The short answer is, I started the pivot before COVID-19 started to impact the globe.
But I had no idea that within a few months, 100% of my business would follow. Here’s my story.
The consulting model was already broken
Having worked for a strategy consulting company earlier in my career, I’d seen the cracks in the model. But they were to get worse over time. Research was underway, one of the more notable papers being the 2013 article, ‘Consulting on the cusp of disruption’ by Clayton Christensen et al, published by Harvard Business Review. They argued that consulting was following the typical pattern of industry disruption, as new competitors with new business models arrived, incumbents ignored the new ways of doing business, eventually the basis of competition changed completely.
I enjoyed the 2019 article by Rita McGrath published by Medium, ‘The Trouble with Consulting’ referring to the consulting model doing two types of work – ‘brains’ work and ‘grey hair’ work. The piece ends with this statement:
‘We anticipate a market opportunity for an entirely different kind of consulting firm — one which uses digital technologies to do to traditional consulting what upstarts such as Dollar Shave Club, Wayfair, and Sofi have done to the incumbents in their industries.’
What motivated me to change to online consulting
My business, Houseway Consulting, was only a few years’ old, and was specialising in marketing strategy for independent schools. This was a niche area. My clients were familiar with working in-person. Schools were especially focused on face-to-face interaction. It was the nature of their operations as educational institutions. So, I travelled around South Africa working with schools on-site. This was time-consuming and costly, but the results were good. There was no alternative in place.
In 2019, I did an online challenge about how to get leads from LinkedIn hosted by Helen Pritchard Online (UK). As a marketer, I’m always upskilling on digital platforms for promotion as this is what marketing strategy requires for excellence in implementation. The free challenge and a year on Helen’s LinkedIn Mastermind opened my eyes to an opportunity for my business to create an online revenue stream in consulting. Independent schools in the UK and USA faced very similar strategic challenges to those in South Africa from a marketing perspective. By working online, I could provide a consulting service that transcended borders, removed the geographical constraints, increasing affordability and accessibility for a defined service offering. This meant I could grow my position as an expert in school marketing strategy and maintain my niche, optimising my time and increasing revenue without incurring high costs.
By the end of 2019, I had developed and tested my 60-minute £99 online consult. I already had some testimonials which I used in my marketing. Initially, I promoted it across sectors, as I had the expertise, but I gradually focused it on school marketing strategy. See it on my LinkedIn profile here and my Houseway Consulting Facebook page here. The link is on my website here to book a free 15-minute call to see if I can help you. The take up on the Marketing Strategy Power Hour was slow but consistent, and I learnt so much in the process, improving the systems and processes, the value for the client and the joy for me. In the meantime, I was busy consulting in-person, travelling regularly to schools around the country.
Then came lockdown
At the end of March 2020, South Africa entered its first lockdown as the COVID-19 cases started to rise. All businesses closed or worked from home, except for essential services. Schools closed and most went online. This was the turning point for me.
Where previously, the default was in-person interaction, overnight the default became online interaction. And schools, the most face-to-face environments of all, were now also remote.
This meant that, even when schools returned to hybrid or in-person teaching, the behaviours had changed. We had all learnt a new way of meeting, working and communicating, so those had become normal. And while not always ideal or preferred, they became considerably more attractive when the cost-savings from reduced travel and accommodation were taken into account. This was a game-changer.
During that first lockdown, I tested an online video interview series as an offering for heads of schools to communicate to their communities in a more conversational manner about the pandemic. I ran a Black Swan series on YouTube which was the start of many more YouTube series on my channel. The series was also published as a part of an article in the quarterly publication Independent Education by ISASA in April 2020. I also developed a 5-day online coaching course for school marketers which I promoted successfully online as well. The latter is now a part of my basket of offerings, and an excellent follow-on from the Power Hour.
And all this time I was building my presence online, posting and engaging on LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube, growing my network in education, locally and globally. I wrote blogs, participated in international conferences and webinars, industry forums and Facebook groups. Online consulting is a long game. But it was gaining momentum as we ended 2020.
What the pivot looks like today
To pivot means to turn around a point. In COVID-19, it has come to mean adapting your existing business to meet the new needs of the market, and in some cases finding new markets, products and distribution methods.
The core of my work at Houseway Consulting, which is market research and marketing strategy consulting and training, has not changed. However, the way in which I deliver this has fundamentally altered. I started doing online workshops in late 2020 and these have continued into 2021 with new and existing clients. Whereas I would sit face to face with a staff member or parent to conduct market research interviews, these are now online. Project meetings are online. Surveys are online. Presentations and group work is online.
I am also doing more co-creation than independent consulting. This is in line with the trend mentioned in the McGrath article above, where clients wanted to be more involved in projects. In fact, this trend of co-creation has been in business for many years. Customers often like to be a part of the design of something new or significant. There also needed to be more transparency on how the results and recommendations were achieved by the consultant. This co-creation increases buy-in and empowers marketing teams, reduces some of the costs and builds trust in the relationship, with more opportunities for engagement in implementation and thus more successful results.
As of 27 June 2021, South Africa is still in lockdown, and now at Level 4, which is the most restrictive we have had in over a year. It’s unlikely this will lift completely any time soon. Especially given the pace of the global vaccine rollout, plus the emergence of COVID-19 variants. The pandemic has brought much economic distress, and the independent schooling sector is not untouched. Everyone has been affected in some way. It is not over. Remote work will continue.
I do miss the in-person work, don’t you? It’s why I still try to do this wherever I can. Going forward, I think it will be more of a hybrid approach.
Even in these challenging times, I do believe that with this new digital consulting model, the future prospects for Houseway Consulting are bright, and I am grateful for that!
I'm Keryn House
I enjoy creating marketing anecdotes and visuals related to my horse as there is a lot to be learned from animals, and this provides a unique context to my writing. My horse Slick (aka Sports Express) has been with me for many years and is a source of inspiration and relaxation for my strategic mind. He lives on a friend’s farm in KZN and I see him twice a week.
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