If you a worried about missing out on the growth opportunities for independent consultants right now, then something’s off. Most likely, there is not enough demand or not too many buyers for what you do. Or simply your offer, and I do not want to mince words here, sucks.
I know that because the need for business consultants has stayed high during every economic downturn in the last 18 years. (See the graph from Google Trends below.)
But not all consultants are equal.
Positioning is key.
ROI consultants, for example, are just not as much searched for as sales consultants or business consultants.
There is more demand for HR consultants than there is for DEI consultants. Health consultants dwarf wellness consultants.
Do your research. Go to Google Trends and see how your title compares to others.
Bring it home to three needs
I started my consulting journey as an independent consultant for localization, which is the discipline of culturally adapting a product to international markets.
It turns out that not so many companies who need help, care for it unless I was able to tie my activities to:
- Increase in revenue,
- Reduction of cost,
- Improvement of relationships with clients, or
- Team productivity and wellness.
In other words, tie your activities to money, relationships, or health. Examples are:
- Money: Business consultants, sales consultants, and marketing consultants. ROI and OKR consultants don’t seem to be in demand that much.
- Relationships: HR consultants, leadership consultants, and relationship consultants lead the pack. While the need for DEI consultants is currently growing, it dwarfs compared to the top three in this category.
- Health: Health consultants seem to be what companies are looking for, but the term wellness consultant appears to resonate less. Feng Shui consultants? Forget about it in the business world.
See, for example, this comparison of consulting types on Google Trends.
Note that IT consultant and operational consultant are missing from my lists above. That’s not an oversight …
In the last 18 years, operational consultants have been at the bottom of the search list. So, if you are calling yourself the latter, consider making a change.
When it comes to IT consultants, I could have easily left them in their own category but didn’t. But I strongly believe that they need to connect their work to the Three Needs or they'll starve.
They can help companies reduce technical debt (money), improve collaboration between IT and the business (relationships), or reduce stress for agile development teams (health).
I suggest they act less like a corporate IT team who justifies their being based on the existence of technology. That’s like forecasting the weather because weather is here.
As an independent consultant, you have got to have a purpose and need.
Choose your toolkit
Nobody buys consulting let alone consulting hours. They buy the outcomes they want and shop for the consultant they believe can best help them get results.
The five tools independent consultants can offer are:
Clients expect consultants to offer all five.
When I worked as a localization consultant, my average engagement time per client was 5.7 years. That’s huge in a niche market where the average is 4.3 MONTHS, not years.
When I asked my clients why they kept me on board so long, they all gave the same answer: ‘There are plenty of other experts with your type of knowledge out there. We keep you engaged because you made me a better leader, my team better collaborators, and my vendors better suppliers.’
In other words, they thought I was everybody's coach.
Side note: This feedback was the catalyst for me to become a full-time coach, but I still offer information and training to all of my clients, and I am adding services and products as ‘we speak.’
Seek clarity on which tools your clients need most during the recession.
Tighten your Niche
I hate to break it to you, but small business owners are not a niche. They are a demographic.
No one introduces themselves at a party as being ‘a small business owner.’ The same is true for ‘heart-centered leaders’, ‘female entrepreneurs’ or ‘fearless business leaders.’
People introduce themselves in terms of what they do, for example ‘CEO of a software development company, ‘VP of Sales for an ice cream company’ or ‘I own a barber shop.’
Your niche has five elements:
- Easy to find
- You can get them specific results
- You like them
- They can pay you
When they start out, independent consultants are often fuzzy about these criteria. I typically work with very smart and driven consultants who can help a variety of people master lots of challenges.
They resist niching down over fears that they might lose opportunities if they did.
The irony is that more often than not, the opposite is the case. They lose opportunities because they are too wishy-washy about whom they want to serve and how.
In recessions, people look for certainty and get irritated by more ambiguity.
Change your time horizon
Corporate America is obsessed with the next quarter. That short-term focus has infected so many corporate workers and they often take that virus with them when they start their businesses.
It’s already hard to sell people a vision beyond the next quarter. In recessions, it’s often impossible.
Focus on quick wins, fast results, and immediate ROI.
This is not the time to propose enhancements and customizations for a CRM, for example. It’s an opportunity to draw out of technology what is already in it.
If you would like to review or have a second opinion on how you can increase momentum during the recession, see if you can still snag an opportunity to meet with me for an Accelerator Audit.
We are going to cover three things:
1. Attract leads with the Authority Builder so that we speak to people we want and keep away those that we don't.
2. Engage potential clients with the event appointment funnel so that we can start conversations naturally and select - not sell - the people we want to work with.
3. Scale your practice with the Delivery Power Matrix so that you can serve more clients without working more hours.