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A growing community – the demand for independent consultants

In this highly disruptive time for the global consulting industry, independent consulting continues to grow as a favoured career choice. From the explosive rate at which digital transformation is taking hold to the more agile approach now being undertaken by senior management, the opportunities to capitalise on the growth of the consulting industry are no longer limited to the major players.

According to the Office for National Statistics, self-employed consultants now make up 55,000 of the 175,000 strategy and management consultants in the UK. The growth of which is being fuelled by a number of factors, including business demand and the flexibility of being self-employed. As consultants continue to go it alone in spite of the perils of self-employment, it’s clearly a trend that’s here to stay.

Business demand

The demand for cost-effective, targeted and niche services has increased due to a variety of reasons – not least Brexit. Whilst uncertainty over what may or may not happen remains, organisations are increasingly turning to consultants for advice and guidance on how to both mitigate any potential risk and identify the opportunities that could arise (and how to take advantage of them). However, clients are not only turning to the consulting giants to develop their strategies and roadmap the change needed.

Indeed, as we have seen over the last 12 months, whilst demand for consulting services is increasing, the appetite among clients for partnering with large generalists is actually rescinding. This is allowing consultants to flourish in the freelance economy and we expect the trend to continue throughout 2018 and beyond.

Technology: an enabling force

Thanks to technology, doors are opening everywhere for independent consultants. Cloud computing and the Internet of Things is not only seeing the workplace rapidly evolve into a ‘workspace’ that is less defined, it is also enabling consultants to essentially run their entire business from their laptop or smartphone device using tools such as Skype and Google.

It’s also never been easier to connect consulting talent with businesses in need. The emergence of talent matching platforms and apps have allowed aspiring independent consultants to take the leap knowing that they have the means to begin building a pipeline of work.

Breaking the glass ceiling

It’s common for employees at traditional management consulting firms to hit a glass ceiling, find themselves to be limited by hierarchical structures, and feel that their earning potential is limited. Whilst there is always a certain degree of uncertainty when operating as an independent, surveys show that 3 in 4 independent consultants say they earn either more or similar amounts of money compared with when they were staffed at a firm.

For many independents, increased earnings coupled with greater control over their consulting destiny is a winning formula.

The focus is on living

Work-life balance has never been more important to people than it is now. Research that we conducted in August 2017 shows that 79% of respondents value work-life balance 'very highly' or 'highly' with only 2% not valuing it at all. Although an attractive field of work, consulting is known for its intensity, long hours and tight deadlines. Research conducted by Consultancy.uk shows that 77% of consultants at the top of the market work more than their contracted hours. On average, the surveyed consultants work 9.3 hours per week more than they are paid for.

Independent consultants still work to tight client deadlines, but they are able to control their own schedules by only taking on projects that fit around their existing workload and other commitments.

Freedom and flexibility

At traditional consultancy firms, consultants can often be staffed on projects that hold little interest for them or be asked to reside in locations that are undesirable to them. Independent consultants have the freedom to choose projects that pique their interest, utilise the expertise they would like to further and are based in convenient locations.

The increased freedom and flexibility enjoyed by freelance consultants to take time off, pursue their passions or even fund an entrepreneurial venture of their own is a definite upside to pursuing an independent career. In fact, surveys have found that consultants under the age of 40 cited the desire to fund and spend time on launching their own start-up as a top reason for taking the leap into independent consulting.

 

So with client demand increasing and the attractiveness of a freelance career growing, 2018 will be an ideal time for consultants to take advantage and join the independent consulting community.

 

 

Imogen Forbes-Edwards

Imogen Forbes-Edwards

Senior Candidate Manager, Projects Team

 

Imogen leads the management of our consulting network for the Projects Team. She manages and engages with senior freelancers for independent strategic projects.

 

Interested in finding out more about transitioning to freelance consulting or building upon your experience?  Get in touch with Imogen for more information.