There’s a dirty little secret in the world of independent consultants and startups: It’s feast or famine, even in the best of times.
The reason this is such a well-kept secret is that when people hear the term “consultant” or “startup,” they think of well-funded organizations like Deloitte, McKinsey or startup unicorns that dominate popular imagination. They don’t think of their marketing copywriter or the consultant with deep expertise who quickly solves specific pain points. But in 2020, it’s just those businesses—those “local” consultants —who are feeling the pain of pandemic shutdown. And may need a hug.
Over the summer, Comatch polled 1000 independent consultants to see how COVID had impacted business. While we may have guessed that travel and leisure consultants are expected to take a 51% hit this year, the numbers are painful for many others. The research estimated that marketing consultants would experience a 37% decrease in earnings; high tech and IT would drop 39%; and strategy consultants’ earnings would decrease by 44%. Since many expenses are fixed, these percentages translate to even more pain than the numbers show.
There’s more to local
So, just as we’ve all mobilized to “act local”—picking up takeout from the restaurant down the street or ordering from local businesses as much as possible—small professional services shops around the world also are being decimated. Many independent consultants and startups are filled with people who are supporting families on one income and (in the United States) paying out-of-pocket for their health insurance. They are suffering, and it’s time to give them a hug and show them some love.
Now, I realize hiring a consultant is not the same as deciding to order pizza for dinner. Contracting consultants or independent contractors is a bit more of an investment, and it usually requires internal red tape to make it happen. But the benefits may be well worth the effort: Small independent consultants have deep expertise and offer specialized services, often cost much less than larger firms, and usually provide more personalized, attentive service. Additionally, small startups have experience in hitting curveballs (googlies), working from home, working within time and resource constraints, and often handle global customer bases. Most importantly, they are accustomed to facing the same challenges as you, on a very granular level.
Some ways you can reach out and hug local consultants.
Simply reach out and reconnect. Perhaps you were a colleague years ago. Perhaps they were your boss or an up-and-coming star. Research shows sometimes the most powerful ties are “weak ties” – people you knew but with whom you have lost touch with. Since you last communicated, both of you have connected with new people and learned more. But because you have a shared history, it is much easier to reconnect and they care more about you than people you have just started to get to know.
Take 5 minutes out of your day to write a recommendation on LinkedIn or the platform on which they are active. This is integral to their online profile and will bring the power and depth of your network to theirs. This is perhaps the easiest thing to do and is guaranteed to make the recipient feel great.
Make an introduction to people in your network who may need their services. By far and away the best source of new business is from referrals. Remember, it is quite likely they have acquired a broader portfolio of skill sets since you last worked with them – and they are likely to have subcontractors they can pull in to do work.
There are a number of things you can do on a professional level, as well.
Consider offering them bigger or smaller gigs than the engagements they usually take; many consultants may have more time to take on bigger projects, or they may have out-of-work colleagues with relevant expertise with whom they can partner to meet your deadlines and workload. This is also a great time to offer seats on your board of advisors, again taking advantage of their broader bandwidth. They may even be willing to take on full-time roles in an ‘acting’ or permanent capacity.
Talk to your boss if you have cash available for hiring contractors. While you may not know it, there may be room in the budget to do so. Don’t assume. At this time of year, many departments are in use-it-or-lose-it mode in regard to their 2020 budgets. If you haven’t used all your allotted funds, look at ways to engage with consultants to help internal teams make a last push to meet annual goals.
Pay as fast as possible, and in full. Change procurement terms to be less onerous. And if you’re still cutting paper checks—WHY? Small business owners would love for you to use one of the many bill-paying services that drop funds right into checking accounts. In the time of COVID, mailing checks to an office address is yet another delay if the accounting staff is working from their home address.
If you’re still not sure how to help, just reach out and see how they’re doing. Letting them know you care could open up a dialogue that leads to a next step or new beginning for you both.
Oh – and another way to help? Share, Like, comment on this article and add your ideas and help spread the love. And the hugs. All of us could use it now.