Surviving as a consultant in a COVID-19 world

You’ve been consulting, and business has been good and growing. Personal networking, partnerships, marketing, or targeted sales have helped your growth. Then you started to hear about COVID-19 virus, first overseas and then threatening to arrive in the US. At first, you don’t worry too much, and continue to go about your business.

Suddenly, your existing clients tell you they are not able to start or continue projects that they’d planned to work on with you. Potential clients are “on-hold.” Some are downsizing or even closing their doors. COVID-19 is here with a vengeance.

Now what?

As a successful consultant, these times are unfamiliar territory. What can you do when business completely dries up and when a return to “normal” is unknown? Consulting is a relationship business at its core. In that spirit, here are some ideas:

What you can do now (today)

  • Contact all your prior and existing clients. They are currently being flooded with emails. Don’t text or email, call them. Start by asking how they are weathering this time. How are their families, relatives, and friends? Then offer to help. Find out where they are struggling, and help however you reasonably can. Don’t expect to be paid. This is not the time for that.
  • Make a contact list of prospects. Call them too, and don’t offer your consulting services—offer to help them as well. Consider this prospecting without expecting a sale right away. Make notes as to what you talked about, what you offered, what was accepted and what was not. These offers to help will not be forgotten.
  • Build your network. If you aren’t sure how to get started, there are plenty of great resources to explore; some of my favorites include Business Network International (BNI), Entrepreneurs' Organization, SCORE, and LinkedIn. Of course, networking cannot be done in-person now, but fundamentally, it has not changed: Listen to other’s stories. Tell yours. Note where connections and contacts can be of help, or you can be of help now and in the future. Entertain wild ideas and always look for ways to help.
  • Learn, learn, learn. There is nothing better than learning new skills. What have you always wanted to learn? What fascinates you,and what do you enjoy? Are there areas/topics of interest that you don’t know much about? You can ask yourself many questions and either take an online course (steeply discounted now) or one of many free courses at universities all over the world. Start with this timely one: The Science of Wellbeing from Yale University.
  • Take care of yourself. Being sequestered in your home for long periods of time is not going to be easy. Just ask those who live in colder climates, where cabin-fever is common for months in the winter. If you can open windows, do so. Eat well, exercise, take up yoga, listen to music, relax, light candles, read—do whatever helps you feel good about yourself.

Over the coming weeks

All the things I listed above will keep working even if the current situation is unchanged months from now. There is still more you can do, over the longer term, to set the stage for the future.

  • Regularly check in on family and friends. They are adjusting too. We are social creatures and now socializing is only possible at a distance. If you can use video (with tools like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or Zoom), try it. It will be appreciated. Even a short conversation can make all the difference. Who hasn’t heard from you in some time? Reconnect and connect. There are long-term benefits for you and those you care about by just staying in touch.
  • Research your industry. Pretend you don’t know anything about your industry. Look online, understand competition, look at new and different ways of viewing your business. What are you best at? How can you make that strength stronger? What is unique and what can you use to differentiate yourself? Talk to people about it, read about it. Put your company name in Owler and see who comes up as your competitors. Question everything you are doing and have done, as though you were starting over.
  • Think of new business ideas. When you are an entrepreneur at heart, you have ideas. Tough economic times always result in new and innovative businesses. Why not you, again? Look around: What are the new problems we are seeing? Think of things that will forever change due to this crisis. For example, remote work has changed entirely, and social distancing has entered our collective consciousness. Some form of these changes will endure, and they offer new opportunities and problems to solve.
  • Create a Consulting Council. Find similar consulting businesses, or perhaps just people with similar or tangential businesses. For example, if you are a consultant working in Finance, seek out Marketing consultants. You may be able to help each other now and in the future. Share ideas in an online forum, have a group discussion or call.
  • Get the Business. When things return to normal, there will likely be an explosion of economic activity (as there usually is after deep economic downturns). Be ready. How will you get new business? What will you do the same or differently? Explore alliances and partnerships, which you can ratchet up now. Look for new channels. Any groundwork you do now is less you have to do later. Think of it as putting credits in the client acquisition bank,ready to cash in as soon as the economic conditions improve.

These are strange and difficult times. Stay positive, conserve your money and resources, and lay the foundation for the future. There is always light after darkness. As a friend of mine once said to me, “The sun can’t hide behind the clouds forever.”

David Hershfield
David Hershfield is the VP of Product at Azlo, where he leads a cross-functional team (Engineering, Product Management, Data, and Design) that builds intuitive products that help people overcome the daily challenges of starting and growing a business. David is also the co-founder and co-owner of Hershfield Consulting.

Hi there! This post exists to offer you (hopefully) useful information but it cannot take the place of personalized professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert if you have questions about your business. Also, Azlo doesn’t endorse any third-party sites that are linked here.

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