Business Consultants Compared – What Makes Firms Different?

When inviting a business consulting firm to get to know your business and its weaknesses, it is a delicate dance to find the best corporate qualifications, experience, and ability to navigate the inevitable invisible issues that will come up. It is also important to make sure your own corporate culture and on-going business do not get lost in the process.

In the marketplace of Business Management Consulting or Management Consulting, competitors generally fall into just a few categories:

-Sole proprietor consultants, who are generally niched and geographically based

-Larger consulting firms, who have multi-niched teams and the ability to reach out to other cities or regions

-Small consulting firms, regionally based and team oriented

Sole Proprietors: Personal Touch

Smaller and sole proprietor consultant competitors, like Jannelle Buzzell, Jim Grew, Will Moore, Mannus O’Donnell and others, get to know the client and their needs very personally. They start from exceptional business acumen, and make sure to create buy-in within the company. The client company is trusted to know their core business and its people very, very well. There is often not a pre-conceived corporate formula other than profitability, efficiency, and better managerial controls through feedback. To these folks, it is common to receive a fearful call where a business owner shares that they ‘aren’t even sure what the problem is or where it started’.

Large Consulting Firms: depth and breadth

Larger competitors, like Boly Welch Consulting, CBS Consulting, Georgia S. May, Point B and PeopleFirm, all offer fresh eyes, strong business acumen, and an understanding that all business evolution comes from the people within the firm. To make any consulting project stick, it has to come from within, which starts from leadership. Once leadership has aligned the goals and strategies, the consulting firm assists in rolling out change. This change management happens from setting measurable goals, checking in with ROI, and staying in regular touch with the feedback loop.

Small Consulting Firms: Personal touch and depth

What makes the smaller consultancy different is the unique blend of these styles. With a small firm, you are likely to meet the owner, but not work with them regularly. You will have a small, personal team, but enough distance to call their supervisor if necessary. A small firm has 8-30 employees, and is generally based in a single city office. Conversely, the consulting firm is big enough to have scheduling and launching flexibility more like a larger consultancy. Small consulting firms cannot do everything involved for a larger project, so they are forced to rely on (and train) the employee team. This strategy keeps the consulting team in alignment with owners, in order to organize which work is done by which team. Smaller consulting teams do not take over a floor of your building and set up shop. It is necessary to work along side the employee team constantly in order to on board change at a pace owners and employees can handle.

How Much Do They Cost?

When we compare business to business consulting, price is an unavoidable topic. If you don’t care how much the consulting firm costs, you are not in the market. Clients care, even if they aren’t sure they can afford it (or have plenty of money to afford it). Small firm prices lie in the middle, just as you might expect. Many sole proprietors charge a lower rate, especially if they aren’t busy. However, if they are busy, they simply cannot take the work, or quickly bump up to the rates of larger firms. Larger firms have additional overhead for travel, benched employees and significant benefit packages at all levels. These higher prices are significant and consistent. With a smaller firm, you are unlikely to receive enormous perks as a part of your purchase. They focus on the work done, and building the relationship on the job.

In general terms, a client can expect:

Team Size Typical Hourly Rate

Sole Proprietor 1 $40-$150

Small Firm 2-30 $75-300

Large Firm 30+ $200-750+

These rates are a generalized survey in Portland, OR, based on surveys of a small handful of varying small and medium businesses.

Conclusion

When you are considering outside consulting for your operations, spend some time considering the depth and breadth of the project, the budget you expect, and then consider requesting proposals or conversations from varying firms. Some projects are clearly one size or another, but medium scale projects that can take some time to evolve are a likely fit for a blended small consulting firm. If you go that route, you will save significant money and train your staff along the way.

Tired of Doing the Same Boring Thing, Become a Business Consultant

Every day, small businesses and companies grapple with all sorts of problems. Business owners and executives sometimes have no clue as to how to handle these challenges which make their jobs more difficult, or cost the businesses to lose money.

These people need help.

And if you’re the type of person who can help these companies come up with solutions to their problems, you can have a successful career as a business consultant.

I’ve enjoyed the life of a business consultant for the last 8 years, and I can tell you that businesses of all sizes, and in all industries respect business consultants, and rely on them a great deal to help their businesses succeed.

What exact types of problems do business consultants help clients solve?

Any type of business problem:

  • Reputation Management
  • Increasing sales
  • Improving productivity and performance
  • Improving communication
  • Team building
  • Improving operational efficiency
  • Financial Audits
  • Risk Assessment
  • Insurance
  • And the list goes on and on

I know consultants who specialize in working with businesses in particular industries like manufacturing, health care, or waste management. There are other consultants who work with clients in a variety of industries, but concentrate on specific business functions, such as marketing, human resources, or information technology. and then there are those who specialize in certain industries and functions.

In my own case, I currently work as a high performance coach and marketing consultant focusing on Africa. With many western companies expanding to Africa, I get to help them reduce turnover and maximize performance through the implementation of high performance leadership and marketing principles.

