5 reasons why independent consultants enjoy the freelance life

01 October 2018 Consultancy.uk

For some time, independent or interim consultants, often the alumni of established management consultancy firms, have been moving into freelancing in order to enjoy benefits such as greater flexibility and freedom from bureaucracy. Not until now has the sector really caused a major headache for traditional firms, however, and as the gig economy continues to boom, more clients than ever before are considering tapping gig consultants to reduce costs and improve agility.

As predicted by multiple studies in recent years, the consulting industry is encountering major disruption, as smaller firms assemble leaner project teams of freelance consultants (mostly midlevel and senior alumni of top consultancies) for clients at a fraction of the cost of traditional competitors. Independent and boutique consultancies are subsequently gaining traction quickly, with a fifth of consulting work in the UK now going to independents.

While many top consultants working in paid employment still sometimes disregard freelancing, a study shows that these independent consultants are highly content with their career choice, something which may well prompt others to follow suit. B2E Consulting conducted a survey among of 285 independent consultants to understand how they look at their career as a solo consultant, finding that there are five major reasons why they are so happy.


First, independent consultants enjoy a greater level of flexibility than their employed counterparts. Over 76% of respondents to B2E’s poll cited greater flexibility as one of the three key drivers for becoming an independent consultant. Independents leverage control of which clients they work with, and what kind of projects they take on, rather than being assigned wherever a firm sees fit. Many also value the opportunity to choose when to work, commenting that they "only want to work part of the year", helping to avoid the notorious ‘burn out’ that comes as part of the territory when working for a major consulting firm.

5 reasons why independent consultants enjoy the freelance life


Secondly, independent consulting can be a gainful career choice. 56% of respondents labeled this potential increase in earnings as the next highest driver. One respondent lamented that they had not joined the gig economy sooner, adding, “I wasted so much money with a low permanent salary.” In line with this, meanwhile, an Eden McCallum study corroborated this belief, showing that more than 50% of independents have boosted their income by leaving life with a firm.


A less expected benefit of leaving for independent work, is the possibility to walk away from the internal politics that may arise from working in a larger organisation. Overall, 93% of respondents strongly agreed or strongly agreed with the statement; “I believe that successful delivery against my client's objectives drives my career progression, rather than internal company politics”.

During life with a consulting firm, there are two varieties of politics which professionals are likely to encounter; that of the actual firm and its management, and that of the client. In regard to the first, within consulting firms, staff have to worry about targets, and building relationships to land a good next project. Having left to work on their own, many note they could focus on serving clients, as they no longer had to please the boss. 97% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the statement; "I tend to focus on getting the job done, not worrying about the next promotion", while one even admitted, “At a Big Four firm, I wasted so much time in politics to get promotions.”

Also, it enables independents to navigate client politics more easily. Firms often have larger agenda’s at clients than just one project, meaning that they may be in the background bidding for more work, or wanting to expand their team there – something which might hamper a consultant’s efforts to actually serve the client with unpopular yet necessary advice.


The fourth reason independents are happy to have made the move is that life away from a firm allows for professionals to adopt a more specialist role. At a consulting firm, in order to grow, professionals must become better at sales, client management and project portfolios of all shapes and sizes. For instance, a Director at Big Four can have sales target of millions of pounds, while overseeing 2-4 projects at any given time. This is often the opposite of what individuals became consultants for in the first place, as many consultants just love their field and expertise, and want to work in that as opposed to being a ‘manager’.

Many independent consultants on the contrary are able to specialise in adding value as Subject Matter Experts. 85% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I have focused my career to become a subject matter expert in one or more areas, in order to add specific value to my clients.” On top of this, when working for clients, there is a strong feeling that independents are more able to focus on the company needs since they are independent. 88% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “I feel I would be more effective achieving my client’s objectives if I were a permanent employee.”

By 2020, 30% of the UK’s workforce will be freelancing

Control over career

Finally, professionals going solo can better meet their career goals, according to the research. This is more ambiguous, however, while working in consulting can be great as firms have major learning and development and coaching schemes, for some, working in consulting can be constraining to career goals. For example, consultancies mindful of bench-time may need consultants to take on roles / locations that would not be the consultant’s preference.

