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How to Reduce the Anxiety From Your Consulting Firm’s Uncertain Future

Are clients coming back? Are projects canceled or postponed? For how long? Do you need to cut expenses? Fire staff? Change your business model?

Join me in a thought experiment to determine your best path forward during these turbulent times.

Imagine…

Imagine it’s the end of a hot, dry summer, and you’re vacationing alone with your loved one at a friend’s remote cottage. Situated on the bank of an icy river at the foot of a mountain, you’re surrounded only by towering pines. There’s not another soul for fifty miles in any direction.

No internet. No cell phone coverage. Heaven

Before crawling into bed yesterday, you soaked in the sunset’s garish display of ochers, rubies and plums reflected on the heavy snow that still clings to the mountain’s crags.

This morning, though, you startled awake with the sure sense something is wrong!

The power is out and the landline phone is dead too. A dimly blinking red light alerts you to a message on the ancient, tape-based answering machine. You urgently mash the play button and can barely discern your friend’s voice as the weak batteries fade…

“<static>…danger…<static>…if you’re not out by 6:00 a.m., you won’t be able to leave the cottage. It could be really, really bad, though, so—” 

Oh man.

What’s the danger? What catastrophe may be hurtling your way? It’s already 8:15 a.m.

It could be a forest fire. It could be an avalanche. If the damn broke upstream, it could be a flood. Or maybe some other disaster… a hurricane? A war? A Denver-sized swarm of red ants?

Your future is uncertain and scary. You’d be excused for feeling fraught with anxiety.

You or your partner could be worried, nervous, anxious. Even overwhelmed, paralyzed or depressed.

Havens of Certainty

Worry is indecision.

Anxiety is actually a signal that you’re not confident in your plans to deal with the future.

Recognizing that you must break the grip of fear and doubt, you work through the following, nine-step process.

Creating Havens of Certainty

  1. Immediately take stock and secure your access to emergency rations and shelter. No matter what happens, you’ll need that.
  2. Create a list of possible futures within the bounds of reality. (A meteor strike, for instance, isn’t realistic.)
  3. Select one scenario on your list—either the worst case or the most likely case.
  4. Identify your indicators. How will you know if your chosen scenario is coming true?
  5. Outline your options for dealing with the scenario. Brainstorm freely.
  6. Set criteria for choosing among your options, then evaluate each option.
  7. Choose your best option for dealing with the scenario.
  8. Make a plan to implement the best response option should the scenario come to pass.
  9. Repeat steps 3-8 until you have covered all of your scenarios.

You still don’t know what’s going to happen, but after spending a few hours on this exercise, you have clear plans and decisions.

For instance, you know you could shelter in the cottage, break into the abandoned mine shaft, quickly start scaling the mountain, or hide in the river under the old, steel rowboat. You can have a kit prepared for each scenario and can concentrate on staying alert to your indicators.

With concrete plans in place to protect you against every eventuality, your anxiety lessens.

You’ve created Havens of Certainty amidst the uncertainty. Safety measures appropriate for each likely future.

Your Consulting Firm

Your consulting firm’s near-term outlook may feel wildly uncertain, and even at risk of financial collapse.

Despite that uncertainty, you can forge a confident path forward by creating Havens of Certainty for your consulting firm.

Step 1 for your consulting firm is taking stock of your cash position and securing your ability to access cash.

That doesn’t mean cutting your spending. In fact, right now is a great time to invest in your consulting firm. That said, it’s vitally important that you secure a line of credit and, if necessary, a loan.

Steps 2 through 9 look the same for your consulting firm as they do for your imagined, vacationing self. Use the same, Havens of Certainty steps outlined above.

A few hours of disciplined, scenario planning will alleviate a heavy load of anxiety.

Will your thinking and preparing completely remove your fear of the future? Possibly not.

However, creating Havens of Certainty will noticeably improve your quality of life, and that of your consulting firm’s staff.

What else have you done to help reduce your anxiety over an uncertain future? Please share so that other readers can benefit from your practices too.


17 Comments
  1. Ian
    April 1, 2020 at 6:41 am Reply

    You are a very wise man. With a chocolate addiction perhaps, but still very wise. Thanks for this!

    • David A. Fields
      April 1, 2020 at 9:20 am Reply

      Isn’t chocolate consumption what makes a person wise? As a child you’ve had few years to gobble up chocolate, and the pieces you’re fed have been diluted with milk, sugar and other non-wisdom additives. With time and experience, however, you learn to imbibe chocolate in its purest state.

      That’s why the most enlightened person in history was, without question, Willy Wonka. (Personally, I heap spoonfuls of wisdom into my morning smoothie.)

      Thanks for the feedback and support, Ian.

  2. Dave
    April 1, 2020 at 7:58 am Reply

    Always awesome and insightful posts David.

    Many thanks,

    • David A. Fields
      April 1, 2020 at 9:24 am Reply

      Sounds like you’re already confident in your future, Dave. That’s a good thing! (As is you sharing your thoughts here.)

  3. dan markovitz
    April 1, 2020 at 8:13 am Reply

    Now I know that COVID-19 is serious: this is the very first blog post you’ve written with no mention of chocolate. I think that makes me more worried than anything else in the news.

    • David A. Fields
      April 1, 2020 at 10:04 am Reply

      • dan markovitz
        April 1, 2020 at 11:25 am Reply

        Now *that’s* funny!

  4. Tom Borg
    April 1, 2020 at 10:46 am Reply

    Excellent suggestions. Thank you David.

    • David A. Fields
      April 1, 2020 at 11:32 am Reply

      You’re welcome, Tom. Let me know how you make out with your Havens of Certainty. Thanks also for chiming in today.

  5. David Burnie
    April 1, 2020 at 2:36 pm Reply

    You really went for broke: “the sunset’s garish display of ochers, rubies and plums reflected on the heavy snow that still clings to the mountain’s crags.” Nice – if you get some downtime as a result of this pandemic I want an advance copy of your first fictional novel (or maybe not the first?)

    We are pivoting to use experience our organization has had in the past to help our clients (one of our leaders led the Business Continuity Planning response to the SARS crisis a large international bank).

    Thinking through what skills you can bring to the table in the “new COVID19 normal” can help to somewhat alleviate anxiety. There’s a lot that collectively we can do to help our clients, our colleagues and our communities.

    Stay healthy.

    • David A. Fields
      April 2, 2020 at 8:39 am Reply

      Kudos to you on providing leadership and guidance to your clients, David. It sounds like your pivot has been very successful, which will inspire other readers.

      You’re absolutely right: tapping into your (firm’s) value in the new world can create confidence in your ability to thrive, no matter how different the future feels. That’s a great point, and I’m glad you raised it.

      (Usually, my literary moments are edited out of the article. I guess my editor was hungrier for chocolate references this time.)

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