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10 Tough-Times Strategies for Consulting Firms

You’re swimming in a vast sea of stressful news and, given today’s reality, you’re well within your rights to feel anxious, nervous and uncertain about how your consulting firm should proceed.

Clients are shutting down their operations; workshops and meetings are being called off; in fact, the entire economy appears to be headed for an abrupt, if temporary, halt. What does that mean for your consulting firm and how should you respond?

I pulled together a couple dozen “to dos” for my consulting firm clients. Nine of them are presented below, leaving a space for you to fill in your recommendation for your own consulting firm and for other readers.

10 Tough-Times Strategies for Consulting Firms

#1: Stay Right-Side Up

Always remember the #1 rule of consulting:

It’s not about you, it’s about them—clients.

When you lock your gaze onto your clients’ concerns and needs, you’ll be better equipped to address their fears, soothe their anxieties, and ferry them over their own troubled waters.

Don’t ignore your own consulting firm’s requirements, of course (more on that below); however, remember that consulting is based on the idea of helping clients in their times of need. They need you now.

#2: Keep an Eye on Cash Flow, But Don’t Panic

Most consulting firms operate with roughly 3-6 months worth of cash on hand. If you’re at the top of that range or even better positioned, you’re fine. Relax. If you’re at the bottom of that range or below it because of the time of year, you’re fine. Relax.

Either way, secure a line of credit so that you can cover your bills. Prepare yourself mentally for a temporary, cash-negative position.

It’s not permanent and your consulting firm will survive. The lights will turn back on, and the cash will flow again.

Most importantly, keep moving!  Do not shut down or abandon your own growth activities. (See strategy #6 – Do Big Work)

#3: Maintain Your Fees

Panicking and offering fire sales on your consulting projects is ill-advised. Your consulting firm’s clients want to see that you’re confident and stalwart during uncertain times.

If a client wants to postpone or cancel a project because they’re panicked, chopping your consulting fees isn’t going to save the engagement. It will merely lower your prospect’s trust that you know how to handle bumps in the road.

On the other hand, definitely bend your payment terms to suit your clients’ needs.

#4: Be a Source of Calm and Reason

Now is the time for your consulting firm to exude steadfastness. You are an unmovable rock of reassurance amidst your clients’ tornado of fear, uncertainty and doubt.

When you talk with clients and prospects, offer facts and reasoned advice. Demonstrate that your consulting firm is under control and well directed. Your stock as a leader will rise and your ability to win consulting engagements will increase too.

#5: Partner on Opportunities

What new possibilities are open to your consulting firm and to your clients during these tough times? What are they missing? What veins of gold were revealed by the earthquake?

You don’t need to answer that question alone. In fact you shouldn’t even try.

Your consulting firm’s clients have never been in this situation either. They’re floundering and wondering how to move forward.

You and your consulting firm are the perfect partners to help them process their mental pollution into pearls of opportunity. Brainstorm with your clients and with other consultants to spot emerging options.

#6: Do Big Work

Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines taught me to invest counter-cyclically, and that advice has always paid off. I suggest you follow it too.

If your consulting firm is facing a sudden drop-off in work to do, you can focus on the big growth projects that you’ve been ignoring.

Re-examine your go-to-market strategy; update your website; finally write that book! Your consulting team can use the break to scour databases, identify prospects, write whitepapers, clean up your clogged filing system, and more.

Dive into the work of growing your firm while you have time to focus on it.

#7: Don’t Let Events Distract You

We interrupt this news flash with more breaking news!

You don’t have to stay on top of current events with sniper-like intensity. It’s all too easy to lose hours and days caught in a flood of updates that don’t realistically help you.

And yes, the underlying cause of tough times is real. Don’t ignore important announcements or slough off crucial precautions.

However, you won’t advance yourself or your consulting firm or your clients’ state of being by gluing yourself to the news. Let it go during the day.

#8: Perfect Your Remote Work and Delivery Processes

Thank goodness you’re in the consulting business. Most of your work can be conducted and delivered remotely. Zoom meetings are not as rich as face-to-face interactions, but they’re pretty darn good!

If you’re not already proficient at consulting with a virtual office and delivering from afar, now’s the time to burnish those skills. You’ll find them extraordinarily useful in the future, too.

