What Is a Business Consultant?
A business consultant assists businesses of all sizes with various aspects of a business. Most business consultants have a particular area of expertise, also referred to as a niche and this is where their strength lies. Consultants can be freelance, meaning they work for themselves, they can be in-house for an organization, or they can be part of a larger consultancy firm. Business consultants work in a variety of industries and with small mom and pop businesses as well as Fortune 500 companies.
Business Career Paths
Steps to Becoming a Business Consultant
To become a business consultant, you need a particular set of skills and a bit of a reputation as an expert in the area in which you desire to consult. The typical steps needed to become a successful business consultant are listed below.
Step 1: Acquire Desired Education
Step 2: Experience Is Required
Step 3: Set Yourself Up as an Expert
Step 4: Deliver Results
Step 1: Acquire Desired Education
Business consultants need to be educated in their chosen consulting field. To be hired by a consultancy firm, a degree in the area where you want to consult is generally required unless you have a lot of experience in the area. For example, if you’ve been in management for 20 years but only have a two-year degree or high-school diploma, your 20 years’ experience could be enough to get you hired or it might not be enough. But if you are lacking the education, you might want to consider getting the degree that matches your expertise. It makes you that much more marketable and adds an additional layer of professionalism onto the experience you already have. Rule of thumb: the more education you have, the more you look like an expert. So, if you really want to stand out as an expert business consultant, an MBA or terminal degree in your particular niche might be an investment worth making.
Step 2: Experience is Required
You cannot be an expert in a field in which you have not worked. No one is going to hire an accountant who has never balanced a worksheet or entered a journal entry. The rule of thumb is that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. If you have the ability and desire to hone your craft and learn everything you can about your chosen area, the hours are irrelevant. Just put your time in working at your desired craft and let your work and the end result speak for itself. There is a reason why many consultants are former workers who were either let go from their positions due to downsizing or they grew tired of working for someone else and wanted to strike out on their own. A combination of 1-5 years of experience and education in your area of expertise is a good foundation for a business consulting career.
Step 3: Set Yourself Up as An Expert
An education in the area where you want to consult is desired, but expertise is most definitely required. A company isn’t going to hire a consultant who has no track record in the industry. You don’t have to be a seasoned vet to land consulting gigs, but you do have to look like an expert, something that can be accomplished in several different ways beyond working in the actual field. One way is to teach in the industry in which you want to consult. Community and technical colleges are often looking for adjunct instructors who can teach specific courses to students. If you don’t want to teach in a traditional classroom, teaching online courses through a school or website can help set you up as an expert.
Another avenue is creating videos and writing blogs about your chosen area of expertise. You can create videos and post them on YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook and reach an audience looking for the information you want to share. If writing is more your style, a blog or website that provides information is also an option. the goal is to develop a following. Having the following of several hundred or thousand means there’s a group of people who trust what you tell them. They see you as an expert in your field, and you can use this information to help you land consulting jobs.
Step 4: Deliver Results
Now that you have the desired education and required experience, you can approach businesses who use consultants. Some businesses actively seek business consultants via advertising, while others contract with consulting firms that have a stable of consultants in a variety of areas and industries. If you want to be a consultant, you can either market yourself as an independent business consultant, or you can join a firm and become part of their stable of consultants. Both options have their pros and cons.
Striking out on your own means you do it all. You are the consultant, but you are also the marketing team that finds the clients, the accounting firm that keeps the books, and the office manager that keeps everything running. At least until business picks up and you can afford to hire a staff member or two. But, for many, this is the correct approach because they want to be their own boss, call all the shots and run their business the way they want to run it. On the other hand, if you just want to go into a business and solve their problems and collect a fee for the services you provide, joining a consulting firm might be your best solution. Since someone else is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the business, you are free to do what you love, provide solutions to problems businesses face.
What Does a Business Consultant Do?
A day in the life a business consultant can vary, but there are certain elements of being a consultant that remain consistent. First, business consultant sits down with the business requesting assistance and learns as much about the business as possible. Generally, this is through a meeting with an owner or managing partner, but some work can be completed beforehand by doing online research and reading press about the company if it exists. Next, the consultant will attempt to grasp the issues that have occurred that make a business consultant necessary. Most businesses that invest in a consultant have a concrete reason for the need, be it a bad financial quarter, the need for new marketing ideas and directions, or there’s been some sort of incident that has resulted in less than positive press for the business. It is important for the consultant to get a firm grasp on what the business needs.
Once the consultant understands the situation, they need to determine the business’ ultimate objective. This will be directly related to the actual issue at hand (for example, marketing needs should result in new, useable marketing ideas and plans, negative press is replaced with more positive press, etc.) and the results should be measurable in some fashion. For example, new marketing and sales tactics should help turn around sluggish numbers from a previous quarter. When the business consultant knows the objective and the desired end result, they can set about creating a plan to get the business its desired results.
There is no set time limit for a business consultant to work on a project, though some solutions automatically have a built-in time limit (better sales in the next quarter, brand new marketing campaign for the next holiday, etc.).
