Shining Self-Employment


Shining Self-Employment

Hillary Schubach is the Founder/President of Shine Consulting LLC located in Santa Monica, California. Through Shine, Hillary has two businesses, Shine/ MBA Admissions Consulting and Shine/ Marketing Consulting.

As a boutique MBA admissions consultancy, Shine serves top business school candidates around the world. They work extremely closely with their clients, guiding them through every step of the admissions process, helping them to gain acceptance to the schools of their choice. They also advise applicants on a wide range of masters and PhD programs across disciplines including law, medicine and public policy.

As a boutique marketing consultancy based in Santa Monica, California, Shine provides strategic marketing services that benefit businesses large and small, across all industries. Some of those services include Branding and Brand Management, Marketing Strategy, Naming and Market Research.

When and why did you join the NASE?
I discovered NASE and subscribed to its newsletter back in the late 2000s when I first launched my business. I was actively seeking resources to ensure that I understood the legal and financial/tax implications of launching a business, set it up using the right corporate structure, hired and paid people with the appropriate classifications, secured the necessary licenses, trade names, insurance policies…looking back, it all must have been so daunting — none of this was in my wheelhouse! Yet somehow I figured it out piece by piece — and I found NASE to be a valuable source of intel. I’ve been receiving their content in my inbox for many, many years. Yet it was only recently that I realized the benefits of membership and officially joined the organization. So I’m in a “long-time listener, first-time caller” category, but very grateful to be here. Since becoming a member, I’ve already reassessed my health insurance offerings, gained access to tech support, lowered my shipping costs, and felt more well informed on relevant policy issues.

What inspired you to enter the field you are in?
I’ve been a marketer at heart since my earliest contemplations of a career. My mother was once a NYC magazine editor, so I’ve always had “a way with words;” by age nine, I had written my first novel and planned to become the next Judy Blume. After two very quick and early publisher rejection letters, I realized helping others to tell their stories might be a better fit.

In college this evolved into an embrace of marketing, and as a Duke mega-fan, I surprised no one by joining the exploding subsector of sports marketing. There I spent five years happily marketing the brands of world-class athletes and sports teams across the college, pro and Olympic realms.

That was until several of my college friends began pursuing their MBAs. While I’d never considered it before, I saw the caliber of schools they were attending and realized that if I’d had a shot at that type of education, it was an opportunity I shouldn’t pass up.

As I made my way through Harvard Business School, and my subsequent career in brand management (i.e. consumer packaged goods or “CPG’’ marketing), I found myself volunteering to help friend upon friend with their MBA applications, as we do. And at some point I realized I was pretty darn good at it. Finally my storytelling skills had found a place within my marketing career. Because at its core, developing an application is a marketing expertise — beginning with deep introspection into your brand, what it stands for, and how it’s differentiated.

Over the years, as life took me from NYC to Colorado, branching out into consulting was the best way to expand my pool of potential work. I launched Shine with the intention of “seeing how it goes” by splitting my time 50/50 between 2 practice areas: marketing consulting (brand manager and strategist on demand!) and MBA admissions consulting. (I also launched a dog training/exercise business on the side, but that’s another story…) And for the first several years, I split my time healthily between the two. Yet as the years went by, I saw that the demand for a “niche specialist” in MBA admissions consulting (with the stamp of approval from a top school) not only enabled us to sign clients with little effort but also command a higher rate. As such, I found myself spending less time completing lengthy marketing RFPs, competing against a cluttered market of fellow CPG rock stars, and more time traveling to give presentations on admissions topics, attend conferences, and build a strong peer group of fellow consultants who’ve gone from being competitors to collaborators and friends.

So, that’s how I came to find myself in this line of work (after all, no one goes to business school to become a business school admissions consultant).

To come full circle: what drew me initially to marketing was the excitement of not only digging into what a brand stands for, and who it resonates with, but also how it’s differentiated. (And then, in CPG, having the opportunity to run an entire business around that brand was immensely cool and challenging.)

