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How to successfully transition into independent consulting

by Imogen Forbes-Edwards January 23, 2018
How To Start As Independent Consultant Small

With the full impact of the Brexit ‘divorce bill’ still being debated by economic forecasters, you would be forgiven for thinking that demand for strategy and management consultants may have stalled. In fact, demand has increased - creating a number of opportunities for those consultants considering branching out on their own.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there are currently around 300,000 consultants operating in the UK and this is set to rise even further. Indeed, a study conducted by Universum in association with Consultancy.uk found that the “strategy and management consulting industry is the most popular sector for students at the start of their career.” While the pipeline of the next generation of consultants seems secured, what of the opportunities that exist in the here and now?

Management consultancy alone is now worth an estimated £7bn, having grown by 7.5% year on year and £31.6bn over the last three years. The current socio-political environment is set to see this continue rising: the UK’s decision to leave the EU has seen a rise in the number of companies calling upon the services of consultants to help formulate their change management programmes. You only need to look at some of the numbers involved in the de-camping to Europe process among many of The City’s largest employers to see why. Take the banking sector as a case in point.

Goldman Sachs recently announced plans to relocate 1,000 of its UK-based staff to Europe, while JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank have both intimated that they will be following suit to the tune of 4,000 employees each.

The demand is, of course, not limited to the finance and banking sector. Almost all areas of the economy are affected, ranging from aerospace to manufacturing and everything in between. As Alan Leaman, chief executive of the Management Consultancies Association, brilliantly summed this up in an interview with the FT: “When there’s a car crash on the motorway, the emergency services get called out - but there’s also a big tailback holding everyone up.”

Managing that tailback are consultants, and companies today are no longer narrowing their search to the mainstay consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain & Co or Roland Berger et al. Cue the rise of the independent consultant.

Making the successful transition from employed to independent can be a challenge, yet it is one that can easily be overcome if you position yourself in the right way. Working for an established, and invariably well-regarded, management and strategy consulting firm will open a number of doors for you. But now you need to build your own brand and provide a compelling reason for your target market to choose you over what will now become your competition – this may even be your former employer.

What companies are looking for is peace of mind – can the person they are looking to engage provide solid evidence that demonstrates their ability to solve the problems facing the organisation? The way you communicate this is critical:

1)  Identify your space – Are you a generalist offering a range of services from corporate strategy and investment advisory through to organisational design and change management’? Or are you a niche provider with expertise in a particular function or sector?

2)  Tap into your existing network of contacts – Restrictive covenants aside, there will invariably be connections you have made when you were consultancy-side that you can re-engage. Even if they don’t have a need for the services you provide in the here and now, they may do further down the line. They may even connect you to someone else whose need is more immediate.

3)  Build your personal brand – As demand for consulting increases so too does the size of the competition you face. To be seen and heard above the increasingly audible noise, write about what you know. Identify the publications that your target clients read most and submit thought leadership and opinion articles for publication. This helps to raise your profile as a true expert in your field and puts you on the radar of those with whom you want to do business.

4)  Engage a specialist recruitment partner – Your own network of contacts will only get you so far. Partnering with a specialist recruitment company that not only has the experience but also the right connections within the strategy and management consultancy marketplace is essential in boosting your chances of securing the projects of most interest to you.

5)  Get yourself out there - It may seem clichéd, but people really do buy from people. The more visible you are at key networking events, the more connections you will make and the greater the number of new business referrals you will generate. It will take time to build your connections, but the investment made can pay dividends over the long term.

Consulting is a competitive industry in which to work but the opportunities for independent consultants are growing and, if you position yourself in the right way and at the right time, can provide an excellent platform to drive the next phase of your career.

Freshminds has been supporting strategy and management consultants across Europe since the early millennium – we have the expertise, insights and connections that you need to ensure that your career as an independent consultant is a success.

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