As a consultant, you may be used to working primarily in person. You’ve traveled to client onsites. You’ve met with stakeholders and presented to crowded rooms.
Yet in a matter of months, COVID-19 has altered the landscape. International flights have been grounded. Masks are the new norm, and Zoom is everywhere. Your clients are adapting to the realities of remote work. And so your work has had to evolve, too.
Thankfully, virtual consulting isn’t new. Many consulting firms, like Nast Partners and Clear Leader Group, both PI Certified Partners, have leveraged virtual work for years. In this blog, we’ll explore how to bring your consulting services online—and deliver them effectively to your clients.
Read on to learn:
- The basics of virtual consulting
- Best practices for virtual consulting
- Tools to help you get started
- How to adapt your business model
Ready? Let’s begin.
What is virtual consulting?
At its simplest, virtual consulting is the process of servicing clients remotely. While the pandemic may be the most recent catalyst, there are plenty of reasons consultants go virtual.
Virtual consulting has been a part of Nast Partners’ DNA for more than 20 years. The team has worked with companies across various industries and geographies. And much of this work has been achieved remotely.
Flexibility plays a big role for virtual consultants, but so does convenience. Even before COVID-19, Americans were relocating at a record low rate. As more people resist being uprooted, remote work ensures small businesses—like consulting firms—can thrive in any setting.
How to do virtual consulting
Unfortunately, going virtual isn’t as simple as flicking a switch. You’ll have to gradually adapt your existing offerings and business practices to fit a virtual environment. You’ll also have to keep your clients’ needs top of mind as you navigate this space.
As you ease clients into the new remote reality, here are some best practices to follow:
Familiarize yourself with virtual tools.
One silver lining to COVID-19 is that companies have better remote capabilities than ever before. The pandemic has accelerated the growth of remote infrastructure, as companies migrate to cloud-based services and embrace tools like Zoom and Slack.
But this doesn’t mean transitioning to virtual consulting is a seamless experience. According to David Nast of Nast Partners, you should expect growing pains as your clients get acclimated to the new technology.
“The hardest part of the recent transition has been getting clients and prospects comfortable with it. Some have been forced into trying it for the first time.”
To bridge this gap, start by exploring the business consulting software available to you. Most remote tools have help centers designed to get you up and running quickly. By taking the time to learn the ins and out of these solutions, you can pass this knowledge on to your clients.
“For our part, we really leaned into the capabilities of the available software,” Nast continued. “We’re using more features than we ever have before, to make the experience more robust for our clients.”
As your clients absorb all this new information, it’s important to be flexible. Not all clients have the same level of technical know-how. And they certainly don’t all share the same remote situation.
For Nast, it helps to expect the unexpected. He explained, “There will be some technology issues. Think of it in terms of when, not if.” To address these issues, always allow yourself more time than you think you need. Be patient with the technology—and your clients.
According to Kevin Waters of Clear Leader Group, the best way to approach virtual work is to “be real” with your clients. “We know pets and children are going to disrupt meetings,” Waters continued. “That’s the new normal.”
Your clients will certainly appreciate you coming from a place of empathy. But Waters also stressed the importance of maintaining a good “flow.” The more distractions you can eliminate during engagements—like phone calls and emails—the easier it is to make progress.
When consulting in person, you may not even realize how frequently you communicate in a given day. Whether it’s sharing updates or clarifying deliverables, you’re constantly exchanging feedback.
These dynamics change in a remote setting. Your clients are no longer down a hallway; they’re possibly thousands of miles away. Without the luxury of being onsite, project details can fall through the cracks. So it’s more important than ever to communicate regularly.
It can be hard to determine the “right” frequency for remote communications. But the important thing is to be consistent. Ask your clients how and when they’d prefer to receive updates. From there, stick to the schedule and make adjustments as needed.
How to start virtual consulting
With these best practices in mind, the best way to start consulting virtually is to assess your needs. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my firm equipped to lead virtual consultations?
- If not, what work remains to build this infrastructure?
- Are there tools that can help streamline this process?
Go through the various elements of your business, from proposals to implementation and billing. Make note of any blind spots, and make an action plan to address them.
Take the example of virtual training. If you want to provide a workshop for your clients or their employees, you’ll need the right video conferencing software. Zoom is a simple, popular option, but you also have access to tools like Zoho Meeting, GoToWebinar, and Yondo.
When selecting which tools are right for your practice, think back to your clients. What benefits them the most? Those who value a simple, frictionless experience may appreciate tools that promote accessibility. Or, more tech-savvy clients may value feature-rich options.
Also see to it that the workshop you deliver reflects the current remote landscape. Keep in mind the challenges client organizations face in a post-COVID world. As always, let their needs inform and drive your offerings.
Adopting a virtual consulting business model
Virtual consulting isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. From researching tools to retraining clients, there’s a learning curve that isn’t present for traditional engagements. And this will inevitably affect the way you do business.
When so much of virtual consulting hinges on trust and empathy, long-lasting client relationships go a long way. Your clients may be used to timelines that last weeks, not months. But this is an opportunity to strengthen existing relationships—and demonstrate value over time.
The Predictive Index can help you do this. By becoming a PI Certified Partner, you’ll gain access to a software platform you can layer onto your service offerings. In doing so, you’ll earn a recurring, subscription-based revenue stream on top of your existing income.
PI also offers virtual workshop solutions, as well as content to share with your clients. Watch the video below to learn how Cindy Lynch of Six20 Partners is leveraging these materials while remote.
Consult virtually without missing a beat.
Virtual consulting isn’t just a current necessity. For Clear Leader Group, it’s also a smart way to future-proof your business development. “Virtual training lets us reach a broader audience,” said Waters. “And it makes us more resilient for the next pandemic.”
No one wants to think about the next big crisis. But the more you can do now to strengthen your business, the better off you’ll be. We hope these tips and testimonials empower you and your clients—whatever challenges await.