Consultants fill growing need

Here at the Coaching Blog- one of the world’s leading blogs on the subject of Leadership and Coaching we quite often post articles by leading authors and authorities- today we are delighted to post an article from Rob Swenson, For the Sioux Falls Business Journal.

businessThe consulting business has been stodgy at the global level in recent years. Growth has been scattered, and the financial performance of large industry bellwethers has been mixed.
In contrast, the small, independent consulting firms that serve local markets are doing well. They are multiplying quickly, at least.
The growth of small consulting shops has been explosive, according to trend followers such as
“It has become ever easier for small firms to navigate the marketplace due to better electronic tools, availability of relevant data sets and the general escape of qualified professional consultants from the grind to be found in the larger firms,” according to information from Careers-in-Business.
The proliferation of small consulting businesses has been evident in Sioux Falls during the past few years. Dozens of independent firms provide services in the city and the number is growing. Like other small businesses, consulting firms come and go on a regular basis, but the overall trend line is going up.
There were 91 management, scientific and technical consulting services in the two-county metropolitan area in 2013, according to the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.
Volt is one of the newest consulting firms here. Gayle Ver Hey started her one-person business earlier this year after working as an executive for 25 years for Midwest Coast Transport and for nine years for Risk Administration Services Inc. Her background is in human resources and business operations.
“Sioux Falls is a great business community. It’s growing,” Ver Hey said. “There’s a huge need in workforce planning. I saw that need. I can help employers with that.”
One of her specialties is providing Predictive Index assessments to help clients get their employees into the right jobs and areas of responsibility.
“My passion is helping employers connect employees with their business plan and keeping employees engaged,” she said.
Ver Hey said her consulting business provides her a new way to continue to grow professionally.
A business such as Volt might not have been possible 20 years ago, she added. But advances in tools such as computer software and her experience in how businesses operate have enabled her to pursue self-employment in her field of expertise.
Trish Dougherty, whose professional background is in the health care industry, has been consulting in human resources for a decade. In 2014, she expanded her business, which is now called The Weston Group.
“There is a huge need in the small to medium-sized companies that don’t have an established HR methodology,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty is the owner and one of four advisers in Weston. The company assists a regional base of clients with issues such as recruiting employees, awarding benefits, resolving internal conflicts and complying with regulations.
Weston focuses on helping businesses in a five-state area but has provided services beyond that region. It complements its traditional “feet on the ground” consulting services with online information for clients.
Businesses typically reach out to Weston for consulting services when they are suffering some kind of distress, Dougherty said. Common issues include keeping up with changing regulations and recruiting good job candidates.
Growth is ‘positive sign’
Growth in businesses’ use of consultants in the Sioux Falls area probably is a reflection of the area’s continuing recovery from the recession and the highly competitive nature of business, said Evan Nolte, president and CEO of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce.
The last official recession in the United States began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. More recently, Sioux Falls and other growing cities in the Upper Midwest have been fighting labor shortages in some fields. The unemployment rate for Minnehaha County in June was 3 percent, according to the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation, and the rate in Lincoln County was 2.5 percent.
Sioux Falls companies do business around the nation and around the world, which means they must be competitively sharp and get good help, Nolte said.
“There’s no question, the perception we have and I have is there has been quite a strong and positive growth in consulting in the Sioux Falls metropolitan area. I see that as a very positive sign,” Nolte said.
Sioux Falls is beginning to develop a strong entrepreneurial mentality, and it’s particularly advantageous for newer, cost-conscious businesses to outsource specialties such as marketing, Nolte said.
“That’s a very smart way of going about it,” he said.
Jeff Eckhoff is the state director of the South Dakota Small Business Development Center, a network of offices that helps businesses start and grow. He said he has noticed an upswing in the use of consultants in the Sioux Falls area during the past five or six years.
“The demand is there. The supply is there,” Eckhoff said. “Those stars are aligning.”
A lot of small and midsize businesses probably don’t have the day-to-day expertise on staff to deal with complex operational challenges, such as updating technology systems, Eckhoff said. Hiring a consultant can be an efficient way for a company to get a task done professionally and without the permanent expense of increasing staff.
People who go into consulting work hard, he said, and seem to value how their time is spent.
“You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. I think that has a lot to do with people going out on their own,” Eckhoff said. “I think people are considering that a career path more than ever.”
