If you Google “bespectacled problem solver,” you’ll quickly discover Rayna Yaker, founder and Principal Consultant of RYE Consulting. The Chicago-based boutique education consulting firm offers their clients a menu of well-rounded services.
Rayna Yaker, M.ED, J.D. lives up to her moniker as is evident from the array of letters that live behind her name. After completing her teaching degree she went back to school for a dual degree, earning her Masters of Education (M.Ed) in Curriculum & Instruction as well as a Doctor of Law Degree (J.D.) with a Certificate in Children and Family.
Combining her teaching expertise and her knowledge of the policy side of education has helped her secure a niche market, providing solutions to school-based issues offering high-touch, individualized support experience for her clients.
Want to learn more? Meet Rayna Yaker of RYE Consulting.
What was life like before RYE Consulting and what motivated you to quit your day job and start your own business?
I started my career in the classroom—I taught first grade. Back when I was studying education, I had a fantastic professor. One day, I visited her during office hours and asked: “What happens if I don’t want to teach the rest of my life?”
She worked at what was then Harcourt [a very large textbook publisher] and offered me a shadow day. The shadow day turned into an internship. This was a very influential experience as it gave me a chance to see what life could be like outside the classroom.
I loved being in the classroom, but I wanted to make an impact at an even greater scale, so I decided to go back to school and got a dual degree [M.Ed and J.D.] and went on to work at a major education firm [Pearson].
Then, in 2010, the U.S introduced Common Core, a new set of standards being put in place in schools all over the country. This opened up the market for small- and medium-sized businesses to enter the education market as there would be a need for schools and companies to restructure their products and services. I identified a big opportunity and that’s when I decided to break off and start RYE Consulting.
Rayna’s 3 pearls of wisdom for entrepreneurs:
- Be flexible. Try to avoid falling into a structured routine. Understand your ability to move and flex and go. You’ll be a lot less stressed out that way.
- Don’t take things personally. Building a business is personal but you can’t take everything personally. It’s your reputation, it’s your brand, it’s your idea. But you have to accept that not every potential business partner you encounter will appreciate or share that vision. You have to separate yourself from the business.
- Stay balanced. Surround yourself with people who support you personally as well as professionally. Kristen was the first member of our team; she’s been an invaluable addition not just because she’s talented, she also ensures I have a healthy balance within my personal life.
Describe the biggest challenge you’ve experienced as a small business owner and how you dealt with it.
Two years after starting RYE Consulting, I went away for the holidays and when I came back in January Chicago had fallen into a huge financial crisis—teachers were going on strike, Chicago Public Schools were struggling to pay their bills.
A lot of local clients had to put their work on hold and we had to work hard to bring on new clients. Luckily, we were able to recover fairly quickly between the clients we had in the pipeline and referrals from our more national clients.
That was a really challenging situation but also a very exciting one. That was my two-year gut check and we came out okay—even better than before!
Share a story where you went above and beyond for a client.
We are fortunate to work with Inspire Girls Academy, a client that has truly turnedinto a passion project. Inspire is a STEAM-focused organization bringing innovative programming to Chicago for young girls. Our role with them has extended beyond the typical client-consultant relationship, from building the curriculum and strategic partnerships to now helping staff the Astro Overnight Program at Adler Planetarium. This program engages students through activities like building straw rockets and towers.
As you can tell by our glasses logo and being a self-proclaimed “nerdy girl” who always loves to learn, it makes me so happy being able to go that extra mile with this organization and create such enriching learning experiences.
It’s a typical work day. Where can we find you?
1871 here in Chicago. It’s one of the largest entrepreneurial hubs in the country. It’s like a co-working space but with accelerators in the building as well. It’s part of the Google for Entrepreneurs network too.
Inspiration or perspiration?
Inspir…uhhhh [laughs]. Perspiration. I’m a big “hard work” person. I have that quote from Abraham Lincoln above my desk that says: “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle”. I’m always hustling … like I’m some 90s rapper. Obviously, inspiration factors into it because it’s really hard to put in those extra hours and long days for something you don’t believe in.
Who is your role model?
I was fortunate to grow up in an entrepreneurial family so I got to see and experience everything from marketing to sales to inventory. My father has always been an incredible resource and a fantastic mentor. Owning a business is a daily roller coaster and I am fortunate to have him along for the ride. Now that I’ve gotten bigger he is also my CFO and takes care of all of my billing. No one has your best interest at heart like your father!
I am also incredibly lucky to have Dr. Juli Dixon—a mentor, friend, teacher and client rolled into one. She was the professor in college I mentioned earlier who truly set me on this path Also, as a professor, author, consultant, wife and mom she is an incredible example of how to juggle everything and is beyond honest about the struggles of doing so.
Do you have a motivational mantra or inspirational quote that helps you get you out of bed in the morning?
“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t” – Bill Nye (The Science Guy)
Work-Life balance is *tough* for a small business owner. How do you stay balanced?
I only schedule gym classes that will fine me if I don’t show up and that keeps me accountable. Also, my friends are amazing about forcing me to take a break and join in things like happy hour.
I’m also part of a wonderful organization, Junior League of Chicago that gives me the support of other young professional women and the opportunity to connect with my community.
What’s next for RYE Consulting?
We’re continuing to grow! We are bringing a new person onto the team which is really exciting. We are 100 per cent referral based and stick with clients that will refer us and help push us forward.
We will also continue to be flexible. People always ask me “where do you see yourself in 3-5 years” and I laugh. Because if you told me 5 years ago I’d be running my own business out of Chicago I would have never believed you.
Rayna has a full schedule these days which includes hosting the EdTech panel at TechWeek Chicago on June 23. If you’re in the area, be sure to check it out!
Learn more about Rayna and RYE Consulting:
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About the Author: Amanda is the Community Coordinator at FreshBooks. She loves executing extraordinary experiences every day both on and offline. When she’s not doing that, she is taking her dog, Jonny, on adventures or searching Toronto for the best coleslaw.