Freelance consultants satisfied with career, but concerned by falling fees

17 October 2017 Consultancy.uk

Almost nine in every ten freelance consultants in the Netherlands are satisfied with their choice of self-employment. Freelancers are satisfied with both the challenges presented by their work, and with their income – but are apprehensive about the potential for falling fees amid a competitive market. 

According to data taken from the Consulting Salary Survey 2017, a large majority of Dutch freelance advisors rate autonomy (73%) and flexibility (56%) as the main reasons for becoming independents in the consulting industry.  Freelancers also said that ensuring a better work/life balance, and ensuring that their specialisms were properly utilised, were the joint-third most important factor behind their move to independence, at 40% each. The investigation – performed by Consultancy.nl and organisational consultancy Berenschot – saw a sample of more than 700 consultants across the Netherlands surveyed on their compensation and working conditions.

Freelancers were generally upbeat about their career choice meanwhile, despite leaving the relative security of salaried life. Almost nine in ten (88%) of independent advisors said they were content to some extent, with 49% of those stating they were “very satisfied”, and 39% saying they were “satisfied” with life as their own boss. Three quarters of respondents also indicated that they had no intention of returning to a full-time employment at a consulting firm. Freelancers who are considering making a return say they do so chiefly because they miss working in a team, or because it would enable them to work on larger and more complex projects.

Dutch independents are satisfied outside mainstream consulting

Freelance consultants also spoke highly of their income, on average. 78% of them indicated that their income as an independent was good, while only 5% said they were dissatisfied with earnings. The average hourly rate of the consultants surveyed – from a group averaging thirteen years of experience in the consultancy, of which seven years are employed by an advisory office – amounted to €111 per hour.

A quarter of advisors have seen their hourly rate increase over the past twelve months, compared to 10% of those who now have to take lower pay. Despite the rapid rise of digital providers and matching platforms, 80% of the acquisition is still through traditional channels. In addition, about a quarter of the advisors are affiliated with an advisory firm.

The responses mirror the sentiment seen among the UK independent consulting sector. A survey last year by Eden McCallum, The Financial Times, London Business School and INSEA found that 53% of freelancers were “very satisfied”, while a further 38% were “somewhat satisfied” with their choice to take to the independent scene. One of the UK sector’s chief reasons for going it alone was the work/life balance conundrum –something that working for themselves had helped consultants exponentially improve. Speaking at the time, one former consultant from A.T. Kearney told Consultancy.uk about how, years back, he was directed to working in Saudi Arabia for over six months “because at the time, there were no other staffing alternatives”, while another adviser, a former McKinsey & Company consultant, recalled how she spent months in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, working in remote areas for an oil & gas client.

Positive prospect

Dutch freelancers were optimistic for the next twelve months, with the Dutch consulting market in ascendancy, along with the Benelux region, which broke the €2 billion barrier for the first time last year. While that market is projected to grow by a further 3% over the coming year, 46% of freelancers expect that the number of commands in the freelance advisory market will similarly increase, and 40% predicting that demand will at least remain the same. However, their thoughts on tariff development paint a different picture. While two thirds expect the level of fees to stabilise, one third of respondents expect a decrease in hourly rates.

Dutch independents expect fees to decrease

According to Larry Zeenny, researcher at Consultancy.nl, this difference is rooted in the dynamics in the Dutch interim market, "The number of independent consultants in the Netherlands has seen explosive growth in recent years, so clients can buy sharper. At the same time, there has been a trend for years for customers to be critical of the value they receive from external advice and support. What is more important is that in the current time of busy project portfolios, the average duration of assignments increases. Independent advisors are therefore willing to accept a lower hourly rate."

This is a different situation from the larger UK market, where over three quarters of independent consultants state that they make more or similar money, compared to when they were employed. While 50% say they make more, young independents in Britain (<40 years old) were said to be doing particularly well, with that figure rising to 67%. While British independents also face scrutiny, with UK small and mid-sized enterprises reportedly seeing as much as £12 billion a year wasted on external expertise, the UK’s larger market size – the second largest in the world behind the US – means the booming independent industry does not seem to have become over-saturated, or led to a reduction in fees for the sake of competition.

Related: VW, Volvo and Renault most popular lease cars among consultants.

