Consulting, demystified

Business people playing chess while using a laptop, phone and tablet.

If you've ever heard someone say they are a consultant, you might nodded your head, but still felt a bit confused. I feel you! We all sort of know what consulting is, but not exactly. As of now, over 200 of the businesses listed on the Cowrie guide have listed consulting as a primary activity. For everyone's sake, let's explain a little bit about consulting!

 

First up, what is consulting?

In short, a consultant is a person or firm who gives advice and recommendations to another business. They are different from a part-time employee or a contractor in that, while they may do some practical tasks, a large part of what they do is to give strategic expertise. For example, a consulting expert might steer a business's marketing in a certain direction, or give some financial guidance so that the business can plan for the next few years.

 

Why do you need a consultant?

A consultant is a third party, so they are fairly objective, they have a lot of expertise in their domain, and most importantly, they think long-term. So naturally, consultants are often needed at times of strategic crossroads. For example, if you are a new entrepreneur who needs more knowledge or time in a particular area of their business, or a company whose sales have decreased or grown dramatically, you might want to bring on a consultant.

What different kinds of consultants are there?

The short answer is that there are about as many kinds of consultants as there are things to do. But if you want a slightly more helpful answer... some of the most common kinds of consultants are:

  • Strategy consultants: they operate at the highest level of advising, to give the business advice and expertise on major topics like economic policy or organization strategy. They focus less on implementation.
  • Management consultants: they are the bread and butter of consulting. They tend to both advise and implement strategy in a variety of business areas.
  • marketing consultants: they focus on the company's image, their positioning in the market and their promotion. Their expertise includes digital marketing, press outreach, print...
  • IT consultants: they advise businesses on what kind of technology they need, for example, for sales or for task management, and then help implement this technology.
  • Human Resources consultants: They help organizations with questions related to their staff, such as job satisfaction, effectiveness of HR policies, and staffing strategy.

 

How long should you hire a consultant for?

It depends on the kind and the scale of the consulting work; but in general, between a few weeks and a few months. There needs to be enough time to assess the situation, propose a plan, and start to implement it.

A lightbulb in front of a blackboard, with bubbles drawn in chalk around it.

Why not just hire someone full-time?

There are several reasons! Firstly off, the consultant's an outsider, so they assess things more clearly and frankly than an employee. Secondly, a consultant's role is a lot more flexible than employee contracts, so in the short term, they can be a great help without too much commitment, and even give a business insight on what kind of staff they need. But be careful not to treat a consultant like an employee...

 

When shouldn't you hire a consultant?

A lot of businesses fall into the trap of hiring a consultant when they really need an employee. Before you hire a consultant, ask yourself: do I want this person's opinion to matter (almost) just as much as mine? In addition, many businesses hire a consultant based on word of mouth or personal connection, without shopping around. It's important to make sure that your consultant not only has experience, but that that expertise applies to your situation!

 

Sounds good to you? You can find your fit among hundreds of consultants right here.

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