If you choose to consult deeply and over the long term with small business entrepreneurs from the early stages of their companies, this is the moment when a good consultant must stay the course, and you must stay next to your client through to the end, without expectation of payment of your fees, or even your arrears. Yes, that is irrational for your practice’s bottom line, and it is the still the right thing to do. As my own long-time consultant CPA commented, “You and I understand our clients’ financial condition – how can we demand they pay the current fees in the midst of such a serious downturn?” So, as good consultants, we wait for the recovery, while we support the company or plan the endgame.
The end game is a moment when all your skills, talent, patience and compassion are called upon to the fullest. Now is the time your client needs you to be the voice of calm reason. You must listen anew and listen carefully to what your client wants to do. You must erase your own preconceptions about what might be best, while you listen.
This will be an emotionally trying time for you as a consultant, as part of your task is to absorb your client’s most negative emotions—the disappointment, the blame placed on others, the anger, the angst, the sense of failure, the black humor and the despair.
Then, to yourself, you must reassess everything you know about your client from the months and years of working together – his or her skills, talents, suitability to grow and manage a company, to lead others, to stay focused on both the large view and the operational details – everything. And especially his ability to handle a crisis, like the end game facing him now.
This is an important time for praise – to give your client a balanced understanding of his or her strengths and talents, which may seem to have been eliminated by the failure of the company. And of course you must review the post-mortem and the “should-have-done’s” whenever your client is ready.
Next, you must help him focused on the next steps: what options are most tolerable for the endgame? Keeping the company in a legal but dormant form? Searching for licensing deals (particularly in international or adjacent markets) to keep the intellectual property in play and some revenue coming in while the company re-boots? Finding a strategic partner to acquire certain assets and absorb some debt? Closing the operation altogether?
Finally, you must motivate him to take those next steps, and avoid depression and inaction. The best way for an entrepreneur to overcome the stagnation of despair is to keep moving. Keep him in play – with a job or a consulting gig or some partnership of his business with another company – so he is out in the world, watching the market, and not left alone with his loss of dreams.
You may find this part of your responsibility more troublesome than the early stages of building a new company, when there is optimism and energy to overcome the exhaustion and fear. But managing the endgame is a key role in a good consultant, and vitally important.