Edupreneur: Backpacking & Business

I’m back in New York after a successful end-to-end hike of the Long Trail with my brother! It was an incredibly difficult, incredibly wonderful 273 miles over the high peaks and through the wilderness areas of Vermont. All those miles gave me time to think and, amidst those thoughts, I began piecing together some of the ways backpacking prepared me to venture off on my own as an edupreneur and poet. I’ve decided to share them below, as they’re important traits and considerations for anyone planning a similar adventure in self-employment!

Donnie Welch and Jonathan Welch, two bearded young men, stand on the Canadian-US border in Vermont. The two are standing on a silver, spiked monument with a white base which denotes the border line. Behind them can be seen mountains and forests with a clear cut line for the border. The looks on their faces are ones of excitement and joy

Donnie Welch and Jonathan Welch, two bearded young men, stand on the Canadian-US border in Vermont. The two are standing on a silver, spiked monument with a white base which denotes the border line. Behind them can be seen mountains and forests with a clear cut line for the border. The looks on their faces are ones of excitement and joy

Take Care of Little Things- Getting a blister 20 miles into a trail might not seem like a big deal, but if I had just left it alone then the next 253 would have been miserable. I needed to stop and take care of my feet with each blister and hot spot that popped up . Similarly, small issues like a broken link or mislabeled website header will inevitably come up when I’m working on larger projects like books or presentations. While it’s annoying to stop, especially if I’m in a good pace with the project, if I let those little things go they'll become problematic later. For example. If I don't fix that broken link because I don't think it's worth taking my time from my presentation, then if someone visits my site after hearing said lecture and can't access what they want, I've lost a customer.

Preparation & Planning - While developing a full business plan has become a thing of the past (check out the principles of the Lean Start-Up) I still had to make sure I had the right tools in place before I set out. Backpacking requires not just gear, but knowledge about my gear. It doesn’t do me any good to have a tent if I can’t set it up. Before I set off on my own business venture, I had practiced blogging, done volunteer workshops with the non-profits who would later hire me, and practiced talking about my curriculum at conferences. So make sure you’re ready before you head out the door!

Adapt, Adjust… Adapt Again - With a good plan you also need to be flexible, because you won't truly know what you'll need until you're in the field. Be ready to change on the fly or, drop something all together. When I started Donnie Welch Poetry I also started a podcast because I thought it would be the thing to do… then I realized I didn’t have clients yet. The podcast was a fine idea, but not practical from a business standpoint so I had to ditch it. Maybe it’ll be useful on a future adventure (I still have all the accounts in place), but I don’t need to be lugging it around right now.

Take Measurable Steps Toward a Goal- A big hike like the Long Trail takes patience. We had to chip away at miles over 25 days. This practice, breaking down a massive undertaking into small goals, is exactly what I do when I know I want to put out a new book. I don't expect to sit down and write, edit, and publish everything in one day or even one week, instead I break down what sections of it I'll need to do. I’ll start with a writing schedule, then I'll work on the design, then send out an advance text to close colleauges for feedback, finally I’ll plan the promotional work for a release. It’s a process. If I rushed right to the finish line, not only would the quality be sub-par, but I’d burn myself out!

No One's Going to Do It for You - As an entrepreneur you're on your own, no one is going to carry you up that mountain, you're either going to climb it or you're not. That’s not to say you can’t have a support network or find like minded people. I had my brother and around us were a bubble of other end-to-end hikers. But my hike was ultimately up to me to walk or not. Running Donnie Welch Poetry there are no sick days, no boss to hold to me accountable for not working one day or slacking, it’s just me. I either get up and work or I don’t. This can be a hard choice (especially with so many bingeable shows a click or two away!), but one that any aspiring entrepreneur needs to be aware of.

Trust Yourself- This kind of a more optimistic pt 2 to "No One’s Going to do it for You.” Trust yourself. Trust yourself when you make a decision. Trust yourself to get the work you need done. Trust yourself to succeed. You've trained and focused to get where you are so act with confidence. This isn't to say you won't make mistakes, you will and you'll correct for them (again and again) but don't let that deter you. Enjoy the journey, you’ve got this!