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Accenture's push into the creative sector is an identity crisis

18 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

In its latest push into the creative sector, Accenture Interactive acquired New York and London-based ad agency Droga5 earlier this month, adding illustrious clients such as HBO, Amazon and The New York Times to its roster of clients. With the latest in a long line of similar purchases, Accenture Interactive further demonstrated its ambition of becoming the globe’s leading trusted advisor to chief marketing officers. Yet according to Ben Langdon, Chairman of Class35, Accenture’s strategy may be heading in the wrong direction.

A press release on Accenture’s website announcing the acquisition sits next to a quote stating that “brands aren’t built through advertising” – a huge contradiction from a consultancy firm hell-bent on becoming the ‘CMO agency of choice’. It’s not alone of course. The entire consulting industry wants a piece of the creative pie right now. In addition to Accenture Interactive, recent acquisitions by PwC Digital, IBM iX, and Deloitte Digital meant that in 2017, for the first time ever, four of the world’s ten largest creative agencies were consultancies.

So just what it is that Accenture wants to achieve from this? For one thing, it’s clearly trying to be a digital transformation business. A one-stop creative shop rivalling more traditional models, it wants to lure CMOs in with the promise of lower ad spend and a “more impactful customer experience”. At the same time, though, it’s still in thrall to those same slinky, shiny branding and advertising agencies it’s attempting to disrupt. The Droga5 acquisition and that of Karmarama a few years before are both testament to this.

There’s a fundamental problem with this, though. Digital transformation businesses don’t sell to CMOs. These people have enough on their plates trying to transform their own marketing skills in order to keep up with an ever-changing market – they just don’t have the time or the energy to concern themselves with digitally transforming a whole business. If Accenture’s purpose is digital transformation, then going after creative agencies is barking up the wrong tree.Is Accenture's push into the creative sector an identity crisis?

Worlds apart

Perhaps more importantly, these two industries are worlds apart in terms of the way they think. Creative agencies are all about ideas, campaigns and consumers. Digital businesses, on the other hand, are customer-driven – they think in terms such as lifetime value, measurement, and efficiency. Customer-led thinking is an entirely different beast to consumer-led thinking.

The reality is that the arrival of digital and an all-encompassing obsession with technology, measurement and social has led to the death of agencies in a reductive, zero-sum, efficiency-focused battle with brands. Indeed, agencies have become so obsessed with the latest tech fads, they’re beginning to forget how brands work. Worse still, they’re beginning to forget how brands are built. And, by forgetting, they’re destroying their own values.

Killing creativity

All things considered, it really feels to me as though Accenture is a chip leader in a game it doesn’t understand. Expensive acquisitions like these show that they’ve got the big money, but they don’t appear to have any idea what they’re doing with it. Take talent, for example. The best talent in the creative industry right now is out in the market; it’s not tied to any one agency. Both agencies might well be at the top of their game, but why would a consulting firm waste so much money on buying them when they could hire high-quality creative talent on a contingent basis instead?

As their presence in the top 10 creative agencies shows, there is a growing trend in which Accenture, like many of the other big players, are buying up agencies as if they were nothing more than keywords. What they’re really buying, though, is a collection of credentials, clients and IP. Unfortunately, the talent that created those credentials aren’t going to stay at the business, the clients that hired the agency in the first place won’t be interested in buying what is basically just another part of Accenture, and the IP never really existed to begin with.

Droga5, for example, was one of the few agencies that did great brand work the old-fashioned way – undoubtedly something that made it attractive to Accenture in the first place. The irony, though, is that by leading it further away from the way of working that made it so special, the consulting giant will kill its creativity.

“Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record…. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.”

If pressed, the recently acquired agency staff at Accenture will tell you just how dysfunctional the new arrangement is. They’re largely unfulfilled. Rarely do they feel their work has any sort of meaning or purpose. What’s more, the different disciplines have found little or no common ground, and find it hard to work together as a cohesive whole. It’s not surprising, then, to see talented people leaving in droves.

Beyond the window dressing 

It’s clear, then, that consulting firms and creative agencies are no easy bedfellows. But in his company’s defence, Accenture Interactive’s Senior Managing Director for North America, Glen Hartman, described its culture as being “far, far away from what a stereotypical consulting firm would look like. Our office and studios look a lot like Droga5’s.”

In demonstrating a belief that office design equates to workplace culture, this statement serves as an illustration of how confused Accenture is right now. It wants to justify its new strategy so badly, it’s started dressing like a creative agency. But if you look beyond the window dressing and see that you and your partners are speaking a different language with a different purpose, selling to different people in a different market, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re different.

Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record, and it wants to dazzle others with its new direction. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.

Related: Space between consulting firms and creative agencies is converging.