Have you ever thought about consulting for companies that are mission-driven, socially and environmentally responsible, and working to grow the “Next Economy”? It’s suddenly possible for consultants to make money and a difference--primarily because there is a rapidly expanding movement of companies who are dedicated to using the power of business as a force for good.
In this article, I’ll describe what the “Next Economy” is, why it is important, and how you can get more involved in this global movement.
What is the “Next Economy”?
Loosely defined, the Next Economy is a collection of organizations and individuals whose goal is to 1) provide essential goods and services that meet the needs of society and 2) benefit all life.
For example, here is a subjective set of criteria that we use to find examples of “Next Economy” enterprises:
Need-oriented - goods/services that meet human needs first (i.e., food and shelter before jewelry and entertainment)
Accessible - affordable, or available to as many as possible
Transparent - clear about supply chain, practices, finances, benefits, cost (e.g., true cost accounting)
Equitable/democratic culture/workplace - could be coops; employees involved in some practice of self-determination
Surplus reinvestment - profits are shared or redistributed
Support of local alternative economy ecosystem (local supply chain)
Ecosystem integration - whole systems thinking (e.g., stormwater investment, habitat for owls, etc.)
Whole system finances (how they bank, where they received growth capital if any, do they support alternative currencies)
Living wage, Culture (balance, benefits)
Open Source / Growth by Replication
Education embedded into product service - put yourself out of business
The good news is that the Next Economy is not future science fiction. We interact with these types of companies on a regular basis. This movement is alive and well and is growing at a rapid pace.
What’s the existing / addressable market?
B Corps, Social Enterprises, LOHAS, Non-profits, and also larger traditional companies like Unilever realize there is a better way to do business that creates mutual benefit for all stakeholders. We have found that these companies need the support of vision and values aligned skilled professionals.
Furthermore, as an independent consultant, you can see the patterns of challenge and success across various companies, markets and industries and provide highly valuable insight to empower their growth and development. There is an opportunity now to position yourself as a leader and steward of this movement as we transition from the innovator phase to the early adopter and early majority phases that will be coming soon.
Why work as a Next Economy consultant?
This is the future of business. As we mentioned before, there is a wave of dedicated entrepreneurs whose goal is to simultaneously reinvent commerce, provide goods and services, and benefit society and the environment.
These entrepreneurs, while full of passion and urgency, do not often have experience operating or growing a business and often work too many hours, tend to burn out and limit their efficacy through their ignorance of capital, financing, business systems, organizational best practices, self-care practices and effective communication skills.
This is why we need skilled professionals who are proficient in one or more areas of entrepreneurship to help guide the development of these organizations.
How does this differ from a “regular economy” consultant? (e.g., McKinsey?)
While Next Economy consultants use some of the basic business skills of more traditional consulting agencies (e.g., strategic planning, budgeting, assigning clear roles & responsibilities, etc.), they do so in a context of alignment with the vision and values of the Next Economy.
These consultants use the tasks of organizing and growing the business to also cultivate individual and collective growth and development. We cultivate wholeness. Our companies love what they do and who they do it with and that creates a virtuous cycle that uplifts everyone in contact.
What are the knowledge and skills that a Next Economy consultant should learn?
We have carefully analyzed our experience over the past 5 years (working with 100+ companies in this sector) to find the trends, patterns, and needs of these companies. We have identified four key areas that are most critical to the future growth and development of any organization, regardless of the product, service, industry or market. We call this our business design methodology:
Vision: Without a clearly defined and articulated vision, it is very difficult to make sure everyone is working towards the same goal. Having a shared vision (and shared core values) allows decentralized decision making--a critical component of Next Economy organizations.
Culture: The culture of the organization is shaped by an accumulated set of beliefs, habits, and behaviors of employees as they work towards the vision. It is the quality of interaction and will make or break the success of the organization. Like the vision, it needs to be clearly articulated and carefully stewarded.
Strategy: Once the vision and culture have been determined, it is important to then start iterating on the best strategies to help a company achieve that vision. This area comprises strategic marketing, sales and partnerships. It also includes governance and planning.
Operations: It is important to operationalize the strategies defined by the organization so that they can be continually repeated and refined (especially for the organization to be able to scale). The focus in this area is on the structure, rhythms and systems design of the organization. This includes projections, tracking and reporting, and policy and procedures.
How do Next Economy consultants make money?
As a consultant your basic business model is charging a fee for services rendered. This will require skill and experience in assessing needs and creating value for your client companies. Also, maybe more importantly, it will require advanced skills in relationship and rapport building, communication and emotional maturity.
In terms of how to bill for your services, we recommend billing according to value created, not hours worked. One unique approach we use at LIFT is inviting our clients to adjust our invoices (down or up) to reflect the value they feel they have received.
This accomplishes several important things. As a consultant committed to growing the Next Economy, it would be antithetical to withdraw resources from values aligned companies without providing commensurate value. This will also prevent you from proposing to work on projects you are not genuinely enthusiastic about. It puts the relationship as the primary objective and makes sales conversations much easier and low-risk (as the risk of providing value is up to the consultant every month). We have billed this way exclusively for the last four years. We have seen that this practice results in long term engagements with high degrees of trust and mutual benefit.
What resources are available for this?
We have created a training series for values-aligned consultants (or aspiring consultants) who wish to learn more about Next Economy consulting. See more information on this event page: http://liftimpactconsulting.eventbrite.com