Sunset view off Bromley Mountain. In the foreground is a field of tall grass bent by the wind and an old stone work with LT and AT symbols and white N for North painted on in white.In the background can be seen ranges of mountains pale blue and purple from the light at sunset.

Sunset view off Bromley Mountain. In the foreground is a field of tall grass bent by the wind and an old stone work with LT and AT symbols and white N for North painted on in white.In the background can be seen ranges of mountains pale blue and purple from the light at sunset.

Edupreneur: Know What They'll Ask

SXSWedu opened up Panel Picker 2020 and my gears have been turning to submit a session. Looking ahead to conferences got me thinking about presentations, both at conferences and pitches to potential clients. Over the past couple of years I’ve done quite a bit of both, traveling to and presenting at various conferences as a way of building social proof and pitching schools and cultural centers to get my business off the ground. One piece of advice: Know what your audience is going to ask before they ask it.

You don't have to be clairvoyant, (though that certainly wouldn't hurt!) you just have to be self-reflective and critical enough to analyze your previous work. For example, after doing a few conference presentations I noticed the same questions popping up again and again in the Q&As. People would ask me how I work with non-verbal students. I’d explain the ways I make the workshops adaptable and inclusive through sensory activities, word walls, close coordination with speech therapists, and the like. Eventually, I learned to anticipate the question.

With this knowledge I could do two things: build it into my presentation or purposefully leave it out. There’s an argument for both and for me it really depends on who my audience is going to be. I'll give reasoning for both strategies in the case of the non-verbal student question.

Donnie Welch, a young bearded man with glasses, speaks in a school auditorium, gesturing with his hands out. Next to him is a projector displaying a slide on a screen him.

Donnie Welch, a young bearded man with glasses, speaks in a school auditorium, gesturing with his hands out. Next to him is a projector displaying a slide on a screen him.

Building it into the presentation gives me the opportunity to better control the conversation. Someone might ask the question about a specific student they have and want the kind of answer that’s better handled one on one or they might use wording I don’t feel comfortable with necessitating that I switch up their language when I reiterate the question. Building it into a presentation ensures that the language surrounding non-verbal students is in my own words and that the ideas I share connect to the full range of my audience. It also gives me the chance to say something like, “ If you’re interested in a specific student or classroom, you can feel free to email me and we can talk about how I can best help and consult,” which both avoids questions that can derail the group and sets up new client opportunities.

That said, If I’m giving a broad, quick overview of my workshops at an education conference like SXSWedu as opposed to specialized conference, like the Council for Exceptional Children, diving too much into a specific aspect or student profile could very well interrupt the flow and my greater goal of introducing my theories and curriculum.

In these situations I might not address my work with non-verbal students in detail because there’s so much content to cover. In doing so though, I know in the back of my mind that the question will come up during the Q&A. It’s a bit like a magic act, pretending to pull a card out of an audience member’s ear when it’s been up your sleeve the whole time. A mark of a good presenter is someone who is able to give clear, informed answers to whatever questions pop-up. It showcases a depth of knowledge and a calmness under pressure. Once again, like magic, there’s a bit of an illusion to it (you can’t substitute knowledge or experience, got to have that) because you can be prepared for the question and have an answer ready.

This certainly isn’t to say there won’t be new questions that throw you off guard or bring you pause, just that there are some you can predict, that you’ll be able to prepare for, answer with poise, and these moments of confidence will make lasting impressions that on your audience.

What makes this skill so important in presenting in the education sector especially is that people always want to have best practice in mind. Teachers and administrators want strategies that will effectively reach all their students. Answering confidently proves that this is a fully formed curriculum, ed-tech app, or product that you’ve thoroughly considered the insides and outs of.

Edupreneur: Cut Your Business Card Clutter

Conferences like SXSWedu are great opportunities to meet and network with other professionals. But with that community building inevitably comes a pile of business cards.

