Independents more satisfied with career than employed consultants

29 January 2019 Consultancy.uk

Freelance consulting is one of the fastest growing segments of the UK industry, with a rising number of independents eating into the market share of traditional firms. According to a new survey, these often experienced professionals are usually much happier with their work having exited the high pressure environment of a firm’s office, with 86% saying they are satisfied with their career change.

With a booming gig economy driving growth in the country, the UK is home to more than 2 million freelancers. Many of these are independent consultants, who buck many of the other less palatable gig economy trends, as they typically command larger fees and higher levels of experience to leverage when negotiating with clients. At the same time, they are still significantly cheaper to hire than a broader consultancy, meaning many clients are increasingly inclined to hire independents

Over the past three years, this burgeoning portion of the consulting industry has been the subject of a growing body of research. One finding that has remained consistent among studies is that independent consultants are typically happier with their career than traditionally employed individuals. In 2016, one such study by Eden McCallum – a consulting firm which delivers projects with independent consultants – found that only 5% of independent consultants were dissatisfied with their career choice.

Then, the most important reason cited for high satisfaction was the intellectual challenge of the work – a dimension that is also regarded as the most important aspect for job satisfaction. The ability to choose the type of work (clients, projects) and the location of the engagement was the next biggest factor of freelancers enjoying their work.

Almost three years later, the latest edition of that same survey from Eden McCallum, in collaboration with London Business School, has polled over 400 consultants to see how things have changed. Broadly, the results remain the same. Independent consultants are happy with life, with the vast majority of 86% saying they are satisfied with working as an independent, and are more satisfied than employed consultants with their current professional life.

Overall satisfaction

This is reflected by the fact that a rising number of consultants are looking to follow their independent counterparts into freelance life. Eden McCallum’s data further emphasises this by finding that most deliberately chose to start independent consulting, and half plan to be an independent for more than three years, representing a large increase over the last 10 years. 

Satisfaction

As was the case previously, Eden McCallum’s research has found that independents are still more satisfied about many important factors in their professional lives. 78% of independents found that their work was more gratifying than when they were with a traditional firm. 61% said their work was more interesting, while 67% also noted the relationship between clients and themselves had improved. Notably, 91% felt their current work was delivering better value for money for clients.

Current independent consultants vs those at traditional consulting firms

Interestingly, there are notable generational and gender gaps in the attitudes of independent consultants, which the research brought to light. Researchers compared results of millennials versus 40+ years olds and found that millennials are more satisfied overall and are generally more positive about their current project; they are also 50% more likely than older peers to have made a deliberate choice to become an independent. This is largely because this group have found that compared to other opportunities for younger workers, independent consulting is working financially for them. 71% are earning more than when they were employed.

At the same time, women who go into independent consulting are more satisfied than men in the sector. While overall 73% of women and 80% of men said that their gratification in their work was higher compared to when they were employed in consulting firms, 57% of women said it was now much higher, compared to 42% of men.

While respectively 64% of women and 59% of men said their projects were more interesting than when they were employed, 39% of women rated the projects as much more interesting, versus 29% of men. Women also said that their work now is more efficient with 86% saying it is higher now than when they were employed versus 73% of men.

Rating of current work as an independent vs project work when employed in a traditional consulting firm

There are many casually cited reasons why women in consulting might feel better suited to independent life, including the suggestion that it is easier for 'working moms.' However Eden McCallum’s study finds that the two most important definers of personal success for women in the sector are the same as for men. High income is a priority for 51% of women, albeit notably lower than the 65% of men, but the point of interest here is that more women than men value the other top priority – feeling energised – most, at 54% to 45% respectively.

Work-life balance was slightly less important to women than men. Family time was an even lower definer of success – even though it was slightly higher than for men, only 26% of women still cited the aspect. This suggests that there are significantly more complex reasons for women entering this aspect of the workforce than have often been mentioned, and that the same factors that draw everyone else into independent work are at play among women looking to exit the consulting firm hustle.

Related: Four reasons independent consultants are happy with their career choice.

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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.”