What keeps me here, and specifically focused on the work I do today, is the opportunity to help others achieve their goals. As a marketer, I absolutely love providing a thoughtful perspective that enables businesses to redefine their status quo and flourish. And marketing humans to achieve their goals for graduate school inspires me every single day. The young professionals I’ve worked with teach me about all that’s good in the world. They are driven to make a positive impact, lift others up, and reinvent what’s possible. Best of all, they teach me about unfamiliar sectors, life and culture in opposite corners of the world, and soak in my advice like a sponge. I’m very lucky to see what lies ahead for us on this earth. Over the past few years especially, it’s kept me optimistic that our future is in good hands.

When and why did you start your business?
My first official client was an author in November of 2007 and I formally registered the business as Shine Consulting LLC in January 2008. As for the why portion of this question, that is answered above.

How do you market your business?
Great question. Ironically, I’m letting some of my own marketing advisors down. I KNOW that what I should be doing involves a great deal more LinkedIn posting/interacting, self-promotion, and video content creation. I KNOW I should be reaching out to my hundreds of past clients and persuading them to repost their testimonials (which live happily on our website) to prominent industry media outlets. I’m just not a big social media consumer, and the more I post for the sake of posting, the less “on brand” it feels.

My beau is a professional photographer and he’s actually a master of tasteful self-promotion through social media and email marketing. So he’s been pushing me to make sure the world knows when I’ve achieved something noteworthy — whether being quoted in an impressive media outlet or volunteering in a meaningful way (e.g. writing a personal branding curriculum for a refugee empowerment program).

I’ve also received some invaluable guidance/ideas by attending some truly excellent speaker events — fortunately it is so easy to do in today’s virtual world. My two alma maters have been a great source of programming on that front, as have seemingly random invites through my network — often chock full of juicy nuggets!

Fortunately, what I’ve done extremely well is nurture relationships, which has inspired my clients and industry colleagues to refer business to me. I’ve also maintained a great professional website that reflects our brand well, and is optimized in all the important ways. People genuinely do find us through online searches, and feel good about what they see. And I’m also an active speaker on the topic of MBA admissions, which puts me right in front of my target audience. I’ve tried a few different things along the way (e.g. event sponsorships, Facebook/Twitter pages) but the above 3 strategies have felt the most authentic for me. And I have a hunch that’s why they’ve been so successful for me.

What challenges have you faced in your business? How have you overcome them?

Attempting to evolve my business model has been a challenge. I’ve strongly considered (many times) the possibility of hiring more consultants, which I know would enable me to scale, take on more clients, and increase my earnings. I’ve also spent many months going down the path of formalizing a partnership with a colleague, only to find that it simply wasn’t meant to be.

In both cases I’m very proud of the diligence I’ve done to explore those options to the fullest. I’ve engaged career coaches, business consultants, tax advisors, and legal advisors to assess the implications… I set up informational sessions with experts and mentors to understand processes and best practices. Ultimately, I’m certain that I’ve ended up where I was meant to be. No matter how often I reassessed and experimented, the universe always brought me back to right where I am. This was recently validated by a career coaching exercise, which revealed that I was naturally well-suited for the model we have (leading a boutique firm as the primary expert, and delivering a high quality highly personalized experience) rather than building/managing a large organization at the expense of those core values.

Do you have any employees? If yes, how many and are they full or part time?
I’m the only W2 full-time employee, but I’ve hired 61 p/t contractors over the years… some to build out client-facing marketing teams, others to support me in my own work, others to take outsourced responsibilities off my plate, and some to provide specialized skills I simply don’t have (e.g. tax accounting, graphic design). I’m proud to have several teammates who’ve now worked with me for years on end, and who I truly consider trusted partners, both behind the scenes and out front.

What’s your schedule like, what’s a typical day for you?
On my best day ever, I’m ideally up around 5:30am getting ready for a 6/6:30am workout. I’m a big runner and find my best shot at squeezing in some exercise is before I pick up my phone to check email. Once I see what the day has in store, I’m immediately derailed.

After that comes the best part of the day, around 7:30/8am — getting coffee and walking my dog Emma around our Santa Monica neighborhood. Dogs rule the roost in our little stretch of town, and my hilarious dog/neighbor interactions are truly the highlight of most mornings.