Factors such as a consultant’s experience, name recognition and area of expertise can be factors in a venture’s success. For some, consulting might a temporary job. A parent might want to work from home to spend more time with a young child, for example. Or an executive might be between jobs or retired and still have the need or desire to work.
Some of the best people in consulting work for small firms and have significant responsibilities, according to Careers-in-Business. However, maintaining credibility and marketing success over extended periods presents long-range challenges for solo consultants, the website notes. Only one in 10 survives in business for 10 years.
One national expert said, however, that creating a successful consulting business is easier than it might seem.
“If you have a skill and you’re willing to market and sell yourself, you never have to have another job,” said Bruce Katcher, author of “An Insider’s Guide to Building a Successful Consulting Practice.” He is an independent and organizational psychologist from Massachusetts who provides consulting services to consultants. He is also the founder and executive director of The Center for Independent Consulting.
He started consulting on his own 22 years ago after he was laid off by a large consulting firm.
“I said, ‘Nobody’s ever going to have that kind of control over me again.’ That’s why I went out on my own. That’s why a lot of people do it,” Katcher said.
Consulting is a huge industry globally. Last year, 200,000 consultants sold more than $100 billion in advice, according to Careers-in-Business. Technology planning, strategic services and enterprise consulting are the biggest service areas.
There are big differences between the small consulting firms that are multiplying in local markets such as Sioux Falls and the global leaders in consulting and outsourcing.
Accenture, the biggest of the large consulting companies, employs 323,000 people and had $32 billion in revenue in 2014. The Ireland-based company has a strong presence in the U.S. and has clients in more than 120 countries, each of which poses a unique economic environment.
Opportunities and challenges
Teresa Jackson set out on her own earlier this year after working more than 20 years for marketing agencies in Sioux Falls. She started Teresa Jackson & Associates in March to assist clients with public relations, networking, advertising and marketing.
Initially, Jackson was nervous about going into business for herself because there are so many consultants and freelancers in Sioux Falls, she said. But she was excited by the flexibility that self-employment would bring, and she was confident that she could do good work. Business has been going well, she said.
“I feel like a lot of marketing firms are complacent. They just do what they have to do. I felt I could do more,” Jackson said.
As a one-person shop, she has the flexibility and connections to team up with other independent contractors as needed to quickly respond to a client’s needs.
“The trend I’m seeing is people are working with consultants because they know it can be cost-effective, especially if the consultants have a lot of experience,” she said.
Lisa Brouwer and Paul Ritter are two other business veterans who teamed up to form a consulting business. They started Elev8 Coaching about a year ago. Elev8 provides business coaching, keynote presentations and facilitation services.
“We come into companies and talk about leadership. We talk about collaboration. We talk about growth and development, and resolving dysfunctionality,” Brouwer said.
In addition to their partnership in Elev8, Brouwer and Ritter each have businesses of their own.
Brouwer worked for 20 years in sales and leadership positions for in a large banking organization before she started Full Throttle Living. Through Full Throttle, she is a motivational speaker who mixes her passion for riding motorcycles with her passion for empowering others.
Ritter has two master’s degrees and 30 years of experience in counseling and training. His personal business, Paul Ritter Counseling & Training, provides counseling services for individuals and couples, and other training, coaching and leadership services. He contracts with Raven Industries Inc. to provide services through the company’s employee assistance program.
Ritter and Brouwer had known each other for years and occasionally bounced ideas off of each other before forming Elev8 to develop leadership courses.
“We didn’t step into this right out of school. We rely heavily on our experience,” Ritter said. “You have to wear three or four hats. You have to be able to multitask.”
Jim Sturdevant, one of three partners in Sage Project Consultants, also specializes in leadership development. He joined Sage in 2012. The firm was started in 2010 by Sharon Chontos and Rachel Oelmann. Sage provides services in areas such as grant writing, program assessments, strategic planning and project management.
Sturdevant previously worked in management for EROS and for Poet, the ethanol company. In addition to his work with Sage, he’s an adjunct professor at the University of Sioux Falls.
Sage has been so busy with clients that the firm hasn’t had time to analyze competitors, Sturdevant said. The firm hasn’t had to market itself much either, he said. It has generated business mostly through word of mouth and the reputation of its principals.
As for what motivates a business to hire an outside expert to talk about developing leaders, Sturdevant said there is probably nothing more important for a business or nonprofit organization than the quality of its people.
“With the unemployment rate so low, there is competition for good talent,” he said.
Creating a workplace culture in which employees can grow and learn if they stay also is important because workforce attrition can be costly for employers, he said. An outside consultant can help a company provide a good work environment.
“In general, to have someone with a lot of experience in their field, who has seen good and bad, whether in technology or marketing – or some other field – come in without bias is very productive,” Sturdevant said.


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