Consultants Have Four Paths in the Recession – Which Path Will You Take?

Building a Consulting Business

Door Choices

This article could help your consulting or professional business survive the recession and thrive during the recovery.

You need to have a most-probable model of how long the economy will take to come back and what shape that come back will take. Having an idea of how it will recover will help you plan your budget, market your services, and understand where you can best help clients.

There are four paths you can take to survive in the recession and thrive in the recovery. Which of these four paths will you take?

Recessions Happen. You Can Get Through It!

Recessions happen about every ten years. As an independent consultant I have worked through three of them. It was not easy. In each recession I learned painful lessons that proved critical to success. (And some of those lessons were incredibly expensive.) I hope the following tips will help you.

Above all, these tactical tips are three overarching attitudes to live by in tough times,

  • Stay Resilient
  • Be Agile
  • Stuff Happens, Learn from It and Move On

Decide Based on Data and Science

The US Commerce Department announced April 29, 2020 that the US economy fell 4.8% in the first quarter of 2020 and they expect the second quarter to be far worse. (We have not officially been declared in a recession yet because recessions are declared in hindsight after six months of negative GDP growth.)

Smart consultants and independent professionals must stay agile and prepare for a long downturn. Initially economist said the recovery could take the shape of a quick V rebound, a W, or a long L. Economists in the first week of May seem to have a consensus around a long L as the shape of recovery. That's a fast drop and long slow recovery. That means you need to stay agile, be situationally aware, and adapt to new strategies and tactics.

The tips I am posting in the following blogs and a LinkedIn series will help your consulting or professional business prepare for recession. If there is a quick rebound they will improve your business. If the recovery takes the shape of a long L, then these tips could save your business.

Get the Latest Tips for Consultants on LinkedIn

To see tips as they are posted almost daily in LinkedIn follow the hashtags #consulting, #consultant, or #managementconsultant. Or, even better let's connect on LinkedIn to insure you get these tips.

Why am I not using euphemisms for this pandemic and recession?

As a young lieutenant I remember an old sergeant telling me,
“Never lie to your troops. If there is a tough fight ahead, give them vision, direction, and the grit they need to get through it. Let them know that if they stay tough, they will win. If the conflict is easier than you expected, then everyone will be grateful." 

"But if you lie to your troops and tell them the fight will be short and easy then when they face hardship, they will collapse. You will have lost the fight, demoralized your troops, and failed as a leader.” 

He used a lot fewer words, but his lesson has done well for me.

Plan for 18 Months or Longer

This will be tough to read, but as a good consultant and independent professional you need to prepare for the most probable future.

Epidemiologists forecast COVID-19 will be active for years with multiple waves. Areas such as the United States with geographically separated hot spots will see continuing waves over time. Global recovery won't begin until at least 18 months from March 2020. It will take more than a year for global vaccinations to begin ramping up, and most likely COVID-19 will become systemic, recurring like the flu. 

In addition, we face broken supply chains, nationalistic isolation, trade wars with China, and a frightened distanced society that will take time to heal. (My forecast here is not based on news media but from my spending weeks reading non-political, source reports from Imperial College of London (advisors to UK Parliament), The Lancet, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (Independent US government advisors), and US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

I am definitely not a doomsayer, but I do believe in preparing for the most probable scenario.

“Shutting down was hard but opening up is going to be harder.”
Rich Lesser, CEO of Boston Consulting Group 
New York Times, April 27, 2020,

Consultants and Independent Professionals have Four Courses of Action. Which Will You Take?

The pandemic is both a human and societal disaster and an opportunity of such scale it is, hopefully, a once in a lifetime event. 

The global forces are so immense you cannot control them. But you can control how you react to them and what you do to manage your future.

This disaster leaves you four courses of action.

Stagnation
Some of your consulting peers will hunker down and stagnate. They will pull back and hide. They may go into personal depression. As the recession ends, they will be far worse off than before.

Shotgun
Almost as bad as hiding is panicking and trying to go a million directions at once. These are the consultants and independent professionals that try to be everything to everyone. As a consequence they focus on no one, their marketing is lost in the wind, they have no deep expertise, and they become an overlooked commodity.

Failure to Adapt
Most consultants will take a middle ground and fail to adapt. They will continue trying to sell the same services to the same businesses in the same way. They will come out of the recession having lost money, wasted time, and having missed an opportunity for future growth.

Springboard
Consultants and professionals that use the recession as a springboard will come out ahead. They will own a niche that has the best opportunities for now and the future. They will focus on clients in that niche and dig in tighter and deeper than competitors and build new ways of delivering services and pricing.

It will be a difficult, tough time, but those who use a Springboard approach will build greater expertise, a powerful professional brand, and repackage and reprice their services to fit the new economy. Their focus, agility, and resilience will be rewarded when the economy recovers.

When the economy picks up, those in the Springboard group will have multiple paths open to them. They will be able to, 

  • Accelerate as an independent consultant
  • Join a niche boutique firm as a valued partner
  • Work as a high-level freelance professional
  • Return to corporate work as a more highly experienced professional with with an entrepreneurial background and the opportunity to do side-gigs

Which Path will You Take?

There are four paths consultants and independent professionals can take. The one you choose will determine how well you survive the recession and thrive in the future.

I'd love to get your comments and feedback. 

  • Are there more alternative paths?
  • Which way is best? Least risky? Most rewarding?
  • Do you disagree with the pros - will we avoid a recession? Why?