Consulting: Those Companies That Laid You Off? They Want You Back, Sort Of.

Last Updated Aug 16, 2010 6:11 PM EDT

(Editor's note: This article is part of The Coming Job
Boom, a BNET series about business trends that are shaping tomorrow's
careers.)

Downsizing consultant Ryan Bingham

Consultants finally got some Hollywood attention last year — with none other than George Clooney playing an expert-for-hire in the movie "Up in the Air." The rather unflattering takeaway: The life of a downsizing consultant is as dreary and soulless as you'd expect, but the work is steady and it offers zillions of frequent flyer miles!

Not exactly the best pitch for why consulting is a hot career. But it is. Companies have been outsourcing work to consultants for years because it's cost effective. Not surprisingly, it's even more attractive now as firms try to stay lean post-Great Recession. To make up for the expertise they may have lost, they're hiring back high-level talent — this time on a project-by-project basis.

Between 2008 and 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that opportunities in management, financial, and scientific consulting will grow an estimated 83 percent, making it the fastest-growing sector the BLS tracks. In other words, whatever your expertise, you'll likely find a client who needs it.

Mark Nichols, 61, is a case in point. After 30 years at Bank of America, where he was managing director of the company's global private placement group, Nichols was laid off when the company acquired Merrill Lynch in the fall of 2007. Less than two months later, he founded his own group, Global Capital Advisors, LLC, and nabbed his first client. In March of 2009, Nichols recruited another laid-off Bank of America colleague, 61-year-old Robert Weiss, to the firm. "Four years ago, I could not have set this business up," says Nichols. "People like Robert, with 25 years experience, wouldn't have been available. And there was no reason for us to reinvent the wheel and start our own firm."

The financial crisis changed all of that. Not only did it shake loose a lot of experienced talent, but the turmoil in the banking industry has also made independent firms such as Nichols' an appealing alternative for clients wary of larger institutions.

For the consultants like Nichols, who set up their own shops — and about 59 percent of those in the field do, according to the BLS — the barriers to entry have never been lower. Consulting goes hand-in-glove with trends like wireless technology and cloud computing that give small, entrepreneurial groups of knowledge workers the same tools as big companies, without the price tag.

Scott Montgomery's firm, Worldgate, LLC, provides IT consulting to K-12 school districts.

"It's like I bought an office in a box," says Scott Montgomery, 40, who left a large tech consulting firm in December to start up Worldgate LLC, which provides IT consulting to K-12 school districts. Montgomery uses the Web to manage just about every aspect of the business: Salesforce.com organizes the company's leads, Paychex' online payroll service cuts the checks, and Apple's MobileMe service lets the team store all of their files on a virtual server.

Montgomery and his four employees, who are scattered up and down the East Coast, mainly work from their homes. But Montgomery recently signed everyone up for an office-sharing program so that in each city where Worldgate has a client, the employees have a space with a receptionist, office equipment, and conference rooms. It helps for workers used to an office environment. And it helps land clients. "If I go after a New York customer, I have a New York address and someone answering the phone saying, 'Thanks for calling Worldgate,'" Montgomery says. "That way I don't look like a foreigner in the city."

Additional writing by Lindsay Blakely

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