Surviving the coming months as a consultant

Surviving the coming months as a consultant

Networking will ferret out opportunities
by Kathryn Christ

Consultants, like other business people, have been impacted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America.

As independent professionals who offer strategic counsel to businesses, consultants see the turn of events as a challenge and an opportunity.

“The money in the economy was tight before Sept. 11 and now it’s even more so,” said David Zimmer, a computer consultant and partner with The American Eagle Group in Philadelphia. “Projects on the borderline have been canceled. Businesses have implemented travel restrictions. I’ve had speaking engagements canceled because the conferences were postponed or canceled.”

Steve Kaufman, a public relations consultant with Stephen J. Kaufman Public Relations in Jacksonville, agrees. “Some of my bigger clients have cut back significantly. They began to scale back before September due to the economy. I expected they would have come back by now and they haven’t.”

Other factors affecting business are more personal. “I’m a little nervous about traveling right now. Especially when there are people in the world who believe it is their religious duty to kill an American,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer depends heavily on speaking engagements for exposure and referrals, so a limit on travel will have a direct impact on his revenue.

As a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, as well as an independent business owner, Kaufman balances the challenges of two careers. “I’m very proud of my Reserve duty and my service to my country. If I am called to active duty, I will go without a moment’s hesitation. However, Reserve duty does add a complication to my business. As I work to ensure my business grows and prospers, I’m also developing a contingency plan to ensure my clients are not affected by my call to service.”

Survival mode

Faced with current events, many consultants are taking a hard look at their own business and re-examining their plans for the next six to nine months.

As a strategic consultant in the unified communications industry, Zimmer is an expert in developing strategies to help businesses manage converging technologies — voice, fax, e-mail, paging and Short Message Services. SMS is the technology that sends short text messages via mobile phones.

As a national board member with the Independent Computer Consultants Association, Zimmer sees strategic consultants returning to basics. “We’re in survival mode,” he said. “As a consultant, you need to get out there and find the work. Even if that means you need to step away from high-end consulting and get back to laying cable, setting up home networks or tutoring for popular software programs.”

Remaining focused is crucial to succeeding in the coming months, said Doug Wilder, a business coach with Wilder Business Sense in Jacksonville.

“I worked with clients to bring their employees together and re-examine the business’ mission,” Wilder said. “The question was: `Has our mission changed because of the tragedy?’ When the employees and the owner came to the decision that the mission hadn’t changed, they were able to move on and develop compassionate ways to address the tragedy. At the same time, everyone was able to focus on the task at hand — running a profitable business.”

Relationship roller coaster

“Business relationships rev up and cut back all the time,” Kaufman said. His plan relies heavily on networking. “I do lunch for a living,” he said. “Even as companies announce layoffs, they still need work to be done and how do they get that work done? With consultants.”

Web sites, e-mail newsletters, volunteer positions in community groups, direct mail and news releases are part of Kaufman’s marketing plan for now and for the future.

Zimmer plans to increase his speaking engagements while expanding his product line to boost credibility and visibility.

“Business owners and professionals are eager to gain control of their businesses, make a plan and increase sales,” Wilder said. “Market trends only remind people there’s no time like the present.”