There are many consultants who go on to work for large consulting firms; but there is huge opportunity for those who want to have their own business or work as freelance consultants.

If you have a decent amount of knowledge in your area of expertise, you can become a consultant helping businesses solve their problems, and earning a decent living for yourself.

And you can do all of this without any large start-up costs. In fact, you probably already have all that you need – a computer and phone – and much of your business is likely to come through low-cost marketing such as networking. This is what I do.

You can also start on a part-time basis, while keeping your current job as your primary source of income. Then as the demand for your services grows, you can commit to consulting fulltime if you so desire.

While many consultants do have Master’s degree, it is not a prerequisite. As a matter of fact, you don’t even need a degree to become a consultant. There are many independent consultants who don’t have degrees.

But they have education. And there’s a difference.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 28% of consultants do not have a degree of any kind. When I first started consulting, I did not even have a bachelor’s degree.

Those who succeed in this field of independent consulting are the ones who are constantly learning and improving themselves so they are able to serve their clients better.

The bottom line here is, if you have the ability to solve a business problem, and are confident enough to sell your services to senior management, you will get projects.

If you want to know if consulting is the career for you, here are some questions you need to be asking yourself:

  • Do people frequently ask for your advice?
  • Do you enjoy finding solutions to problems?
  • Are you a critical thinker?
  • Do you know a variety of problem-solving techniques?
  • Do you enjoy doing research?
  • Do you have a good vocabulary?
  • Do you avoid using jargon or technical terms that others may not understand?
  • Do people consider you to be a good listener?
  • Do you understand non-verbal communication such as body language?
  • Do you have excellent written communication skills?
  • Are you comfortable speaking in front of a group?
  • Do you have project management experience?
  • Can you see the big picture and break it down into manageable components?
  • Are you well-organized?
  • Do you meet deadlines?
  • Do you have experience leading teams?
  • Are you ethical in all your business practices?

The need for business consultants continues to grow especially as economies become though globally. There’s no better time to position yourself as an expert consultant in your field.

When Should You Decide to Talk With a Business Consultant?

When is the right time to look for business advice and support? Whether you are contemplating starting a new business, are in the middle of a start-up, are considering a new product launch, or simply want some assistance on discovering new ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness, the correct time may be RIGHT NOW.

Here are 5 of the most common questions you may be asking yourself that warrant involvement from a business consultant.

1. Is now the correct time to be starting a new business? What is the best way to set-up my business to ensure future success? What can I do to minimize risk and maximize my chances for success?

The start-up phase of any business is exciting and downright frightening all at the same time. There is no better time to enlist the help of experienced professionals than during the early stages of your business development.

The right consultant has often been through numerous start-ups, has extensive experience in working with a business plan, knows what resources to enlist in gaining early momentum, and most importantly will provide honest feedback about the viability of your business idea.

2. What can I do to improve the profitability of my existing business? Where is the best use of my time and resources to continue to gain momentum with what I already have?

Once you are through the initial start-up phase a good consultant can help identify areas of strength and areas in need of improvement. What worked, what didn’t, how can you improve upon current success and minimize future risk? Engaging a consultant during this phase of your business will ensure you invest in critical resources and minimize risk going forward.

3. Why isn’t my marketing working effectively? Why is revenue flat and or profitability down? What can I do to improve upon the process and products I have in place?

A business consultant often will have experience across multiple industries and business models and will be able to provide insight in to what is currently holding you back from continued success. Many of the processes an effective consultant will take you through will give you the clarity and confidence required to take a faltering business from stagnation to immediate growth.

4. How did I end up here? I didn’t think owning my own business was going to be like this? How do I balance business and personal life effectively?

Time-management and productivity are often two of the biggest challenges faced by entrepreneurs. The right consultant will have the insight and ability to identify where you strengths lie and how to increase your effectiveness by maximizing those strengths.

When you find yourself wondering how you ended up where you are and what you need to do to get yourself from where your are to where you want to be, ask a consultant. You can only see what you are able to see. As obvious as this sounds, perspective is critical to business success and can only be gained by enlisting the expert advice of business professionals who know what to look for. Any successful business consultant will be able to provide valuable perspective on what got you to here and what is needed to take you to there.

5. How do I systematize my business so I can enjoy more free time away from work? How can my business run effectively without me working day and night to ensure it succeeds?

Business systems are a critical asset you must employ as an entrepreneur. Without proper systems in place you run the risk of personal burn-out and eventual business decline or failure.

Business consultants will help with effective delegation and system implementation. The vast knowledge and experience a professional consultant is able to draw from is critical during this stage of your business development. Once properly set up, a business utilizing efficient systems and effective delegation will successfully run itself. At this point as the entrepreneur, you will be able to focus on what is most critical to your business and personal success and will be more likely to achieve everything you are reaching for.

There truly is no right or wrong time to engage a business consultant in conversation about your business and its success. A good consultant will provide perspective in all the areas affecting your business and most importantly will be honest about the results they can deliver. Business is never easy, but with a good consultant most of your biggest business challenges will become simple to overcome.