Skills to Acquire to Become a Business Consultant
We’ve covered that an education in the specific area is desired and that experience working in their field is also required, but there are other skills effective business consultants possess.
When you’re juggling clients, billing, classes to keep your knowledge sharp, and other life issues, you need the ability to keep track of it all.
You have to be comfortable talking with a variety of people, from small business owners to CFOs. You never know who is going to approach you needing help so it makes sense that you can talk confidently with everyone.
Sure you could run your business with pen and paper, but since you’re most likely going to be proposing technological solutions for at least some of your clients, having those skills yourself is ideal.
Clients don’t always know what they need. Even if they’re telling you what they want, you might have to find a way to bring them around to what they need. Also, not every client can articulate their needs, so you might have to present several solutions before their vision finally becomes clear.
The Ability to See the Big Picture
As a business consultant it is your job to see the entire picture. A business owner should be able to do this as well, but if they're in the midst of a crisis, that ability might be lacking. It’s up to you to show them the big picture, both the short-term and long-term issue and solutions so they can make an informed decision.
Business Consultant Career & Salary
Where Might You Work as a Business Consultant?
Where business consultants work depends on the type of consulting they do. All types of businesses might employ a business consultant for a variety of reasons. A small business might hire a financial consultant to help set up their in-house accounting system, or to do the books for them. A growing business might hire a marketing consultant to help with new marketing campaigns. A company that’s growing faster than they anticipated could hire a HR consultant to help with onboarding new employees and making sure their policy and procedures manual is in compliance with any new federal laws the business may be required to follow. For every type of business issue, there’s a business that has it and a consultant who can come solve the problem.
And it’s not just the private sector that uses consultants. Government agencies will hire consultants to help with front-facing issues. PR firms, marketing firms, and management consultants are often used by government agencies (aka government contractors) to assist with programs and projects that target civilians.
In short, as a business consultant, you could find employment in a variety of places:
- Small business
- Government agency
- Fortune 500 company
- Small startup
- Private agency
- Non-profit organizations
Potential Career Paths
The types of consulting services that you can offer and that are needed are seemingly endless, but this is a list of the most popular and most requested types of consulting. If you have the expertise to combine two or more of these types of consulting, your client list is bound to grow.
a bit of a catch-all. When a business isn’t sure of what is really needed, a business consultant is generally the first one contacted. Through the business consultant, the business that needs help can pinpoint the exact type of services it needs and then can go from there finding the right consultant to fulfill those needs. A business consultant has to be knowledgeable of all the alternatives and options, and if need be, play liaison between the company and the needed consultant.
Whether a business is planning to offer benefits to employees or just needs to review personal financial and investment situations, a financial consultant can sit down with the business owner and review what the business currently offers, what is possible, and how to meet future financial and investment needs.
If the face of a business needs a make-over (literally or figuratively), an image consultant can tell an organization what the public really thinks of a business and offer solutions to improve their image.
When it’s time to upgrade the computer systems, this is the person a business wants to come and save the day.
Whether a business wants to know why the current marketing plan isn’t working, a political campaign wants to know how their message sounds to its constituents, or a new company wants to launch its first marketing campaign, a marketing consultant can help organizations get the answers and results it needs.
Most businesses have a sales force of some sort. If the business isn’t getting the desired results. a sales consultant can analyze the situation and offer solutions that can equate to increase sales and a healthier bottom line.
Social Media Consulting
More and more businesses are using social media as part of their overall marketing and community outreach campaigns. However, not everyone is as social media savvy as they should be and that can cause issues. Hiring someone who knows how to effectively channel the power of social media can be the difference between a successful campaign and the need to issue an apology.
Whether a business needs to upgrade the computer operating system or it’s considering a new payroll software, bringing in a software consultant can help a business choose the right combination of software that won’t result in computer crashes due to incompatibility issues.
Business Consultant Career Salaries
|Information Technology (IT) Consultant||$66,200||$83,000||$108,500|
|Software Engineer Consulting||$67,500||$96,250||$137,800|
Career Outlook for a Business Consultant
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), consultants are expected to show steady to increasing demand through 2026. This is fueled by an increasing number of larger businesses that continue to outsource parts of their businesses because it’s more cost effective. Demand is expected to be higher for those who offer technology-based consulting such as software consulting and information technology. However, management consultants make the most money. Keep in mind though that these consultants often have the most education and have expertise in several different areas. Competition in the field of the business consultancy is high, so the better your qualification and experience, the better position and pay you can expect. It also indicates that finding a specific need and meeting it can garner more success than being a generalist. Salaries in this field are expected to remain roughly the same, with technology salaries continuing to be on the higher end.
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Advancing from Here
Once you’ve established your consulting career, where you take it is up to you. You can continue to fly solo and enjoy the freedom, or you might eventually decide to bring in additional consultants and expand your offerings. Or you could take a job at a firm that offers consultant services. Whichever path you choose, the days of the title Business Consultant being a euphemism for “between jobs” is long gone.