While no one would wish for the challenges COVID has introduced to families and business owners over the last 18 months, many people discovered hidden blessings and unexpected shifts during this unprecedented time. Rebecca Bailey, owner of Higher Ed Hustle, found herself juggling full time work, her side business, and the added tension of managing the confrontational expectations of family and friends regarding her wedding plans. Little did she know, all of the personal and professional stress of the time would eventually inspire a more focused perspective about what truly matters, and how her small business could continue evolving to help more people.
Rebecca acknowledged that she was among the lucky ones, maintaining consistent employment and good health throughout the year. She was thrilled to become engaged in July 2020 and looked forward to a small ceremony when it was safe to do so. Rebecca was shocked to suddenly face immense pressure from loved ones about how and when to hold her wedding. She was disappointed to see close friends bailing on her nuptials when she needed their support the most. At the same time, it became clear to Rebecca that she must rethink her Higher Ed Hustle business model to serve clients during such a difficult time. Even though it was still a part-time endeavor, it was necessary to take the time and think through what should come next. It was a lot to process all at once.
“The intersection of a big life milestone, a global pandemic, and social controversy was truly difficult personally and professionally. I prioritized ‘my people’ more – those I was leading as a manager at my full-time job, in addition to friends and family,“ she recalled. “Needless to say, even those people’s personal interests didn’t always align with my own, or other people I cared about.” It was an eye-opening time for Rebecca. “These experiences led to a loss of friendships, strained familial ties, and in June of 2021, departure from my full-time job to focus on Higher Ed Hustle.”
Years before the pandemic, Rebecca launched Higher Ed Hustle: a way to help young people manage and pay off debt in a way that didn’t prevent them from living life. Too often, those with student, credit card or even medical debt put off important milestones because of their heavy financial burdens. Rebecca was interested in creating a way to educate and support this growing population. She began to pursue this passion in her spare time.
“At Higher Ed Hustle, our focus is creating strategy to repay student loans without sacrificing life goals that require significant financial resources, including home ownership, marriage, retirement, having children, or building a business,” she explained. “As the only Certified College Financial Consultant in Western New York, we realize that based on an individual’s degree, profession, or income, this debt may seem like a roadblock to the rest of their lives. We work with organizations to educate groups about choices in the financing process that could cost them years down the line and provide alternative mitigation options.”
Realign and Recover
With the “new normal” in full swing, Rebecca decided to pivot her business. She knew she had to realign her own mission to better serve those who needed her guidance. “In the past year, I’ve really had to hone in on my niche and how I could create the biggest impact for potential clients. For Higher Ed Hustle, this meant shifting focus solely from individual clients to engage more with organizations in a group setting. It also meant cutting back on other ancillary services or charging a premium for them if clients were committed to utilizing my expertise in that manner.
Rebecca credits her work with the WBC for providing resources when she initially launched her organization, and also for the help it provided during the uncertainty of the pandemic. “I began working with the WBC in fall of 2018 in the Launch program. I’ve since utilized their COVID recovery resources, including individual counseling & 24 Actionable Insights, plus the Entrepreneurial Workshop.”
The focus of WBC’s COVID Business Recovery Program is “Reconnect, Restart, Regrow,” a concept that Rebecca was happy to embrace as she ventured forward with a new perspective in business and life. “What I’ve taken from this time is that life is too short to continue to put effort, time, and energy into people, places or projects that aren’t meant for you,” she shared. “It highlights the paradox of this time.”
Higher Ed Hustle is currently booking new clients, especially recent graduates within their 6-month loan grace period, newly employed or promoted individuals, those preparing for “qualifying life events,” such as marriage and/or children, and parents looking to help a child navigate the financial landscape.
“I have definitely benefited from working with the WBC,” she said. “The perspective provided by the members and consultants is invaluable.” At the end of the day, perspective changes everything.