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ATD Blog

The Impact of COVID-19 on Building and Growing Your Talent Management Business

Monday, January 25, 2021

It’s been almost a year since the coronavirus spread and infected almost all aspects of our lives. Aside from the horrible deaths as a result, the greatest effect has been on most businesses, save a few in the right place at the “wrong” time. Everyone is experiencing major personal and professional change while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is some hope for what’s to come, some of us are doing better than others. The main mantra for most is to focus on surviving and putting off the thriving part for a while. Just maintaining a status quo during these times is a significant accomplishment.

As we look further into 2021, for what we hope will be a much better business environment for all, the requirements for change of how your business operates are still huge and significantly different than how you ran your business pre-COVID-19. Do more with less is the catch phrase that is most descriptive. How you staff, determine your offer’s utility, market and sell, keep in touch with customers, and plan for the future demand looking at things somewhat differently.

But, as in any crisis, you have two options. As risky as it may be, you can always sit back, do nothing, and let it pass; or you can adapt to the changing conditions as smartly and quickly as possible with your available resources. Assuming you choose the latter course of action, how should you go about surviving, and perhaps even thriving, under these new normal conditions? One first step may be to take advantage of these difficult times with an intentional “strategic pause” during which you have time to reflect on your business—what has worked well, what has not, and what is likely to change forever even when the pandemic is history.

Back in May, my blog post focused on COVID-19’s effects on the TD industry’s operations and offer. Nearly 10 months later, little has changed. In that interim, however, I’ve been asked to present a webinar to several ATD chapters about how to grow your consulting business during these pandemic times. To answer this call, I reprised the 12 Steps to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm presentation I previously gave with recommendations for each step.

As you think about the steps listed below, which you have likely embraced in one way or the other to build and grow your business, there are some areas that demand more attention (or at a minimum heightened awareness) than during pre-COVID-19 days. These steps may help focus your attention on the business in a more productive and efficient manner during these difficult times.

Step 1: Understand the Industry Dynamics

  • Get laser clear about how you differentiate your firm based on each of these dynamics.
  • Understand the industry drivers and which most define your business.

Step 2: Figure Out What You Want and Need

  • Understand what motivates you the most.
  • Recognize what keeps you up at night.
  • Determine your end game.

Step 3: Define Your Purpose

  • Assess what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Determine what you are willing to give up.
  • Understand your “why.”

Step 4: Create a Business Plan and Structure

  • Be clear about your business model.
  • Know your total addressable market.
  • Understand your competitive advantage.

Step 5: Put Together a Strategic Plan

  • Clarify your business horizon.
  • Articulate your short- and long-term goals.
  • Develop your contingency plans.

Step 6: Develop Your Offer

  • Put together a product development map.
  • Convert classroom programs to online or blended or hybrid solutions.
  • Prepare facilitators to deliver differently.
  • Update your content to reflect current customer organizational needs.

Step 7: Establish Your Operating System

  • Restructure compensation plans fairly and avoid layoffs as long as possible.
  • Be visible, transparent, and decisive.
  • Establish risk mitigation plans.

Step 8: Market and Sell Your Offer

  • Reach out to prospects and customers with free information.
  • Optimize the current selling dynamics for your customers’ benefits.
  • Evaluate and revise, as appropriate, your pricing strategies.
  • Ensure effective sales and sales management systems are in place.

Step 9: Serve Your Customers

  • Communicate more with your customers offering your support.
  • Stay relevant, reliable, realistic, and reasonable.
  • Add value wherever and whenever possible.

Step 10: Recognize Future Trends

  • Accept change and manage it to your advantage.
  • Stay in touch with the societal transformations.
  • Understand the impact of technology on your business and the industry.

Step 11: Establish Your Growth Plan

  • Decide your growth path and how you are going to get there.
  • Know your growth constraints.
  • Understand where you are on the growth curve and what this means for your future.

Step 12: Exit the Business

  • Determine your long-range personal, family, and business interests.
  • Talk with those who have been there and done that.
  • Be realistic and honest with yourself.

Not all of these recommendations apply to everyone in the talent development supplier world, but many of them do. What are you doing to ensure you are not only surviving, but possibly even thriving, during these times? What groundwork are you laying for relaunching your business when the virus has been successfully addressed? Using the above as a pulse-like checklist might help you optimize your business so you not only survive these times but set yourself up to thrive going forward.

For more insight, check out my book The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm.

About the Author

Steve Cohen is founder and principal of the Strategic Leadership Collaborative, a private consulting practice focused on business strategy and development. A 40+ year veteran of the talent development industry, largely on the supplier side, he has demonstrated a proven track record for building equity by growing top and bottom-line performance for eight different consulting enterprises in the education and training industry he has either founded and/or led. He has been called on to consult with numerous firms needing strategic planning guidance, business coaching, and board advisory services.

His first book, The Complete Guide to Building and Growing a Talent Development Firm, was published by ATD in 2017. His recent follow-up, 12 Winning Strategies for Building a Talent Development Firm is now available on Amazon.

He can be reached at: 952.942.7291 or [email protected].

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