I am to be at my desk 9:30am-5pm at a minimum, so clients/colleagues know they can generally get hold of me during “normal business hours.” Though of course, our work often extends VERY late into the night, especially when it’s deadline season. I don’t mind working long hours during the week if that means I can have my weekends for personal time. I’m great at “turning it off” outside of work hours, so having those 2 weekend days to decompress is the best way for me to come back Monday with a fresh/recharged brain.

As for the typical day, I’m split between burying my head in client work and taking calls/zooms to either strategize/plan/brainstorm with a client, discuss feedback I’ve sent them on their work, prepare them for an upcoming milestone or consult with a prospective new client. I am to set work blocks vs. call blocks on my calendar to maximize productivity, I do have to be flexible on timing as our clients are in time zones all around the world (in the past few weeks, I’m talking Dubai, Cape Town, Santiago, Montserrat, Darwin Aus., it’s been extraordinary!!).

And then of course, somewhere in there needs to be responding to emails, industry readings, completing overdue ad hoc projects (like this NASE piece), making an important website update, closing out a client account now that we’ve met their goals (hooray!), getting those missing receipts to my bookkeeper, checking in on pitches and a few clients who’ve gone dark, reviewing last month’s financials and setting my biz dev goals for the next month. It is really hard to take care of everything yourself. I am grateful for the ability to outsource some of this to my assistant and bookkeeper, but most does admittedly still fall on my shoulders. While also doing all of the client work. And marketing.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?
Without a doubt, it’s the ability to set my own schedule and work from anywhere. I take extensive vacation time in the spring (when school deadlines are long over) and typically go somewhere far away around the world for 2-3 weeks at a time.

And even during the thick of our busiest work periods, I’ve been able to tackle essays from a café in Mexico, the mountains of Colorado, and while spending the holidays with family on the east coast. There is absolutely nothing like the freedom of not having to ask permission for where and when you plug in each day.

One other huge perk, which I really appreciate: is being able to focus on just doing great work. In my corporate jobs, the quality of work was certainly very important — but so were the internal politics. (Arguably more important). So for me, stripping out that aspect and just focusing on what we aim to do every day for our clients has been invigorating. I’m a very down-to-earth person, so this has been an ideal culture for me. I’ve definitely thrived as a business owner.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a client?
That I’ve changed their life and helped them to set/achieve goals they never thought possible.

Whenever they say they “couldn’t have done it without me” I correct them. I’m just helping them to shine. They’re the “product.” They were pure potential before they even met me. But it does feel immensely gratifying to show them what they’re capable of, convince them to set their goals higher, and help them build a path to get there. That admittedly is what I set out to do, and it is incredibly inspiring.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting their own business?
Build a support network and community. You are not alone! Join your industry organizations. Attend those “coffee mornings” type meetups. In most industries, there truly is plenty of pie to go around. Even your “competitors” can become your biggest sources of insight, advice, and support. And if all goes well, they can become your friends, collaborators, perhaps even your future partners. I’ve met the nicest people through some of those random groups, and we’re still in touch many years later. (That’s the beauty of LinkedIn). Being a small business owner, or even a solo practitioner, does not mean you need to figure everything out on your own.

Which NASE member benefit is most important to you?
I’m still very new at this member experience, but at this moment, I’m excited about the varying discounts and “group” benefits I see — and am hoping to find that we’ll get access to some “corporate sized” perks through our membership en masse.

Health insurance is one of my major pain points, so I was glad to connect and learn about some new options. I also signed up right away for the UPS shipping discount program (shipping has also become a huge pain point for me… I can’t believe how expensive it’s gotten).

So again I’m just scratching the surface of what benefits are available, but if nothing else, I like being part of a community of small business owners and having the opportunity to access resources, experts, tools, and information that will benefit me as needs arise.

Any other information you would like to share?
I suppose I’ll close by welcoming any of our members to contact me if I can support them in managing their brands, growing their businesses, or accelerating their careers through higher education.

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