Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation

Gen X Consulting Business

Companies are willing to pay top dollar for Gen X consultants, not only because the population has a strong presence in the current work force, but also because of the new era Gen Xers have ushered in. It's one of flexible hours, a nonstatic work force, a perk-heavy culture, a stake in ownership and greater autonomy. The Gen X population broke the rules and made companies a lot of money. "There's been a radical shift in the way business is done and how wealth is created," says Jack Sweeney, editor of Consulting Magazine. "This change in the way business is done is the biggest since the Industrial Revolution."

Many old-school consultants who dismissed the impact of Gen X and missed the emergence of this new model are now scrambling to catch up. Xer consultants have a major leg up on the competition because they have an innate understanding of the issue. After all, it's one they've created. "While [traditional] consultants are struggling to get a handle on it, there's certainly an opportunity for younger startups," Sweeney adds.

Cam Marston, 31, founder of Marston Communications LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, recognized this need in 1996. "I realized that Gen X just didn't fit the traditional roles and didn't follow the rules," he says. Marston started from a spare bedroom in his house with $5,000, a computer and some business cards. He first began speaking at his local Rotary Club, chambers of commerce and other community events, and he credits these groups with jumpstarting his career. "Don't overlook local organizations, because they're great marketing tools," Marston maintains.

Word-of-mouth spread, and Marston began leading seminars for managers at McDonald's and Duke University, among others. Marston averages about 75 speaking engagements annually and estimates he'll bring in more than $100,000 this year.

While Gen X consulting is still hot, some of the novelty has worn off. "Most companies now know what Gen X is about. Some Xers are even managers now," Richardson says.

What that means for startups is there isn't much room for generalists. "Niche markets are the best possibilities for fast profits," Carter says. "Study the market, find a need and fill it. If you can do that, you'll make money."

Tulgan, for one, says he's looking at the Asian and European markets, where the issue hasn't been tapped yet. Richardson is expanding his expertise to help clients like AT&T and Zale Jewelers recruit the next generation coming into the work force, Gen Y, or the echo boomers.

Although Gen X consulting is maturing and changing shape, the core of its focus remains the same: making sense of the new working model. Consultants who can help companies blaze new trails and master the territory of new business will lead the industry.

And there's another reason Gen X consulting has legs. Says Richardson, "There are so few of us to go around that Gen X will always, in one way or another, be the center of attention."

Brain Food

Several things are needed to jump-start a Gen X consulting business. First, do extensive research to ensure that you aren't duplicating what's already being done in the field. Second, talk to anyone and everyone you can from this demographic to get an idea of what makes Gen X tick. Third, since two-thirds of your work will involve giving talks, hone your public-speaking skills. Finally, devise a general consulting business plan. Some places to turn for the latter:

The Consultant's Survival Guide (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95, by Marsha D. Lewin

Become a Top Consultant: How the Experts Do It (John Wiley & Sons, $21.95, by Ron Tepper

The Consultant's Manual: A Complete Guide to Building a Successful Consulting Practice (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95, by Thomas Greenbaum

How to Start a Consulting Service (Entrepreneur Media Inc., $59)

Kennedy Information (603-585-3101), publishers of Consulting Magazine, offers advisory services to consulting firms and can help you with strategic planning and research.

Andrea C. Poe, a freelance business writer and a fellow Gen Xer, is still wondering what the X is all about.

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This article was originally published in the July 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation.

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