Although Bob Palumbo has an extensive background in accounting and finance, and also has experience as a business owner himself, it wasn’t until he discovered business consulting that he truly felt like he had found his calling. After working at a corporate job during the day, he would meet with clients on the way home at a local library, giving them an objective view on their operations, strategies and growth opportunities while providing sound advice on how to best move their company forward.
Palumbo instantly fell in love with the ability of consulting to assist people who were often in desperate situations, and that eventually led to his current position as a regional director at the New Jersey Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Working out of Rutgers-Camden, his organization is part of a statewide network offering free consulting and training services to small business owners, whether just starting out or already established. His office serves Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties.
“To me, the key to consulting is that you’re helping people,” Palumbo says. “I will never say, ‘This is not going to work,’ because you just don’t know, and I don’t judge. None of my consultants judge, either. This is the client’s dream, so you just want to help them as much as you can while explaining the risks.”
Like Palumbo, Kristina Hernandez also felt inspired to help business owners after beginning her career in marketing, sales and consulting. She founded her own consulting firm, KR1STINA Media, in 2014, and provides tailored solutions to a wide range of industries.
South Jersey Biz spoke with both Palumbo and Hernandez to learn more about the insight and services a consultant or coach can offer business owners.
Can companies receive a big boost from a business consultant in terms of getting an eagle-eye view of the organization and improving overall efficiency?
Kristina Hernandez: Hiring a business consultant provides valuable insights and fresh perspectives for businesses that can significantly improve their company’s operations and efficiency. Our consultants at KR1STNA Media bring external expertise, best practices, behavioral insight and objectivity to identify areas for improvement and implement strategic changes.
Does it help a consultant to have experience in different sectors or to be a prior business owner in order to give proper advice?
Bob Palumbo: What helps me is 22 years of working with clients. What I’ve learned is from seeing things they’ve done wrong and things they’ve done well. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly, and unfortunately it really comes down to the initial cash. We know that 90% of small businesses fail within 10 years, that 20% fail in the first year, and the No. 1 reason is financing. They can have a very good business, they can be trending well, but they just don’t have enough cash to get to the finish line. So that’s what we concentrate on a lot, is making sure they have the funding that they need.
What are some of the common problems you come across that your clients are facing?
BP: Let’s say they get through the first few years and then they run into a problem that we can help them with. Maybe they need help with marketing or maybe they’re having problems with personnel, or maybe they’re running into a cash problem again. We’ll go in and say, “What are your sales now, what’s your profitability, can we get additional funding to help this business?” … People will tell me they’re going to double their sales next year, and when I ask how, they say they’re going to work twice as hard. But it’s never that simple, and that’s why a lot of people need consulting. A consultant has the experience and the expertise, and if they don’t have the expertise, they know where to find it.
What is a normal timeline to understand the ins and outs of the company and to help produce results?
KH: [It] can vary widely based on several factors, including the complexity of the business, the scope of the project, and the level of cooperation from the client. However, here’s a rough breakdown of the typical process:
- Initial Assessment (1-4 weeks): Consultants conduct interviews, gather data and assess the current state of the business. They identify key challenges and opportunities.
- Analysis and Planning (4-8 weeks): Consultants analyze the collected data, conduct research and develop a tailored strategy or plan. This phase may take longer for complex projects.
- Implementation (several months to years): The timeline for implementation varies widely. Some changes can be relatively quick, while others, such as cultural or structural shifts, may take a considerable amount of time.
- Monitoring and Adjustment (ongoing): Consultants typically stay involved to track progress, adjust and ensure the strategy is achieving the desired results. This phase can last indefinitely.
Can consulting work for any type of industry, and does the message change significantly from one to the next?
KH: We have worked with businesses across more than 20 industries. KR1STNA Media offers detailed training, information and insights that can be relevant to businesses across various industries. While the core principles of business management, strategy and problem-solving remain consistent, the specifics can vary by industry. The messaging and recommendations may differ in terms of industry-specific terminology, regulations and challenges. However, the fundamental concepts of improving efficiency, identifying growth opportunities and achieving success apply broadly to most businesses, regardless of their industry.
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 13, Issue 8 (September 2023).
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