Consultants serve as experts in their field, sought out by companies or individuals for advice and direction. Consulting as a career is steadily increasing in popularity, with global consulting revenues expected to reach $449 billion this year.
How does someone start a consulting business or become a part of an already established consulting agency? Read on for an overview of the skills, knowledge, and responsibilities that are required, as well as a look at how to become a consultant.
What Is a Consultant?
Consultants are hired to help companies and organizations pinpoint business problems and opportunities. They are also brought in to help organizations with strategic planning or system transformations, providing recommendations to support higher efficiency and productivity. Consultants offer an outside perspective to help companies spot obstacles and improve effectiveness. Companies experiencing layoffs or looking for additional assistance on special one-time projects may also bring in consultants to cover the workload.
Consulting jobs exist in every industry, but some of the most popular areas that consultants are hired for include accounting and finance, human resources, employee training and development, technology, branding and marketing, management, and project management.
Independents vs. Consulting Firms
If you’re interested in becoming a consultant, you will probably either choose to become an individual/independent consultant or to work for a larger consulting firm. There are positive opportunities within each path depending on your professional goals.
As a solo consultant, you’ll begin by spending time networking and building your business. As a small business owner, you must be prepared to promote your services and expertise. You may even need to do your own billing, accounting, taxes, and marketing (or pay someone else to do these tasks for you as you grow).
You can become a consultant in almost any industry. If you are thinking about branching out on your own and have experience or expertise in the following areas, consider choosing from the top consulting industries:
- Accounting or Taxes. Every business needs accounting. If you are a CPA or expert in this field, you can advise businesses on tax issues and legalities, or provide accounting or payroll services on retainer.
- Advertising or Marketing. Consultants in these fields can offer a variety of services from digital marketing, social media, and websites, to strategic marketing planning, campaigns, or graphic design.
- Business. If you have experience building profitable businesses, you can help companies make strategic business decisions, offer recommendations about attrition or succession planning, and provide support in areas of ongoing business development.
- Writing Services. Most companies know what they want to say, but may not have a writer on staff. Writing consultants help plan content, provide copywriting and editing assistance, and serve as experts in areas of communicating key messages to target audiences.
Benefits of Becoming an Independent Consultant
For some, becoming a consultant can present the opportunity to “skip” the steps of the corporate ladder and jump right into positions of working and solving organizational issues. For others, consulting can become a second career after serving as a leader in an industry. Benefits of independent consulting include:
- Flexibility of schedules and hours.
- Higher hourly rate/salary than you may receive being on staff.
- Potential to work from a home office.
- Access to different industries and clients to keep your skills fresh.
If you are not set on starting a business, you may look to work within an established consulting firm. When looking at consulting firms, determine what size and type of organization is the right fit for you and the kinds of services you are passionate about providing to clients. There are many options when pursuing a career with a firm: small, boutique firms specializing in a specific industry; mid-sized, regional consulting companies; or large national or international corporate consulting organizations. Consider what your expectations are in terms of workload, stress level, and travel.
Becoming a part of an established firm is similar to choosing an area of expertise as an independent consultant. In addition to the top consulting industries listed above, consulting firms may also work in areas of:
- Computer Consulting. Software, hardware, and everything technology-related in between—this consulting career is for individuals who have a passion and knowledge of computers.
- Career Counseling. Career consultants provide services to both individual clients who may need guidance for career placement and interviews as well as corporations that need additional support for employee relations and development.
- Communications. Internal and external communications consulting covers all the areas a company would need to smoothly manage the flow of information to employees and the public. Consultants might help with day-to-day communication or be brought on to lead large-scale crisis communications or public relations campaigns.
- Human Resources. HR provides opportunities for consultants who specialize in strategies and tactics to support recruitment, hiring, retention, and employee relations. In particular, HR data analysis has become a niche area for consultancy.
Benefits of Joining a Consulting Firm
Like independent consulting, joining a consulting firm offers diversity in the kinds of projects and industries you encounter. In addition, consultants working for a firm can expect benefits such as:
- Job and pay security as an employee.
- Employer-provided benefits.
- Labor law protection.
- Built-in resources and support for job development.
As companies look for new ways to grow, become more efficient, and reduce costs, many continue to reach out to consultants to help support their business objectives. A career in consulting can offer the benefits of flexibility, variety, and satisfaction in knowing you are making a positive contribution when it’s needed most.