Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Consulting assignment life cycle 23: office space, telecommuting and teleconsulting – 1

Posted in career development, consulting, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on July 9, 2012

This is my twenty third installment on consulting and the consulting assignment life cycle (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 225-246 for Parts 1-22.) So far I have discussed in this series a number of issues as to what consultants do, and how they do them in working with clients. That continues here insofar as the primary focus for any business venture has to be on cost-effectively meeting customer needs and in ways that bring in revenue to the product or service provider too. But my focus here is on the “cost-effectively meeting customer needs” part of that and on what can be seen as back-office issues for the consultant and for any consulting business that they build.

I will assume here that you start out, at least, as a stand-alone separate consultant and even if you go on from there to build a somewhat larger practice – or with time a much larger consulting business.

• Operating expenses and certainly fixed operating expenses are crucially important and as a business: single-person or larger organization, success can depend on controlling costs.
• And for a new and small business, and one with still limited incoming revenue streams controlling and limiting fixed operating expenses can be essentially everything as far as determining long term business viability is concerned.

And with that, and citing my two earlier series installments on finances (see Part 17 and Part 18) I turn to consider office space. And for purpose of this discussion I include in that both potential rent and utilities expenses, the cost of cleaning services if any and all other expenses that might have to be accepted if you take on having a separate, professional work space – as opposed to having a home office that is for all intent and purpose already covered for costs as part of your basic living expenses.

• When you start out and certainly if you do so as a stand-alone consultant, the only cost-effective way to start your practice may be to do so from a home office.
• If you move from that to renting or even owning business office space, that transition generally makes sense only as you begin bringing in revenue and profits
• And as you come to realize greater return value from taking on that type of fixed operating expense obligation than you do expense from doing so.
• Here, by point of comparison, this is a cash flow area where building a consulting business is much more like building an online store than it is like building a bricks and mortar operation, where that would essentially always mean finding and acquiring business space to work from, from day 1 – with all of the concomitant up-front costs involved.

But if you start with a home office, you are not for the most part going to be in a position to bring clients and potential clients in to your own office space when giving presentations or demonstrations, or when negotiating to land assignments. You have to be prepared to go entirely to them and to their office spaces or as a more temporary expense meet with them at third part spaces such as short term rental office facilities. Note in that regard that short-term and temporary office space with use of conference rooms and with staffing support has become an industry in its own right so that has become an increasingly available and viable option for when you do need to show a professional presence, and even at locations away from your home base. But for a new and still forming business practice that can still have significant cash flow implications too.

• In a pre-internet world, growth of business practice where you would take on a partner, or even hire in some manner a support-staff employee would always mean taking on separate, business-only office space obligations too.
• Business in an online context, and particularly in an interactive online context with capabilities for setting up virtual private networks (VPN) and with videoconferencing and other online communications resources changes that, and with both cost containment implications and with increased capability to bring in team members across and even regardless of geographic distance barriers. Telecommuting within the business becomes possible.

And this technology-based approach increases even the single consultant business’s capability for competing with even the largest consulting corporation. And with that point I add telecommuting to the client and teleconsulting for them to this discussion.

In a pre-internet context a single consultant can only be in one place at a time, and if that consultant is at a client’s home office, or at one of their more distant locations that is where they are. Working elsewhere would call for travel expenses, and travel delays which at times can constitute the most significant cost of all and to both client and consultant. So working across distributed systems generally meant teams and larger teams and assignments going to larger consulting businesses and not to individual and small business consulting firms. Telecommuting and teleconsulting mean being able to connect into and work with a client business at one of their locations from essentially anywhere, but more than just that it can mean single consultants effectively being able to work with the staff at two or even many distantly located offices at once. So online and particularly interactive online have in significant ways redefined what office space and distance mean – while empowering even small consulting businesses and single stand-alone consultants.

But even with that, professional office space can convey a message, and a potentially powerful one of stability and reliable professionalism and for many clients and for the people at those client businesses who would be gatekeepers to selecting the consultants they would bring in. So this is not entirely about cost containment. And even heavily online and technology-comfortable clients need to meet with people face to face at times too. So ultimately, and even if your consulting focus is on online technologies and interactive communications, you have to build and develop your practice with office space and where you work and work from in mind, and as a complex, nuanced set of issues. I add that I have only touched upon a few of them here as a starting point for further thought. In my next installment I am going to look more closely into the issues of teleconsulting per se. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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