I'm someone who hates clutter. As a writer I already have more than enough notebooks, loose leaf paper, and little ideas scribbled for my home office space. What I don’t need are even more little slips of paper hanging around!

After any conference where I get a the contacts of a bunch of wonderful people I have a strategy for both documenting and communicating with them. It starts by simply typing up cards into a spread sheet. The sheet has columns labeled:

Name

Company

Position

Email

Phone

Website (personal or company's) 

How/ where we met

With the pertinent information running vertically across the cells.

If you want to go an extra measure you could also add a column (or two) that says when you contacted them and whether or not they responded or took action (such as connecting over a media platform) as a result of the email. I choose not to do this, in part because I'm more interested in continuing conversations than quick boosts, so the hope is that my reaching out sets off a thread of emails, a Twitter conversation, phone call, or similar back and forth to build our relationship. 

I send the email as soon as the card is typed up. Going one at a time so I don't procrastinate and let things pile up. Or slip into the habit of saying, “first I’ll do the easy thing and type the cards, then I’ll email,”… and never actually email. I also know, without having to make an extra column or any highlights, who has been contacted when I work at this slower pace.

Pile of business cards, mostly white with colored text and images, on top of a brown wooden desk.

Pile of business cards, mostly white with colored text and images, on top of a brown wooden desk.

Finally, when it's all done, I recycle the cards. As someone who has cards and adds onto the pile of others I know this might seem cruel. "These cost money to make!" and "What if you want to pass it on to someone?" Are two common quips. In answer, I know they cost money and also take time to design, but it makes me feel better and write more efficiently having a clear space and keeping the cards in storage would just add unnecessary clutter.

And if I want to pass on the info, I'd simply send that person an email or text. It's more seamless too, they can copy the email right from their account and send a message or highlight the number on their phone and make a call.

Give it a try next time you come home from an event with a stack of business cards. And if you have any organizing strategies you like please share! 

Oh, and if you do go digital, don’t forget to back-up your spreadsheet!


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Edupreneur: Stay in School

A lot of business books and blogs I read when I was starting out on my edupreneurial adventure talked about making your current employer your first customer or client. Like any entrepreneur, edupreneurs can do the same!


Still of Dorie Clark’s  Enrepreneurial You , hardcover edition on a wooden table

Still of Dorie Clark’s Enrepreneurial You, hardcover edition on a wooden table

Anyone in education knows how stingy schools can be with their budgets. And rightfully so! Schools have a lot of expenditures to make sure students needs are met. But that makes it difficult for new contractors and outside work to get a foothold.

You can drop resumes at booths and tables at conferences, make phone calls, send emails, but what if the better answer was right in front of you all along?


Table at the CEC-DADD 2018 conference. Two older Caucasian women look at pamphlets on a red clothed table. A Third middle-aged Caucasian women is seen checking her phone behind the table.

Table at the CEC-DADD 2018 conference. Two older Caucasian women look at pamphlets on a red clothed table. A Third middle-aged Caucasian women is seen checking her phone behind the table.

Rather than cold emailing a school and trying to convince an administration that doesn’t know you or has never worked with you that you’re worth part of their discretionary spending, ask the people who already know you.

Assuming you have a good reputation with them, the administration that knows you is way more likely to hire you! Then, not only do you have money coming in, you also have a reference for future schools and institutions to see when they view your resume or client list.

Somethings to consider:

Show that you’ve developed this idea in order to help. If your service offers something you find lacking or in need of improvement in education, chances are your school could benefit from this service too. The trick is: how can you offer this service without offending an administration you’ve worked closely with?

Is there staff that would speak on your behalf? Testimonials are always good, even with people who know you. Sometimes administration can be pretty removed from the everyday, so having teachers, therapists, and teaching assistants willing to say how interested they are in you and your service can be helpful in securing a contract.

Would you be willing to offer a reduced rate? The first client is an important get and the familiarity with this school can give you some wiggle room to negotiate, but it can also give them that same wiggle room. Make sure you have a bottom line that you won’t go lower than before you start talks!

