In tough job market, consulting finds a niche

We’ve heard a lot about professions hurting due to the recession, but is it possible that consulting is one of those rare recession-proof fields? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consulting industry is expected to be one of the fastest-growing this decade.

Christopher Wright, a Minnetonka-based mechanical engineering consultant for over 20 years, sees the consulting business as counter-cyclical. “When times are good my clients hire my sort of expertise; when times are bad, specialists seem to be laid off in favor of outsourced engineering.”

Judith Alnes, a nonprofit management consultant in St. Paul, has also seen business go up during the recession. She writes, “We’ve seen nonprofits replace their internal accounting services with our accounting services in order to reduce their expenditures. We’re also providing nonprofits with strategic services because they need to re-position their organizations for difficult times. We’re helping more nonprofits merge, transfer programs and dissolve.”

At the same time Alnes and other consultants have had to lower their fees in order to make it affordable for clients who may be hurting.

Lisa Feder, a social media consultant in Minneapolis, has significantly reduced her rates. “Opportunity abounds, but continues to be a tough road with consulting fees significantly reduced. Overall revenue and marketing budgets continue to be reduced and that seems to transfer over to the consulting world.”

Independent consultants seem to be feeling the pain less than larger consulting firms, many of whom have had to layoff staff. Even so, consulting may be an early indicator of an improving economy.

Some firms, like Cynthia Smith-Strack’s Arlington, Minn., economic development firm that had to cut staff hours at the height of the recession are now seeing an uptick in business again. In June the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development found that 74 percent of business service firms (that includes consultants), were expecting increasing or stable sales over the next year.

Ramon Riba, a structural engineering consultant in Rochester, thinks that the consulting field might be growing because the jobs employers have shed in the recession are not coming back.

“The fact is with so many layoffs and the huge sucking sound made by all the now professional jobs fleeing to China, India, etc., consulting may be the only realistic solution for many,” Riba says.

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