#9: Live in Gratitude

There’s no better cure for troubling and upsetting situations than gratitude. You have much to be thankful for, even during your dark times.

When a consulting client says, “We’re cancelling” or a loved one is facing a health crisis, take a deep breath and write down three things you’re grateful for.

A daily practice of gratefulness will also help you execute all the other strategies on this list.

#10: What’s Your Strategy?

<Fill this in using the comments section>

I’ve left a blank spot for you to contribute to me and your peers. What advice are you giving (and following) to thrive during these tough times?


50 Comments
  1. PJ Doets
    March 18, 2020 at 6:24 am Reply

    My strategy: Develop a ‘Winning Move’ checklist & service in order to facilitate my clients to come out of this crisis much stronger. Tx for your blog David!

    • David A. Fields
      March 18, 2020 at 7:08 am Reply

      That’s a super positive, clever approach, PJ. (We have an article on checklists coming up soon, so keep that Winning Move list handy to post to the comments section again.) Your clients are fortunate to have you thinking about them.

  2. Bess Winston
    March 18, 2020 at 6:25 am Reply

    Just wanted to say I needed to hear this. Thanks for the reassurance!

    • David A. Fields
      March 18, 2020 at 7:09 am Reply

      We’re all in this together and now, more than ever, it’s easy for consultants to feel isolated. So, thank you for being willing to share how you’re feeling, Bess. That type of feedback and communication makes us all stronger.

  3. Gabrielle Fontaine
    March 18, 2020 at 7:18 am Reply

    #10 – Reach out to each of your clients (and prospects and past clients) individually with a phone or video call to simply check in on them and see how they are doing. This should be in line with #1 above. Freely share any tips for weathering this storm and let them know you’re in their corner. While this should be done out of genuine caring (it will feel good to focus on the well-being of others), it will likely lead to more consulting business for you now or after calmer times return.

    • David A. Fields
      March 18, 2020 at 7:59 am Reply

      Excellent strategy, Gabrielle. Video, in particular, is going to become more and more important. Many of your clients are unused to working from a remote location and you will reassure them by appearing on the screen. Thank you for posting excellent advice, Gabrielle.

      • Lav Goyal
        March 18, 2020 at 3:03 pm Reply

        #10 – Here’s a chance to show your clients how you stand with your team who works for them, and have organised their working from home in the interest of completing projects albeit a bit slower. Clients will remember how you kept the wheel spinning for them, while your people won’t forget that you care!

        • David A. Fields
          March 18, 2020 at 3:36 pm

          Great point, Lav, especially for those of us who work in larger consulting practices with a team. Show your clients that your robust business approach continues to deliver value in the face of extraordinary circumstances. That’s like dipping your reputation in liquid gold.

          I’m very glad you added that point to the conversation, Lav.

    • Bruce Imel
      March 18, 2020 at 8:43 am Reply

      This needs to be tempered. I’m getting inundated with people “reaching out”. My clients are also. We are focusing on current clients and prospects that are deep in the funnel and holding off on emarketing so not to fill up people’s already full inboxes.

      • David A. Fields
        March 18, 2020 at 8:58 am Reply

        Bruce, I recommend you reach out to your A-level contacts this week and next, and leave the Bs for a few weeks from now, when people are a bit more in touch with their new reality. Your A contacts are already strong relationships and will appreciate the touch.

        Thanks for highlighting that point.

  4. Jamie Broughton
    March 18, 2020 at 7:35 am Reply

    The lovely and rare combination of usefulness and hilarity. Thanks, David!

    • David A. Fields
      March 18, 2020 at 8:03 am Reply

      You’re very kind, Jamie. Enormously emotionally intelligent consultants like you are a special breed, and at times like these your clients are particularly fortunate to have you in their corner.

      Thanks for posting your reaction, Jamie!

  5. Bob Burg
    March 18, 2020 at 8:03 am Reply

    Fantastic article, filled with wisdom that brings immense value to all! Thank you David!

    • David A. Fields
      March 18, 2020 at 8:35 am Reply

      That’s high praise, coming from you, Bob! As the originator and evangelist of the “Go-Giver” message, you’re an exemplary model for every consultant.

      Thank you for contributing your insights and experience to the consulting industry, Bob.

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