There are currently 60,000 management consultants in the UK, representing an industry worth £10 billion.
The reasons for this demand are vast — strategy and management consultants can help with growth, expansion, and transformation plans, among many other things. In addition, a consultant can bring invaluable outside experience and a fresh perspective, helping companies approach strategic work in a new light and tackle specific challenges.
Still, making the decision to hire and work with a consultant comes with many considerations, both potential positives and pitfalls. It’s important to do your groundwork and ensure your decision makes sense and will have concrete benefits for your business.
Here, we’ll dive into why companies hire strategy and management consultants, when you should consider hiring one, and how to start the process.
Why Do Companies Hire Strategy and Management Consultants?
Businesses typically hire consultants when they require specific expertise, for example, during product innovation, transformation, and expansion. However, there are many different reasons to consider hiring strategy and management consultants.
Here are some of the most common.
Gain access to relevant expertise and specialist skills.
Consultants are often seasoned experts in their respective fields. They might have a rare and incredibly well-developed skill set or expertise in a very specific area. Because of this, consultants can bring knowledge and ability to the table that nobody in your own team can match.
In these cases, it makes much more sense to temporarily hire a strategy or management consultant than to expect your existing teams to tackle the same problems with anything close to the same success rate.
Identify problems team members are too close to see.
The old saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees” applies very often in the business world. Teams who have been working on the same problem for months often get too close to the issues they’re dealing with, unable to see possibilities and solutions that might be obvious to outsiders.
A strategy consultant, for example, can provide a fresh pair of eyes, identifying new courses of action and helping break past frustrating plateaus and roadblocks. Their unique perspective combined with their expertise makes consultants well-placed to make out-of-the-box suggestions. Strategy consultants are also trained specifically in analytical and problem-solving frameworks, a toolkit that allows them to approach challenges and structure solutions effectively.
Consider your budget.
On the surface, consultants seem more expensive than your in-house staff. However, although their hourly rate may be higher, they are often a very sound investment. This is because you work with them on an as-needed basis to address a specific issue or challenge. Your investment is aimed at moving forward in that specific area, after which your consultant’s job is done.
Hiring new staff is expensive, and you can save a lot of money by working with good consultants on an ad-hoc or project basis. On top of this, you may not need to incur significant ongoing employment overheads.
Bring valuable objectivity.
Consultants are free from the internal distractions, loyalties, and office politics that can cause so many problems within in-house teams. This gives them a valuable advantage — they are less likely to censor themselves or allow their feelings to cloud their better judgment.
Access people outside your area.
In the digital era, it’s now entirely possible to hire consultants remotely. This means you’re no longer limited to talent in your own geographical area. You can work with an industry expert on the other side of the world, tapping into their unique know-how via Zoom calls.
Consultants are also extremely valuable when supplementing skills gaps in teams. A good consultant can come in, share recommendations, and work within your existing team structure to build the in-house capabilities, which will endure long after they’re gone. A well-placed consultant is a facilitator and enabler, bringing functional expertise to the project while ensuring ownership rests within the team.
Should I Hire a Consultant?
Is the time right to hire a consultant? Here are some common signs that suggest it may be time.
You need outside help.
Let’s start with a fairly obvious one — you’re simply struggling to reach your goals and run your business with your current team alone. If you’re lacking certain skills, a clear strategy, advice in a specific area, or just suffering from a shortage of manpower, a consultant can provide the support you sorely need.
They can fill crucial skills gaps and provide the nudge needed to get you moving in the right direction, whether that’s expanding into a new market, launching a new product, changing a project, or restructuring your entire organisation.
Your team is too close to the problems they need to solve.
If your team has been struggling to resolve certain problems and move past barriers, it may be a result of them being too close to the problems. Working on the same tasks for multiple hours every day can lead to fatigue and a loss of objectivity. A consultant can be the perfect way to resolve these issues by bringing a new perspective to the table.
You can afford it.
Consultants are usually an investment consideration, especially good ones with highly specialised expertise and a long track record of delivering results. It’s important to assess your budget and decide whether you can afford to hire a consultant and if it makes financial sense in terms of the rewards.
What exactly is your consultant contracted to deliver? Get clear on the project scope in advance, and consider taking a flexible approach by hiring one consultant or a project team — allowing you to extend projects if additional requirements arise.
You want to reach the next level.
If your team is struggling to break past a plateau and grow the company to the next level, it may be time to consider outside help. Consultants have the skills and experience to push your organisation to the next level, something your in-house team alone may lack the ability to do.
