Most adjunct professors don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs. For many in academia, becoming a tenured professor is still viewed as the ideal career path.
However, this is no easy feat to achieve. In the U.S., colleges and universities are replacing tenure-track professorships with more adjunct and part-time teaching jobs. Currently, the majority of teaching positions available to someone who just completed a master’s or Ph.D. program are adjunct, part-time or non-tenure track.
But there’s actually an entire group of academics who aren’t interested in the tenure track at all. A growing number of professors are now pursuing opportunities outside of academia, with some deciding to branch out and become entrepreneurs. Dubbed academic entrepreneurs, these professors continue to teach while also working as consultants, researchers, writers, speakers and freelancers.
Why Teachers Make Great Entrepreneurs
Whether they realize it or not, most teachers already have the skills needed to succeed as an entrepreneur.
“The best innovators, fundraisers, and problem solvers are often found at the front of a classroom,” says Rob Grimshaw, CEO of Tes Global.
For teachers, entrepreneurship is a natural fit. In a blog post, Grimshaw outlines just a few reasons why teachers are well-suited for entrepreneurship:
- Professors already have sales and marketing skills — Teachers don’t just impart knowledge on their students, they have to motivate them to do their best. Translating ideas and getting everyone on board is something teachers do in the classroom everyday, which is also exactly what people in sales and marketing do at their jobs.
- They have a knack for fundraising — Educators work hard to get students what they need. Teachers often push for additional resources, which is similar to entrepreneurs raising money for their own businesses.
- Teachers aren’t afraid to learn new things or change their plans — Professors are always embracing new ideas and looking at complex problems in new ways. This trait is essential for any entrepreneur.
- Professors are passionate about making the world a better place — Educators have great empathy and are frequently thinking about how to help their students learn and grow. As an entrepreneur, teachers can encourage companies and businesses to contribute to the greater good.
How To Start Thinking Like An Entrepreneur, Not An Adjunct
For some adjunct professors, the idea of becoming an entrepreneur might seem a little daunting. Running your own business is often seen as risky, or only for the fearless who aren’t worried about failing.
Entrepreneurship is really just a catchall term to describe freelancing, working for yourself, promoting your services, or selling a product.
Plus, adjunct professors are already free agents. Adopting this mindset can help part-time instructors and lecturers make the transition from adjunct professor to academic entrepreneur. Here are a few things teachers should keep in mind while looking for outside work or freelance opportunities:
- You don’t need to ask for permission — One of the best things about striking out on your own is that you’re in charge and no one can tell you what to do. If you’re nervous about finding freelance work, start small by taking on a few projects or inquiring about jobs that interest you. Some adjunct professors start a blog that focuses on their academic research, which can then lead to other opportunities.
- Promotion is the name of the game — It’s important that those outside academia are aware of your talents and expertise. There are multiple ways to promote your work and your research, such as speaking at conferences and events, writing articles for online or print publications, being a guest on a podcast, etc.
- Translate your academic background into business skills — The world of academia can feel very insular. Common academic terms might be completely foreign to someone in the corporate world. Think about how your experience as a professor could be applied in a business setting. In many ways, teachers are leaders and managers — so don’t neglect to highlight this when selling yourself to outside entities.
- Understand your value and your worth — The average pay for adjunct and part-time professors is notoriously low. But in the business world, you shouldn’t settle for anything less than you deserve. Freelancing allows you to negotiate and ask for more, which can help offset the low wages you make from teaching.
Becoming A ‘Student’ In The Business World
For adjunct professors looking to become academic entrepreneurs, there are two main hurdles. The first is mental: you have to embrace the idea of an alternative academic career path and let go of seeing yourself as just a professor. The second challenge is figuring out the best steps to take in order to succeed as an entrepreneur.
Those who’ve made the transition from teaching to running a business say it’s all about going back to the basics.
“[I came into] business without any official qualifications — no background in marketing, no fancy business credentials, no experience with entrepreneurship at all,” says Danielle Natoni, who used her teaching background to move into the fitness industry. “But I knew I had information available to me, so I did the only logical thing I could — I became a student again.”
Natoni decided to learn as much as she could about the fitness industry before diving in.
“I started taking online courses, reading books, and attending events,” Natoni says. “I listened to podcasts, audiobooks and interviews. I absorbed everything I could so I could try, and fail, and try again.”
Successful Academic Entrepreneurs Who Make It Work
It’s never too late for someone to learn new things — and that includes teachers. If you’re an adjunct or part-time professor, you don’t have to be a business wiz to seek out opportunities beyond higher education. Having a positive attitude and committing to the learning process will take you much further in your career than bemoaning the lack of full-time teaching jobs in academia right now.
Becoming an academic entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to give up teaching. Many successful entrepreneurs who started out as professors continue lecturing, partly because they enjoy it, and also because they want to pass on what they’ve learned in the business world to their students.
While the system of higher education is changing rapidly, there are many reasons to be optimistic. Adjunct professors and part-time instructors now have more ways to combine their love for teaching with other passions and pursuits. Those who challenge themselves and are open to new opportunities fare far better in the long run — in both academia and the business world.
A Valuable Resource For Ambitious Academics
Inside Scholar is an educational resource for adjunct professors, part-time teachers, academics and anyone navigating higher education today. Inside Scholar also connects nonprofits, small businesses, companies, startups, and large corporations with experienced and knowledgeable professors from a variety of academic backgrounds. Inside Scholar aims to bridge the gap between academia and the business world. Keep reading Inside Scholar to learn more about becoming an academic entrepreneur, adjunct teaching, and the future of higher education.