The $100k Niche Consulting Business

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Carter Osborne

When you hear “college admissions essay consultant,” you might imagine some dull, overly formal academic type.

But Carter Osborne from took a pretty unconventional path to dominating this niche business.

When he started providing tutoring services on the side, he was just a “broke, desperate graduate student” in need of some extra money.

Carter actually had no formal business training. His background was in political science and public administration—so not exactly the traditional entrepreneurial breeding grounds.

Not exactly the traditional path for an entrepreneur, right?

And yet, the untraditional route Carter took allowed him to build a unique $100k consulting business, with almost all the revenue coming in just half the year.

While Carter’s career path didn’t seem logical as a tutor, he was about to discover an untapped market niche that was waiting to be explored.

Tune in to Episode 601 of The Side Hustle Show to learn how to:

  • Come up with your lucrative side hustle offer
  • Get your first customers
  • Grow the business
  • Handle the delivery logistics as a solopreneur 

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Finding His Niche in the Essay Hustle

Carter started out tutoring different subjects as a side gig in grad school, from SAT/ACT prep to history and even pre-calculus.

But he enjoyed the actual writing and language arts side of things the most, especially helping students craft their college admissions essays.

“The college essays were my favorite part,” Carter said. “I always knew that was something that I wanted to invest more heavily in.”

College Essay

So he looked at specializing his services and sacrificing clientele in the short term to focus entirely on college essays. It was a short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.

What made this a smart move was there was little competition from other tutors in the Seattle area for this very niche service.

Turning Competitors Into Collaborators

Of course, having a profitable niche idea is one thing, but getting paying clients is a whole other challenge—especially with no paid advertising or marketing budget (very surprising, right?)

This is where Carter’s first big breakthrough came: he started building strategic partnerships with the very people who could have been seen as competitors.

So he reached out to established, successful college admissions consultants and counselors in his local area. His pitch was simple: “Could I help you out? If you have some overflow clients who you can’t get to, maybe pass them my way.”

And it was a win-win partnership. If you think about it, these consultants were already fully booked anyway, and writing essays often wasn’t how they wanted to spend their time.

From there, the word-of-mouth referral engine started spinning. In Carter’s first year, he landed 3 clients and earned a few thousand dollars.

Gaining Momentum With Recurring Revenue

Carter Osborne Consulting


The next year, he tripled his client load to 14 students and broke 5 figures in sales. And from then on, Carter has reached the $100K+ mark working with around 25 to 30 students.

That was more than his income from his full-time corporate PR job—the tipping point that led Carter to quit and go all-in on his college essay consulting business.

A major key to Carter’s growth has been referrals. One benefit of specializing in college admissions support is the referrals.

Every year, a new batch of high school seniors needs help with their essays. And if families had good experiences working with Carter, they were highly likely to tell their friends and refer him to college-bound kids.

In fact, Carter said “it’s almost entirely word-of-mouth” driving new client acquisition at this point, adding:

“Mostly parents talking to their friends saying, ‘Oh yeah, last year we worked with Carter and he was great.’ That natural word of mouth through the client market, that’s really what’s driving my growth right now.”

And parents are motivated customers too. As Carter explained, families will happily pay a $3,000-$5,000 consulting fee if it improves their child’s chances of admission at top/competitive colleges—on top of the $100K+ costs of tuition.

Carter’s $225 per Hour Pricing Lesson

Carter Services

When he launched his essay coaching services, he undercharged at $75 per hour.

He explained his thought process at the time: “I remember thinking, okay, what am I worth? As a college admissions or as a college essay consultant, what do I think I’m worth? Well, I don’t have any experience.”

But Carter soon realized prospective clients might be skeptical of such a low price point for a specialized service. He raised his rates to a more appropriate $225 per hour eventually.

The pricing conversation now happens in the onboarding process, usually over the phone or video call.

Carter said, “That’s not the only way to go about it. And I do know consultants who do the more front facing, SEO-maximizing, sort of website-based way of marketing themselves. But for a lot of us, no, we kind of hang out in the background and count on that referral network to generate our leads for us.”

Tools and Tech to Run an Online Consulting Business

Although Carter has built a six-figure income stream, he admitted that he could improve on his operations and tech stack.


On the financial management side, Carter uses QuickBooks to handle invoicing and track revenue.