As independents, in contrast, many feel, "Having control over my own development has significantly improved my ability to deliver high quality result.” In addition, they also understand that as an independent they are solely responsible for any career progression, and a 90% majority agreed or agreed strongly that, “I actively invest in self-learning and ensuring my knowledge is up to date so as to remain relevant to my clients” to that end. While being personally more challenging as the onus is on the professional to up-skill, it does make easier to go after career goals that lie outside of work, adding to their personal levels of happiness. They might want to write a book, spend time with their family, take a sabbatical, and these career goals are much easier to accomplish as a flexible independent.

Shifting to a gig world

Commenting on the results of the study, George Elkington, Director of B2E Consulting, said “The gig economy is transforming the way companies source talent and the way professionals work.” According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK currently counts 2 million freelancers, with the number only expected to rise in the coming years. Accenture and Deloitte both predict 30% of the UK’s workforce will be freelancing or gig working by 2020. In the US, this will rise as high as 50% by 2020.

Specifically for the consulting industry, independent consultants have the potential to “transform the market as clients continue to adopt alternative delivery models”. It is essentially clients who are driving the movement, as they embrace benefits such as flexibility, lower costs, rapid access to a diverse group of experts, and not having to deal with large, relatively slow moving organisations. Meanwhile, independent consultancy is emerging as a serious alternative to being employed. Elkington continued, “Our study shows that freelance consulting comes with several major benefits, and this is a major driver of the gig economy's growth in the sector.” One respondent summed it up, saying, “Being an independent consultant is a lifestyle choice, for those with drive, ambition and an appetite for variety.”

Related: Why the economy is shifting towards the freelance and gig world.


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New ‘open consultancy’ Riverflex racks up eight clients and 300 consultants

16 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Digital consultancy firm Riverflex is celebrating a successful first year of business, following its launch in 2018. As the freelance consulting market continues to boom, the independent model–based conultancy has expanded to more than 300 members, working with eight corporate clients on projects like the Samsung store innovation drive. Co-founders Victor Hoong and André Azadehdel spoke with Consultancy.uk to explore what the future holds for Riverflex.

The freelance consulting sector of Europe is experiencing a period of rapid expansion, as former employees turn their backs on life at firms, amid the allure of a better work-life balance and the suggestion of better pay. According to Consultancy.uk analysis based on the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), the UK’s industry alone contains a labour pool of around 5 million people (or around 15% of the workforce), having increased from 3.3 million (12% of the workforce) in 2001.

With this state of play pressuring businesses to find value-delivering consultants, the need to match demand between businesses and freelance consultants has boomed. As a result, a growing number of firms looking to support businesses in that process have arisen. This includes platforms such as Nordic company Worksome and Berlin-based Comatch, which both entered the UK market in 2018. Financial services–focused Outsized also recently enjoyed a bullish UK debut.

With digital transformation currently one of the fastest growing areas in consultancy – accounting for more than $44 billion in annual revenues – there is also a large area to be filled by specialism within the market. With 80% of respondents to a recent Management Consultancies Association poll indicating that that technological and digital disruption pose a significant threat to businesses in the coming years, there is a significant opportunity for a firm which links client demand for digital skills to freelance consultants with the relevant experience and know-how.

Fast-growing Riverflex builds community of 300 consultants in first year

Riverflex arrives

Another new entrant in the digital consulting space is Riverflex, which celebrated its first anniversary at the end of March. Riverflex sells and delivers consulting projects, but with an independent model, catering to the demand for digital skillsets, lean teams, flexibility, and experienced industry hands. The start-up was launched by Victor Hoong and Andre Azadehdel in 2018, with the former Deloitte Consulting duo looking to close the gap between client needs and traditional consulting solutions, providing an alternative option to the Big Four and MBB firms for clients and consultants alike.

