How Consultants Can Survive and Thrive in Today's Economy
By Kay Paumier
The rollercoaster economy has negatively impacted small business owners and consultants, the past few years. Despite the turmoil, many small consulting practices are thriving.
Why have some consultants succeeded while so many others still struggle?
Three leading experts at Women in Consulting (WIC), a community of professional consultants and small business owners, share tips on how they’ve thrived and even grown their businesses.
How did they do it? Well, you might say it was just a matter of getting back to the basics.
Raise your profile
One way to connect with other possible team members is to join professional organizations.
“Referrals from the Women in Consulting community account for a large portion of my business,” said Avery Horzewski, founder and communications consultant at AVE Consulting, Inc. Horzewski said her workload has grown so much, she has increased her hours, used more subcontractors and referred more work to other consultants.
However, consultants agree that it is not enough to simply show up at the occasional networking meeting. It’s important to become involved and help out on committees and projects.
And consistency is important. Once you’ve selected your networking organizations, show up often. And keep in touch outside of the organization’s formal meetings.
That’s one way Jennifer Berkley Jackson, founder and market researcher at The Insight Advantage, raised her profile. Besides being highly visible in professional organizations, Jennifer used social media—LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook—to subtly remind people of her expertise.
“As a result, as things started picking up, I got calls from people in my extended network who see me as the ‘go-to’ person in my field. And I closed more business in the first quarter of 2012 than in any other quarter since I started my business in 2000,” she said.
However, remember that it is important to nurture relationships for their own sake, not just mine them for business opportunities.
It’s also important to partner with other professionals whose expertise complements your own.
“I need to collaborate with others to gain momentum and offer my clients varied resources, often in a short period of time,” said Angel Rampy, founder, trainer and coach at Success through Learning. Rampy and the other consultants see collaborations as a way to get larger clients and projects, balance out work between heavy and lighter times, and keep their own skill sets and enthusiasm up.
Collaboration can take many forms, from formal joint ventures and partnerships to subcontractor relationships. The important thing is to realize you don’t need to go it alone. It’s often more fun—and more profitable—to be part of a team.
And even if you don’t collaborate on a given project, be sure to “pay it forward.” All regularly recommend others for work that they can’t or don’t do. “I do believe that ‘what goes around comes around,” said Horzewski. “One of the best ways to build a business is to help someone else build hers.”
Go beyond your neighborhood.
When your local business is shrinking, “think big” (or at least “bigger”) and go nationally or even globally.
Rampy explained that she’s found it difficult to differentiate her coaching and training business locally. “However, foreign businesses are investing in education for their employees. What has come and gone in the U.S. may be gaining momentum in other countries.”
So Rampy changed her marketing and business strategy to leverage her global expertise and focus on foreign-born professionals. The result? She has increased her business even as others in her field have struggled.
Of course, going international might not make sense in your case. But it’s worth considering opportunities outside your geographical area. Several consultants have clients they have never met, but who learned about them through the Internet or through a referral. And this “global vision” can definitely help balance out work when business in your geographical area is slow.
Raise your profile. Increase collaboration. Go beyond your neighborhood. Sound advice—in good times and bad.
Kay Paumier is the founder and president of the Communications Plus public relations and marketing firm. She is the PR and marketing director for Women in Consulting.