For his website and online presence, Carter opted for Squarespace as his hosting platform.

Carter is looking to make his scheduling process better because, up until this point, he’s still been manually coordinating all his tutoring sessions and sending calendar invites over email.

“I am still doing my scheduling by hand, which is terrible,” Carter admitted. “I need to get a calendar service going.”

Carter said he’s looking into adopting a client scheduling tool to streamline that process now that he’s operating his consulting business full-time.

(Our sponsor Practice might be worth a look.)

Aside from the scheduled meetings themselves, Carter conducts all his virtual tutoring sessions over Zoom. No surprises there, as Zoom has become the de facto video conferencing standard in recent years.

No Paid Advertising or Social Media

In fact, Carter’s consulting business has basically no public online presence at all.

Why? Carter said that the tutoring and college admissions world treats essay consulting like a luxury good.

“This industry is so odd in that people view it almost like a luxury good. It’s this sort of premier consultant, a premier tutor sort of thing. This is a special person. This is someone who’s almost hard to find because they’re so good and they don’t need to advertise themselves.”

In other words, maintaining an “air of exclusivity” reinforces the premium value proposition and Carter’s ability to command high rates. It’s quite counterintuitive in today’s world of extreme transparency, but it works for him and his niche.

You won’t find Carter on social media either. “I don’t have any personal social media myself,” he said. “I don’t enjoy it, so I don’t go out and advertise.”

Will AI Disrupt the Essay Tutoring Industry?

Carter admitted that AI and language models like ChatGPT are “a disruptive force” worth monitoring. But for now, he doesn’t believe these AI writing assistants are advanced enough to replace human guidance on high-stakes admissions essays.

“Please do not use these tools to write your college essays,” Carter warned. He advised that you can use them to brainstorm, to help generate ideas, but do not generate any significant amount of text that you’ll actually put into your essay.

Carter reasoned that AI-generated content still doesn’t have the personal narrative voice (aka the uniqueness) that college admission officers want to see.

As Carter sees it, his role is to help students dig deeper into their inner thoughts and experiences—and that’s a job best suited for human expertise and guidance.

Even when using tools like ChatGPT to brainstorm or edit content, the core creative concept must come from the student.

A Day in the Life of a Solopreneur Tutor

Carter CNBC
Photo from CNBC

The tutoring industry is “incredibly seasonal” with college application deadlines primarily falling in November and January each year.

That means his year follows a pattern—periods of intense work followed by months of much-needed downtime.

But come late summer and early fall, it’s the complete opposite story. Carter has to put his head down and grind.

It was especially difficult when he was still fully employed. During those peak admissions months, Carter’s calendar was fully booked.

His days started before sunrise with a couple of hours dedicated to reviewing student essays and providing feedback—all before logging into his day job.

It’s the feast-or-famine lifestyle he had to embrace as a solopreneur tutor, at least while still juggling his day job. Now that tutoring is his full-time focus, Carter has more flexibility to spread that workload out.

Mistakes and Surprises Along the Way

One of the biggest breakthroughs for Carter was realizing that the best college essays weren’t the ones where he imposed a strict formula or structure.

“What I’ve found is the best essays are the ones where the kid comes up with the idea, the kid generates their full draft, the kid works on a lot of their revisions,” he explained.

Carter’s role shifted to more of a supportive guide that helps students discover and refine their original stories and narratives.

It made the student’s unique voice and perspective shine through their essays—which is what admissions officers really want to see.

Using a formulaic structure usually had the opposite effect, producing generic essays that failed to differentiate the applicant.

Carter’s new coaching process provides guidelines, feedback, and creative prompts, but leaves the core brainstorming and writing to the students themselves.

What’s Next For Carter?

Now that Carter’s working for himself full-time, he has more flexibility to begin exploring ways to further diversify his services.

His current plan is to capitalize on other areas related to essay writing.

“I’m now working with students on professional coaching and consulting, folks who want to become tutors or even college essay specialists. I’m working with them to kind of talk about how to do it.”

Carter has also started working with students on competitive summer camp applications, which have started requiring essays as well.

He anticipates adding “one or two more” complementary service offerings each year to continue building out his business.

Carter’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

“Don’t let predisposed business notions keep you from getting started.”

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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

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