What can your school do for you that you can’t do on your own? You can take this any direction you want: school culture, professional development, health care, money. One big thing for me was the financing to attend and present at education conferences. Make a list of 5 things that your school can offer you that would help sweeten the deal if the budget really does require them to go lower than you’d like.

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Edupreneur: NYC Resources

I spent this past summer vacation getting myself official and forming Donnie Welch Poetry LLC! And while it’s wonderful feeling having that weight off my shoulders, it definitely took some time and money to get here.

Scan of formal document from the State of New York Department of State. White paper with black text including the state seal of New York and a formal signature form the Executive Deputy Secretary of State Brendan W. Fitzgerald

Scan of formal document from the State of New York Department of State. White paper with black text including the state seal of New York and a formal signature form the Executive Deputy Secretary of State Brendan W. Fitzgerald

This is a post for anyone hoping to start a small business in NYC. I’ve compiled some of the resources I used, whether attending their events or just viewing the content their sites offer. I’m sure many other cities and states have similar resources and I definitely recommend you look into those. Any help you can get will go a long way!

Many of these services are free and it’s worth the initial investment of time to gain the knowledge they’re offering you. It’s also great practice talking about your business and vision with strangers.

I went to a free legal clinic though City Bar Justice’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (listed below) and realized it was the first time I explained the vision of Donnie Welch Poetry to people besides my family and close friends.

While the clinic was helpful with logistics, it was the experience of defending and explaining my business that really stuck with me. It was an important moment of personal development that built my confidence and gave me some momentum moving forward!

Below are a list of services, some maybe right for you, others not. Feel free to use them as you need and in ways that make sense for you and your business!

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Edupreneur

What’s edupreneurship? Well as I define it: It’s simply being an education entrepreneur.

A lot of time people think this means specifically edtech work, but I would contest that there are a lot of opportunities to start a business that can benefit schools, teachers, students, and all education stakeholders that don’t involve technology at all.

In my edupreneur posts I’ll be sharing tips and tricks I’ve learned in my first year of running Donnie Welch Poetry. A lot of these are things I’ve learned the hard way and wish someone had told me!

I’ll be sharing posts that I hope inspire people to make the leap in edupreneurship!

(Photo by  Julianne Nash ) Donnie Welch, young caucasian male, sits on radiator by the window of a empty classroom. He’s in a red shirt, jeans, and sneakers, sitting with one leg crossed. The gray and white tile floor and white board of the classroom are visible in the foreground.

(Photo by Julianne Nash) Donnie Welch, young caucasian male, sits on radiator by the window of a empty classroom. He’s in a red shirt, jeans, and sneakers, sitting with one leg crossed. The gray and white tile floor and white board of the classroom are visible in the foreground.

Part of what motivated the creation of Donnie Welch Poetry was a desire to advocate for more arts education in neurodiverse learning. Rather than just standing on a literal or digital soap box, I decided that one way I could help get more arts ed in neurodiverse classrooms was to build a business that did exactly that.

I believe that edupreneurship can help drive education reform.

If you believe so too, then I challenge you to start a side hustle that addresses some of the wrongs you see in education.

Picture of stars & constellations from a poetry workshop. Black construction paper taped together with yellow finger paint on them. To the left are two columns of three, then a column of two, then one all the way on the right. The finger painting is different in each, some dots, some swirls and some full hand prints are visible.

Picture of stars & constellations from a poetry workshop. Black construction paper taped together with yellow finger paint on them. To the left are two columns of three, then a column of two, then one all the way on the right. The finger painting is different in each, some dots, some swirls and some full hand prints are visible.

Maybe you have a way to better track district budgets that could save money and get funds allocated to programs that need it?

Maybe you have the curriculum idea that’ll rock the STEM world?

Maybe there’s a way to create fluid partnerships between local musicians and band classes?

Maybe you have something else entirely!?

Whatever skills you have, bring them to the table. The education system needs new ideas and if you don’t do it then who?

Step up. Students need you!

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