In the good old days of consulting (the nineties) consultants wore expensive suits, made PowerPoint presentations, and billed at rates from $50 to $200 an hour depending on the client. They spent lots of time in meetings with management, a little time working with client personnel, and the rest of the time writing reports and preparing their next presentation.
Some of those consultants are still around, but I’ll wager that the herd has been thinned out somewhat because of outsourcing, downsizing and the proliferation of small and micro-businesses.
Have no fear, however, that the consulting business is going away. I think it is transforming and scaling down to suit the needs of small and micro-businesses.
As has been noted earlier in this series of posts, a micro-business owner calls all of the shots and has to be fantastically versatile and tough to make a success of his micro-enterprise. Most of them admit they don’t know all of the answers and need the help of an experienced consultant from time to time. Since their budgets rarely include money for consultants, they have to get very creative and usually get their information from buddies or from the internet.
There are times, however, when one needs more than online help to resolve a knotty business problem. This is where the new breed of consultant comes in. They wear casual clothes, roll up their sleeves and pitch in with the owner to brainstorm and execute the actions necessary to turn a situation around. They often look like employees to customers and vendors because they participate in sales and purchasing activities as well as in finance, marketing and public relations activities.
Billing practices are quite varied and imaginative in order to work with the owner of a micro-business with a micro-budget. This is possible I think because this micro-business consultant is generally self-employed, works out of his home and operates with far fewer expenses than he did as a consultant to corporate royalty.
The micro-consultants I know have even functioned as a hired partner for the micro-businessman, taking part in every significant decision that is made.
A lot of this is possible because there are tens of thousands of experienced executives out on their own as a result of massive downsizing efforts in the last five years. Few of these people can afford to retire although some may be old enough to receive Social Security.
They realize that they can no longer command the fabulous billing rates of yesteryear, but they know that their services are still needed when they see businesses struggling with problems that they know how to solve.
Eventually they realize, as I did, that almost no business owner considers that he needs "business consulting". What he wants is more customers, or less turnover, or better control of his costs. A good consultant calls himself whatever the business owner needs. He comes in as a contractor, however, and not as an employee. He takes whatever title he needs to get the job done and inserts himself or herself into the micro-business and becomes an integral part of the operation.
If this sounds all too down and dirty for you, then I suggest that you have not been spending enough time with small business people. They are generally bright, appreciate help, and are very resourceful. They also can find money for someone who is making money for them.
This is where the micro-consultant can differentiate herself or himself from the Anderson Consulting crowd. If he concentrates on helping the micro-businessman make money rather than providing elegant solutions, he will have a satisfied client who will recommend him to others. There are no layers of middle management to work through. The business owner either see results and is happy or he doesn’t and isn’t.
I think there will be a growing number of micro-business consultants, whatever they call themselves, and they will become increasing influential in the growth of this entire micro-business phenomenon.
What do you think?