How to Find a Consultant
Finding a consultant isn’t a task you should rush through. It’s best to explore multiple channels and assess the various options available before you make a commitment. Don’t be afraid to approach multiple consultants to see which is the best fit for your business and specific needs.
Here are some of the most common approaches to hiring consultants.
Work with recruiters and online consulting services.
Many companies approach finding a consultant the same way they would hire an employee the traditional way. Work with recruiters who can help you compile a list of good candidates, then run an interview process like you would with a normal employee.
This helps you get to know your prospective consultants and feel if they’re a good fit for your business and a worthy investment before you commit.
In today’s digital world, there are also many options for online consulting platforms. Some allow you to browse through large databases of consultants from various sources to find exactly what you need for your project, and others provide services directly.
At Freshminds, this is what we do — offer consulting services and help companies forge relationships with the right consultants for them. Online services can be a powerful tool, but you should always do your homework and make sure the platform you’re using is reliable, established, and trustworthy.
A good recruitment partner will always take the time to understand your project and objectives in detail, and how these fit into the overall business context. This way, they will be able to identify consultants who can bring the appropriate expertise and experience.
Make sure your recruitment partner is prepared to understand the chemistry of your organisation, who the key stakeholders for the project are, and any potential sensitivity or conflict. Consultants frequently have to navigate complex and occasionally challenging stakeholder landscapes, and they should be prepared for this.
Use social media.
Social media is an excellent channel for connecting with consultants. Platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn are particularly useful; they allow you to run a search and immediately be avalanched with consultants of all kinds, who are ready to be contacted directly.
Another good option with social media is to run ads. Done right, this can put you on the radar of countless consultants specialised in whatever you need.
Use a consulting firm.
Traditional consulting firms are another reliable option for finding and hiring a consultant for your business. These firms tend to be well-established with a strong track record and a good reputation — they can often be trusted. On the other hand, they can also have a rigid structure and can be one of the most expensive options.
What to Consider When Hiring a Consultant
Before beginning your search for a consultant, it’s important to be clear on what you need and the problems you want them to solve. Carefully consider what you need them for and what you should look out for. This helps you tailor your search, avoid connecting with the wrong people, and find the right consultant as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Here are some factors to consider before beginning your search.
How much do they cost?
As mentioned above, consultants aren’t cheap. Before beginning your search, you’ll need to decide how much you can afford and what you’re willing to pay. This helps you run a more efficient search and avoid the disappointing situation of finding the perfect consultant only to realise you can’t afford their rates.
What do they need to do?
What kind of area will your consultant be working in? Often, the logical choice is to hire a consultant who is a specialist in a specific area of business, such as cost reduction or consumer marketing. These are typically more senior professionals and may have hands-on experience in a specific role — for example, supply chain management experience for food manufacturing.
However, we sometimes advise clients to opt for a more generalist consultant. These are people who bring problem-solving and analytical frameworks to a range of problems; they can just as easily draw up a customer analysis for a shampoo brand as for a restaurant group. These can be a better option if your challenge spans multiple areas or if new challenges arise over the scope of a project that may be outside a specialist’s area of knowledge.
Understand their track record (but don’t discount fresh talent).
Often, the best way to predict how well a consultant will perform is simply to look at what they’ve achieved in the past. Always ask for examples of their past projects and look for concrete results. Read reviews (for example, on platforms like LinkedIn) and reach out to previous clients for their opinions.
However, this shouldn’t be where your research ends. It’s also important to understand how a consultant’s approach, interests, experience, and style align with your specific project and your wider team. A newer, less experienced consultant can sometimes be a far better fit for your team and deliver a better outcome than a more established professional with a long track record.
If you work with a firm or partner to find a consultant, they will be able to help you with this and provide the information and assurance you need to connect with exactly the right person for the job. At Freshminds, we take time to understand consultants’ track records and how they will align with our client’s projects. We develop relationships with our clients over many months and years, often getting to know them across multiple projects.
Have clear expectations and criteria for success.
To measure the success of your consultant and your project, and to avoid disappointment, it’s important to have a clear project scope. You’ll need regular check-ins to make sure everything is on track and ensure your team doesn’t get disheartened if they don’t see immediate change.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. Once the initial consultation is over, you’ll need a change management process to ensure the recommendations are implemented across the company and satisfying long-term results can develop.
Hiring the right consultant can be one of the most advantageous moves a business can make. If you get clear on your goals, do your research, and use the right resources and channels, it’s perfectly possible to connect with a consultant who can help you achieve all your goals and drive your business forward.
This is what Freshminds exists for — to connect businesses with the consultants who can help them reach the next level. Contact us to find out more about our network of consulting experts.