Why management consultants choose to go independent

30 July 2020 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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A new study has suggested that despite uncertainty around Brexit, IR35 and Covid-19, independent consultants in Britain have still managed to realise their hopes for improved work-life balance and flexibility around assignments they take. At the same time, UK independents are more likely to have realised such ambitions than their international counterparts.

Joining a consultant firm can be a great way to build a career in the industry, while gaining access to a diverse workload and a plethora of training opportunities. After a few years of honing specialist knowledge and building a reputation within their field of choice, however, some consultants can tire of the daily grind in an established office, and instead choose to strike out alone.

According to Comatch, a professional services network which helps link clients with top independent consulting talent, there are a range of benefits felt by professionals who decide to go into business for themselves. A recent survey of independents across the UK found that those who exited the security of life at a firm did not miss it much, instead revelling in their freedom to self-manage their work-life balance, workload, projects and level of travel – not to mention improving their income.

Why Consultants Choose to Go Independent

Of the reasons given by individuals for choosing life as an independent, having more flexibility in their schedule was the key priority among Comatch’s UK respondents. A total of 83% of UK respondents said this was their most pressing issue, ahead of deciding which topics to work on – the lead factor for the wider 1,000 global respondents of Comatch’s survey. Meanwhile, having more free time was cited by 81% of UK individuals, making it far more popular as an option than among global respondents, 79% of whom instead prioritised “decide which clients I work for.”

Independent consultants are often more fulfilled than their counterparts in firms, meanwhile, due to the fact they are more successful in realising their expectations. For each of the ten drivers examined, at least half of the respondents who had rated a motivation as important or particularly important, reported that through their transition to self-employment, these hopes had been realised. In the case of the UK, 95% said they had fulfilled their hope of having more flexibility, 82% said they were at more liberty to decide which clients they worked for, and 77% said they had more free time.

On top of this, Independents in the UK seemed markedly more likely to meet their expectations that the global sample. For example, while eight-in-ten of those who sought more decision-making power over which clients to work with achieved this aim, on a global basis only 70% globally of consultants realised this aspiration. In terms of the future, the picture seems a little less certain for UK-based independents however.

What Independents Achieved When They Went Independent

While 95% of UK-based consultants told Comatch they appreciated how simple it was to become legally self-employed, the anticipated impact of IR35’s changes now due in 2021 is reflected in the fact only 28% agreed that government regulations favour the use of independent consultants by companies. UK consultants also feel most unsure about the future, with 42% uncertain if the demand for independents will grow, compared to 30% globally.

In some ways however, the upbeat attitude of UK independents even extends into their response to the Covid-19 pandemic and following recession. When asked about the ‘new normal,’ while 33% told Comatch they will pursue projects outside of their usual field of expertise, just under half of all respondents said they even see a silver lining around the cloud of losing work. Pointing toward the often hectic lifestyle that comes with being your own boss, 45% confirmed they will “enjoy” their newfound free time while they can.

Charlotte Gregson, Comatch UK’s Managing Director commented, “Brexit and the long road to it, the announcement of IR35 and now the pandemic have tak­en a toll on both the economy and individual consultant opportunities. But, there is a history of successful collaboration with the clients. It is estimated that one-fifth of the UK consulting industry vol­ume goes to independent consultants… From discussions with multiple consultants, there is hope that Covid-19 will result in more clients considering innovative consulting models, greater comfort with remote work, and an openness to projects around sustainability…”