “MBA porn” on my site. I believe that 90-95% of the application process is internal, so if the information isn’t something that will immediately help my clients with their resumes, essays, LOR or interviews, I don’t usually include it. That focus allows me to do what I do best, which is utilize my journalism and storytelling background to help my clients find and express the details of their stories that will make their essays “echo” in the minds of adcoms.
Do you pick your clients? (ie do your prefer working with 750 GMAT in non-profit or 640 GMAT marketing professionals facing a true challenge or 26 yo Mckinsey with 800 GMAT who do not really need you but improve your “stats”)
I do pick my clients, but only in the sense of 1) will I be able to help this person? and 2) will I enjoy working with this person? If someone is unrealistic about this process or if they have no self-awareness, then I can’t help them – nobody can really – and I don’t want to take their money. I almost always enjoy working with my clients and I treat our relationship with great respect. I understand how important an MBA is to my clients, and how closely it is tied into their future plans and dreams, both personal and professional. (In my own case, I have two masters degrees and was a Fulbright Fellow, and each of those experiences took my life in a new direction and opened up opportunities that might have otherwise remained hidden.) For that reason, I work with 95% of my clients according to some kind of flat-rate package, so that we can concentrate on producing the best materials, and not on counting minutes or sessions. Sometimes I get burned doing that, but most everyone I work with is highly professional and motivated, and we have a very positive experience.
I’m concerned about test scores, but only as a metric of how realistic someone is. For example, if someone has finished up taking the GMAT with a 520 and insists on applying only to top tier schools with only average work experience and not much of a personal life, then they are doomed. If someone is applying with a realistic plan, then I’m almost always happy to work with them. Some of my most enjoyable client relationships have been with “humble geniuses”, who might not have had the best scores, but who knew themselves inside and out. This self-awareness is the one ingredient that the most successful candidates share. At the same time, I love helping “high fliers” and “thoroughbreds” navigate the process and get into the schools that they should get into.
I do know counselors that will only work with people who have 700 GMATs and 105 TOEFLS, but when I hear that, I feel that counselor might not be ready to work hard for their clients. A good, conscientious counselor should aim to help clients gain admission to schools that are beyond their reach because of their test scores or other application weaknesses. Don’t get me wrong. I love it when my strongest clients get into HBS or Stanford or any other top school, but I feel most satisfied when someone on the margin gets into a school they thought was impossible. In addition, I love the variety that comes from working with a diverse range of people in terms of scores, personal backgrounds, professions, geographic location or goals.
Regarding success statistics, I understand that they are important, but I also know they don’t tell the whole story. My process leads to success about 95% of the time. But more importantly, my clients are almost always extremely happy with my service, and they gladly recommend their friends and colleagues. Even in this highly wired world, that word of mouth is priceless and still the best marketing.
Do you consider yourself “conflicted” sometimes? I mean, in my case for instance, would you work with someone who also has my profile? Some of your clients obviously compete against each other (which could lower your stats and impact word of mouth) unless you manage to pick people interested in different programs or with different backgrounds.
Nope. I never consider it. For one thing, applicants change their plans all the time, so even though they say they are going to apply to a certain set of schools, the reality is often different, usually due to an unexpected (either better or worse) GMAT score. More importantly, my job is to help each individual distinguish themself from others through the specific details of their stories, which reveal unique ways of thinking or problem solving. So even though you might share a surface profile with someone, underneath, I’m always looking for the things that make you unique. More often than not, I can find them.