Independent consultants form opportunity for wider consulting industry

31 May 2017 5 min. read

The number of independent consultants continues to surge – nearly a third of the 175,000 management and digital consultants in the UK are now freelancers, according to official statistics. Daniel Callaghan, founder and CEO of Talmix, a platform that helps organisations source independent business talent, reflects on how the traditional consultancy space can take advantage of the rise in independents.

As we often advise our clients, the world of work is changing. People are seeking greater flexibility, more autonomy and greater levels of satisfaction. More and more people are rejecting traditional career paths, in favour of portfolio careers, and jumping from project to project to experience constant challenge. Technology is only enhancing this, and online platforms active in the UK like Talmix (formerly MBA & Company), Movemeon and blur, as well as players such as Odgers Connect (an initiative from search firm Odgers Berndtson), are facilitating freelance consultants, finding the right projects for them.

Technology is disrupting every industry, and consultancy is no different. But is the sector truly taking advantage of the opportunities tapping into this mindset represents? Flexibility is now a necessity and not a bonus. More and more workers around the world are buying into this new model. In the UK, almost five million people are employed as independent workers, and new research from EY has revealed that two-fifths of companies expect to employ more such workers within the next five years. Flexible ways of working are here to stay. 

Nearly a third of the 17500 management and digital consultants in the UK are now freelancers

Independent working is a sphere of incredible opportunity, especially for consultants. It is rapidly rising in popularity – nearly a third of the base of management consultants and business analysts in the UK, a 175,000 strong group, are now freelance. 

For these 55,000 independent consultants in the UK, freelancing stimulates productivity and leads to widespread job satisfaction. There is a growing rejection of a corporate lifestyle, and as shown by a survey of our 27,000 consultants, 89% are happier working freelance than they were as a full time employee. This happiness is driven in part by the improved work/life balance, with 83% citing that as a key reason alongside increased earnings. 

Workers are keen to choose flexible working hours and the freedom to more closely manage their projects. Birgitte Herren, an independent consultant, decided to move freelance when she wanted to start a family:  “Becoming independent and deciding to take control of your own career gives you maximum freedom.” 

The appeal of this freedom and flexibility should not be underestimated. Independent working is gaining traction with experienced consultants and analysts, who could be working mothers or semi-retired. Control of what projects you work on, for whom, at what cost and at what time are driving many established professional services employees to become independent. Consultants can offer their insights and experience in the most flexible manner possible. 

Opportunity for consulting firms

It’s my belief that this represents a huge opportunity for the consultancy sector itself. For the traditional consulting firms, freelancers are still a resource that can be tapped into on a project-by-project basis. Instead of losing talent to a competitor, consultancies themselves can access freelance talent for specific projects that are best suited to particular consultants.

Daniel Callaghan, CEO of Talmix

Forward thinking consultancies are already taking full advantage of this new way of working. They are currently maintaining their own IP and methods whilst tapping into our global bench of substitutes that can be drawn on at any time, in any part of the world. Specialist reinforcements for engagement teams can be accessed easily and at short notice, to supplement the generalists on the team. 

The rise in independent consultants means that businesses in need have the choice to access the best of both worlds. They can tap into the growing pools of talent, highly trained and capable, to carry out a specific project, all on a flexible, short notice basis, and at a fraction of the cost.

The opportunities in this market are vast and expanding. In the USA, 50% of the workforce is set to be freelance by 2020. The trends are clear, and the opportunity is there for consultants and the consultancy sector to harness. Independent business talent is an opportunity for both consultants and the wider industry that must not be missed. Now is the time to harness flexibility, adapt practices, and embrace the future of work. 

Related: Demand for UK independent management consultants on the rise.