Speaking with Consultancy.uk, the duo commented on the need for consulting to change. Amid huge changes across nearly all industries, they see consulting being done the same way, more than a century after its first firms were founded. For this reason they decided to establish Riverflex – an ‘open consulting firm’ consisting of high quality vetted independent professionals and small partners. In this model, professionals can join from tier one consultancies, top agencies or industry blue-chips to deliver top consulting projects.

“Digital is transforming companies at a faster pace than ever, and business needs are evolving too," Victor Hoong said. "We dreamt of a top consultancy that could match these needs, and deliver real impact; a consultancy with digital in its DNA. Connecting teams of top independent talent from the best consulting firms and industry leading companies, and enabling them to do what they love: creating real value based on true expertise.”

Andre Azadehdel further elaborated: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Victor and I have worked in consulting since the turn of the century, helping businesses become better. We love this work. Helping others deliver hard business results is rewarding, challenging and exciting. But we also saw that the gap between client needs and traditional consulting outcomes is too far apart.”

Since its launch, Riverflex has worked to set itself out as unique along four essential pillars of business. Central to the company is a willingness to foster innovation and work towards providing excellence. With businesses increasingly being convinced of the business case for diversity, Riverflex also hosts a network with a multitude of viewpoints and backgrounds, focusing on helping its members to grow in terms of professionalism, and as individuals.

“The independent model has become a rational choice for top talent. Abandoning old ways of working to take on rewarding projects and shape one’s own career path.”
– Andre Azadehdel, Riverflex co-founder

First year

In the last year a number of key steps have therefore been made. The organisation has grown into both the UK and the Netherlands, and is currently working with eight corporate clients. Meanwhile, over 300 consultants have joined Riverflex, which now boasts a huge amount of experience at top tier consultancies such as Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, advertising agencies like Jellyfish, AKQA, Deloitte Digital, WPP and Publicis, and tech companies such as eBay, made.com, asos.com and bol.com.

Stating the firm’s emphasis on diversity, Hoong explained, “The variety of skill sets and backgrounds of our consultants means we can shape teams for our clients that have the muscle to robustly drive projects, combined with the deep know-how from professionals that wear the industry business scars needed to make a real impact.”

Azadehdel added, “The independent model has become a rational choice for top talent, abandoning old ways of working to take on rewarding projects and shape one’s own career path. We believe that being independent does not mean being alone. To us, being part of Riverflex means being part of a team of top digital professionals that share methods, knowledge and insights. Providing a real career alternative.”

Keen to show the strength and depth of its growing professional network, the company also hosts a monthly blog which highlights an exceptional Riverflex member. The most recent ‘Riverflexer in the Spotlight’ focused on former BearingPoint consultant Lies de Smit. In the past, De Smit had also worked at Deloitte Consulting's Technology practice. Despite her experience, however, she still entered the independent sphere with some trepidation – something which Riverflex helped her overcome.

Illustrating the importance of a network to freelancers, de Smit commented on Riverflex’s site, “I was afraid of what consulting would be like without having a team or people to discuss problems with… Riverflex is full of knowledgeable and experienced consultants. As an independent, I feel like being able to share my own knowledge can help all of us grow as consultants.”

“We work differently to work better. Better consulting from us, better lifestyles for our consultants, better results for our clients. This will be our focus and ambition.”
– Victor Hoong, Riverflex co-founder

The future

Having made such a promising start, Riverflex's leaders have already made extensive plans to capitalise on their momentum. The firm will continue to focus connecting independent specialists from the open-talent network to provide clients with the right skill sets, while also playing to the company’s strengths in rapidly providing specialist talent and interim management for the quickly shifting needs of clients.

Azadehdel said, “A year ago, Riverflex was just a dream. A year later, this is a real company, making real impact. Together with our consultants and clients, we are on a journey to build the consulting firm of the future from the ground up… Working with lean teams that only do what is needed to meet our clients goals, flexibly scaling up and down and applying digital tooling and agile ways of working to work faster and deliver effective results.”

Victor Hoong concluded, “We work differently to work better: better consulting from us, better lifestyles for our consultants and better results for our clients. This will be our focus and ambition – to continuously innovate and improve what we do and how we do it, delivering quality outcomes for clients.”