Freelance Consultants Are More than Just a Trend
Just as there are trends in fashion, there are trends in business. Be it digitization, open-plan office spaces, bean bag chairs in the common area, or sustainability, some trends come and go, and others stick around. While the use of freelance consultants by companies has certainly been on the rise, it is not just a trend. Many companies have simply realized that it’s a viable option that offers many advantages over working with bigger consulting firms.
In this article, we will look at four key pillars for business success in today’s rapidly-changing market environment - pillars that are driving the increased popularity of independent management consultants. As companies face troubled economies, trends may fade, but the advantages for companies to move away from traditional consulting firms become increasingly relevant.
The first pillar of business success is agility. The business environment has become much more changeable due to a wide variety of factors we will discuss later. Businesses must be agile in order to successfully adapt to frequent fluctuations.
The second pillar is cost-consciousness. Triggered by the recession of the early 2000s, successful businesses learned to be much more cost-conscious and moved away from working with firms where they were paying a lot just for the globally-known brand name.
The third pillar is transparency. Customers want to know what they are getting when they spend their money to purchase a product or service. The same goes for companies nowadays, as businesses want to know exactly what they are getting when they work with vendors.
The fourth pillar of success is access to the right person for the project when it comes to solving business problems. Generalists alone are no longer able to adequately address the needs of companies, and the rise in platforms that provide easy access to a broad range of experts means businesses can find a consultant with experience solving similar problems.
Let’s look more closely at these pillars of success and how the advantages of working with freelance consultants support each of those pillars.
Businesses Need to Be Agile to Respond to Fluctuations in the Marketplace
Peter Drucker, management consultant and author of dozens of books on business management, is quoted as saying, “Large organizations cannot be versatile. A large organization is effective through its mass rather than through its agility. Fleas can jump many times their own height, but not an elephant.”
When the marketplace throws an obstacle course in your path, which would you rather be?
“Agility” is a buzzword that has permeated the talk about business management and technological progress. Whether you love the word or hate it, what it really means is to be flexible. Successful companies are flexible companies that can adjust to business cycle fluctuations and are more easily able to adapt to whatever the market throws at them.
Technological progress and digitization drive a lot of changes in the business world: products are launched and updated at an increased pace, and business processes are continually tweaked and streamlined. These technological innovations are not just going to stop one day. Whether it's due to changes in demand, changes in customer priorities, or changes in the types of project work at hand, more and more companies are using freelance consultants to help them stay flexible.
Rapid change also means that new opportunities present themselves on a regular basis. Augmented reality, for example, offers a whole new realm of possibilities for a wide variety of industries- from retail to education and automotive to gaming. If your company doesn't currently have someone with AR knowledge on staff, it could take months to put out a call for resumes, screen applicants, select a handful to interview, conduct the interviews, (potentially) conduct second interviews, make a selection, take the new hire through your on-boarding process, and so on.
Companies have realized that they can get someone on-board more quickly by using a platform that specializes in supplying thoroughly-vetted specialists. In today's economy, this agility in staffing is a major contributor to the success of a company.
Cost-Conscious Businesses Are Stronger Businesses
A business can’t be successful if it spends its money on the wrong things: things that don’t have a clear benefit to the bottom line. When the economy takes a turn for the worse — such as in the recession of the early-2000s — smart businesses become cost-conscious and look for ways to reduce expenses. Companies naturally start by negotiating with their suppliers and taking hard looks at perks and company events. Many successful businesses take a close look at how many employees are truly necessary to the basic operations of the company, and then supplement on an as-needed basis by using consultants.
There are basically two ways that businesses can reduce costs through use of management consultants. One is that you can reduce the number of full-time staff on your books. During slow periods, you would normally have to make hard decisions to cut staff hours or to lay off workers. But by keeping your staff lean in the first place, and by supplementing busy periods through alternate staffing methods, you don’t have to make those tough cuts when the lulls hit. You’re already prepared to cover the company’s basic needs and ride the tide out again.
The other reason management consultants are popular is that businesses can reduce the amount of space they need for their offices and take advantage of more flexible work spaces for their fluctuating staff size. Companies can designate certain areas for “hot desking” — where one desk is shared by multiple staff members who work during different periods of time. Reductions in your office footprint can really add up to big savings depending on how hot the real estate market is in your city.
Companies that have traditionally worked with big consulting firms understand that they are paying a lot for the brand name — and the bureaucracy. When you work with a big firm, you’ll be billed far more per hour than the person who is actually doing the work will receive as their hourly wage. When you make the switch to using freelance consultants, you’re paying for the talent, not the offices and overhead of the firm they are employed by.
Successful Companies Want Transparency
It’s not just the consumer in the mall who wants to know what they’re getting for their money. Companies that are successful in today’s business climate place an emphasis on transparency in their own business interactions and with service providers. Transparency builds trust. When it comes to working with consultants, companies want to be able to speak directly with the person who is working on their project. This is difficult to do with many big firms, where you may only ever talk with the account manager.
Quick and Easy Access to the Right Person for the Project Strengthens Businesses
Decades ago, the data and tools needed for analyzing problems and coming up with solutions could only be accessed through consulting firms. Many companies went to those firms with a general idea that they had a problem, but they needed someone to both define the problem and deliver a solution. Businesses are a lot smarter nowadays when it comes to knowing what they need, and they have easier access to data and tools through smaller, specialized vendors, boutique consulting businesses, and freelance consultants.
The fact that consultants are leaving big firms, as mentioned earlier, also means that companies have quick and easy access to a broad variety of independent specialists with experience solving similar problems to yours. You can now easily find the right consultant — on an as-needed basis — for a diverse array of types of projects from digital transformation to market analysis, and in varied industries from automotive to public health and everything in between.
The easiest way for companies to access top-tier, highly experienced consultants and subject experts is through freelance consulting platforms. These platforms can quickly learn a company’s needs and then hand pick a selection of consultants — with the precise expertise needed for the project — for the company to speak with and choose from. By eliminating the long, drawn-out hiring and on-boarding processes, companies can quickly “zig” to ramp up a project or “zag” to pivot to a new one, as the business environment changes.
A Trend that Won’t Go Away
You could say that the use of freelance consultants is a fad that will be replaced when the next trend comes along, or you could say that economic downturns are temporary and will naturally be followed by upswings that favor elephants over fleas. However, there are too many reasons that use of freelance consultants make sense for businesses for the practice to be seen as a trend. The consulting industry has been disrupted in a major way by the rise in freelance consulting platforms like Consultport. It does not make sense to go back to the way things “used to be,” especially as businesses attempt to recover from the economic downturn resulting from the coronavirus pandemic of early-2020. Companies will continue to use freelance consultants to reinforce the four pillars of their success, even as the marketplace throws obstacles, twists, and turns in their path.
The big question to ask yourself is: Do you want your company to be able to react like an elephant, or a flea?