Organisations turn to them for expert advice. For an objective, outsider perspective to problems. For specialists skills that companies do not possess. And even for solving critical business and functional challenges.
‘They’ are none other than consultants and we are all aware of the vital, unique and relevant role they play in the life of businesses. But have you ever wondered who consultants turn to when they themselves need help?
The answer you will hear increasingly echoing through consulting corridors is – the freelancer or expert or advisor. Every day, more and more consulting firms are discovering the abundant and wide-ranging benefits of engaging freelancers and independent professionals on a contractual or project basis. Here is a list of some of the trends we are beginning to see.
Gain competitive advantage - At times, consulting firms are faced with a situation where their prospective client is looking for a solution that requires multiple kinds of expertise, across functions, industries or geographies. While some of it is readily available within its own talent pool, some may not be. Rather than lose the business to someone else, ‘renting’ one or more freelancers can give the firms a natural advantage over the competition. For instance, a UK-based firm needed support in India for a major programme for a client. Rather than set up an office here given the uncertainty around a regular business, they preferred to work with experienced independent consultants who could ‘plug and play’.
Grow one’s business - There are occasions when a consulting firm lands a big meaty project, but one that requires a team size much larger than their current available strength, to deliver against the said timeline. In such scenarios, experienced freelancers can be contracted to complement the existing workforce. They can be brought onboard and made to understand the task quickly and can hit the ground running, thus allowing firms to grow and expand their business. An education consultancy recently did this capacity expansion when during its heavy season, it got freelance mentors to guide MBA candidates through the process of applying for global B-school admissions.
Specialists on call – Very often consulting firms are in need of a skill set they do not have in-house but one whose requirement is not permanent. For instance, a Delhi-based financial advisory firm recently needed expertise in organizational development/performance management as part of a broader project with a client. Getting freelancers with domain expertise was an ideal solution in this case.
Keep it lean – Freelance and flexible workers are a great way to trim costs and stay lean. For a consultancy, this is critical. Because the more people it hires, the more it adds to its own costs. Employee pay, benefits packages, money lost in holidays and sick leaves taken by workers and greater investments in infrastructure, all combine to increase expenses. These high overheads and operating costs could imply less competitive pricing, thus lowering the probability of getting business from companies.
Stay nimble – Consultants would rather focus their energies on meeting clients, getting new business and delivering quality work on projects acquired, instead of hunting for resources and spending time interviewing multiple people, especially when the need for those resources is uncertain in the long-term. (a)
Motivated, skilled contributors - There are other benefits too. Not being permanently employed, freelancers know they need to prove themselves. Hence they usually bring along a high dose of motivation and a results-driven attitude as added toppings to their skills. Having worked across a cross-section of clients and industries, they are also capable of adding more value to projects. Plus being outsiders, they can sometimes inspire breakthrough solutions by questioning set ways of doing things.
Looking at these numerous advantages, globally, solutions like MBA&Co. have emerged to help organizations, including consulting firms, identify skilled independent professionals. Closer home too, the market is opening up to service this need for consulting firms in India. Flexing It (www.flexingit.com) for instance is an online marketplace that connects flexible, professionally skilled workers to firms on a project basis. The company makes it very easy to post requirements and then choose among several options for the specialist you are looking for.
Sample just a few of the requirements posted here. A business advisory firm looking for financial analysts. A boutique consulting firm looking for consultants in healthcare. A marketing and analytics consultancy looking for customer insights specialists.
Says Chandrika Pasricha, the founder of Flexing It, ”We are noticing that lot of consulting firms both small and mid-sized, come to us looking for freelancers. In the recent past, we have had consultants operating in areas as varied as IT, finance/risk advisory, research to legal, investment banking and management consulting, come to our platform to source specialists for short-term roles. We only see this trend growing in the next few years.”
So what does this all point to? Clearly, it seems that the smarter way to operate for consultants going forward will be to outsource. The benefits of getting readymade expertise on an as-needed basis to help expand business or spruce up resources just cannot be ignored. So if you too run a consultancy, maybe it is time to consider a freelancer!