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Helping Independent Management Consultants Find Greater Success

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at November 10, 2021

As I’ve written before, freelancing is providing an attractive alternative career venue to professionals in many areas.  The freelance ranks are large, diverse and growing. Platform specializations include diplomats, illustrators, writers, research scientists, masseurs, architects, construction engineers, events and hospitality experts, coaches, and many other categories of creators and professionals.

Three particularly well-represented freelance professions are tech, marketing, and management consulting. In this piece, we report the experience of freelance management consultants.

The management consulting profession began a century ago (Booz Allen was formed in 1914). Freelance management consulting is a newer invention, and includes platforms like Talmix, Comatch, Expert Powerhouse, Worksome, Jelber, OMS, Sneakers & Jackets, Catalant, Outsized, Riverflex and Ravenry. Freelance consultants are often alumni of firms like McKinsey and BCG, Accenture the “Big Four,” and industry specialists and leaders who’ve chosen independent consulting as an alternative or second act.  

How do independent consultants compare to other freelance professionals in experience and satisfaction? Our Global Survey on Freelancing, a joint project of the University of Toronto and my Agile Talent Collaborative sought the views of freelancers from 77 freelance platforms operating in more than 30 countries. Here’s how freelancers responded to survey items creating a Freelance Satisfaction Index. Overall, it’s evident from the chart below that independent consultants were the least enthusiastic cohort. 

Digging further into the survey data offers a deeper understanding of  independent consultants’ experience:

First, they want more work. Fewer consultants reported a strong project pipeline (44%) than other professionals (71% and 66% for tech and marketing).

Second, consultants are more critical of their client experience. A series of survey items dubbed the Client Satisfaction Index found consultants less enthused by their clients and consulting work:

On the positive side, freelance consultants find the work satisfying (59%), are treated respectfully by clients (60%), and describe client project team members as helpful (63%). However, they share several important concerns:

  • Consulting clients are seen as less effective in dealing with freelance consultants (41% vs 50% for tech and 45% for marketing)
  • Although clients expect top quality work (63%), deliverables, milestones and timelines are viewed as less realistic (33% vs 51% and 46%)
  • Client project managers are seen as less skillful in dealing with freelance consultants (36% vs 53% and 46%)
  • Client project teams are thought to be less competent (45% vs 61% and 54%)
  • Consultants felt least fairly compensated (47% vs 61% and 49%)

Implications for platforms

How might platforms help their independent management consultants to have a more successful and satisfying experience? There are several ways independent management consulting platforms can improve the experience of freelance platform members:

1.   More adjacent services create more opportunity. For example, Catalant and Talmix actively market interim management opportunities as does Feravola in Finland and Riverflex in the Netherlands. Expert Powerhouse in Germany and Sneakers + Jackets in France offer expert network services as well as management consulting. Dialectica, a large expert network offers longer and more strategic relationships that increasingly compete with consulting. Platforms like Mash and Fintalent show it’s possible to expand opportunity for freelance consultants in areas like branding strategy and M&A.  For some, executive coaching offerings like AceUp may create ways for consultants to expand their income and contribution to clients. Paid newsletters and online courses are also areas to explore.

 2.   Encourage and train freelancers to network. We asked freelancers to assess their networking effectiveness. Among management consultants, only a third (33%) described themselves as strong networkers. Yet we know that networking has a significant impact on both short and longer term success, including financial success. Dorothy Mead, COO of Talmix put it this way: “Platforms like Talmix need to keep the network engaged – we’ve added a lot to our partners programme recently to provide these services and it’s helping us build up the pipeline.”

3.   Hunt in packs. I’ve written earlier about the value of group collaboration in sales growth or, what I’ve called, “hunting in packs.” Vicoland is an excellent example of colleagues who form VICOs or “virtual organization” in order to improve their overall success. 

4.   Ensure client readiness. One clear message from our freelance consultants is     that many clients are unsophisticated buyers, leading to ill-fated project set-ups and frustration and disappointment on both sides. Platforms need to play a role in this area by supporting their freelancers and by working directly with clients to ensure they are ready to work effectively with freelancers. Charly Gaillard, CEO of France-based Sneakers + Jackets commented, “We often challenge the client brief since client needs are often unclear at the start.  It’s critical to ensure expectations are right on both sides. Also, follow-up during the assignment is often missing. We have monthly follow-up meetings with client and freelancers.”

5.   Realistic on-boarding. Alumni of large consultancies often have unrealistic expectations of a freelancing career, their market value as an independent consultant, and often regret the loss of perks associated with big consultancies e.g., a reliable pipeline of interesting work. Also, many senior consultants lack current expertise in incorporating tech in transformation work. A more realistic on boarding experience such as Contra is creating – a fuller description of the freelance life, the importance of personal marketing, future proofing skills, and actively investing in a strong and growing professional network – would be obviously helpful.

6.   Fewer platform members; more selectivity. Consulting platforms have a dilemma; they believe a large population of freelancers is needed in order to provide a broad set of capabilities to potential clients. As platform sizes proliferate, the opportunity of any given freelance consultant shrinks and the 80/20 rule prevails. Some platforms like Toptal have intentionally decided to remain limited and build a smaller, more elite, or more specialized population to provide greater opportunity to their platform members.

Unlike tech and marketing services which have been around for a while, freelance management consulting is a more recent invention. Now is the time for platform teams to work together with both consultants and clients to create a better experience for all. The data from our survey show how.

Viva la revolution!

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