Consultants never stand still, and neither does consulting. With new methods of digital communication and ever-changing customer demands, this isn’t your grandpa’s consulting industry!

A big factor impacting who wins and who loses in the future of consulting is access. Digital tools have levelled the playing field for hiring practices, making it far simpler for independent consultants to cultivate wide networks without relying on the reputation of a consulting firm. There is a growing ‘reputation economy’ in consulting that mirrors changes in other industries and creates opportunities for forward-thinking consultants.  

I believe that the future of consulting will be shaped by a shift away from institutional reputations and towards personal accountability. Independent consultants are best placed to capitalise on this trend, and many already are.  

For consultants, the best personal reputation is one defined by value and outcomes. Here, we are going to talk about how consultants can grab hold of the trends shaping the future of consulting, stand out and succeed, delivering better outcomes for clients and consultants alike.  


The industry is moving away from large consulting firms

The idea that consulting is changing is not just theoretical — it’s backed up by growth statistics. While the overall consulting business in the UK increased revenues by 5 per cent year-on-year, niche consulting houses — those with either one or a handful of employees — saw a greater than 20 per cent growth in their revenues. 

Although the big players still dominate the industry, this kind of growth disparity will lead to large changes over a relatively short space of time if maintained. Even if bespoke consulting services do not become the dominant force in the industry, there's no doubt that the consulting industry is moving away from one completely dominated by large firms into something far more dynamic and exciting. This needs to be noted, and the fact that this shift is occurring creates easy room to speculate on the motivation for that change. 


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Value in personal reputation is an antidote to past failures

I think that many consultants would admit that ‘the consultant’ doesn’t have ‘the best’ reputation — marred by the image of a ‘slick-suited’ ‘idea-man’ who never gets things done. A few consultants might deserve that reputation — most do not. 

I believe that this reputational problem is one reason that consulting clients have so rapidly jumped on the ability to judge consultants as individuals. By looking past the industry and selecting individuals with a track record of success, clients are able to feel confident that they will be getting the best the industry has to offer. 

Businesses will not only look at a consultant’s reputation, they are also aware that smaller firms are more able to create and deliver bespoke, tailored and practical/hands-on consulting services. Consulting clients want people who not only understand the industry at a high level, but who are also able to provide real-world assistance to their teams on the ground. Independent consultants are more capable of providing these kinds of bespoke services. 

The most successful independent consultants in the market today understand the current psychological landscape. They know that businesses need people with relevant expertise to help them push through "pain points" (something that's always been true), but they also know that most managers are tired of the old consulting paradigm and want something new. By trading on their personal reputation and creating tailored services, independent consultants offer a kind of guarantee that only individuals are able to deliver. 


The industry's future is focused on results

Consulting must change from a reactive to a proactive model, and go from prescription to participation. Companies don't want people with Masters degrees from top-tier universities reeling off lists of instructions for them to follow. Instead, they want experienced professionals who can work with them and their teams on a practical level to deliver solutions to the market. 

‘Third category consulting’ is the integration between independent consultants and the companies that they serve. Today's cutting edge consultants avoid giving recommendations and instead work to improve the capacity of the firm to solve its own problems, either through training or by implementing new and robust systems. 

Companies want people who work well in their teams and can provide personalised support and leadership. They want to see that a candidate has a proven track record and can bring meaningful results that they can measure.

Of course, the industry won't immediately fragment into thousands of independent consulting firms. What's more likely is that new forms of consulting partnerships will emerge where independent consultants band together to manage larger sets of clients. Over time, the value of these partnerships will become apparent, and the makeup of the industry will shift. More firms will choose smaller consultancies which offer a bespoke, hands-on approach. 


How can independent consultants deliver on a grander scale?

When it comes to the future of independent consulting, consultants must keep up with the evolving landscape of business. This means learning to operate on a larger scale. It’s no longer enough to take the smaller clients when there are so many new opportunities being opened up by the changing industry. 

To ensure you don’t miss these bigger, more lucrative opportunities, signing up with a consulting partnership can help. Consulting partnerships — not to be confused with associate programmes — offer a range of benefits to help you grow your consulting business. You can get bespoke training, advice from existing consultants and administrative support in the form of an executive assistant (EA). However, the term ‘consulting partnership’ is not always clear and is often used to describe various associate programmes, so ensure you research the partnership before you sign up. 

Just because you’re consulting independently, it doesn’t mean you have to do it without help. These partnerships are designed to help you grow your business within a community of like-minded individuals by expanding your network of clients whilst still learning and receiving support. 

It is clear that with these changes in the industry, the future of independent consulting is an optimistic one, with a growing need for more tailored consulting services to deliver real results to clients. Independent consultants now have the capabilities to reach out and grab bigger consulting opportunities that will not only benefit them, but help consulting clients keep up within the growing economy. It’s an exciting time to be a consultant: for independent consultants, the future is theirs to grab. 

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