What does a consultant do?
Consultancy is such a diverse field that there is no way to sum it all up in a single article, but I will certainly provide some key insights for the purpose of this discussion. In a nutshell, an Independent Consultant has broad knowledge of different facets of business and market forces and offers advice and expertise to organisations to help them improve their business performance in various areas including operations, profitability, management, human capital, risk, and strategy.
Business areas with the highest demand for independent consultants.
Business Systems and Performance Improvement (IT Consulting)
These are also known as IT Consultants, Technology Consultants, Digital Consultants or ICT Consultants and are procured by businesses to help guide with implementing business systems and handling conversion, migration and/or integration. The need for expert advice in creating, implementing, and managing complex IT systems is why there will always be a market for IT or Systems Consultants. Unlike IT internal employees who focus on day-to-day IT operations, IT Consultants focus more on implementation projects.
To be successful as an IT Consultant you need to have an intimate understanding of security practices, leading applications, cloud computing, emerging technologies and project management.
Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC)
GRC (governance, risk, and compliance) Consultants look at managing issues of corporate governance, enterprise risk management and corporate regulatory compliance. When businesses expand into new territories, serious consideration needs to be given to regulatory compliance and companies may confer with GRC Consultants in this regard. These consultants may also be involved in dealing with market risk, credit risk, operational risk, inflation risk, and other factors affecting a business’s value. It is important for businesses to remain compliant, exhibit accountability, measure risk and minimise exposure and this is fundamentally the role of a GRC Consultant.
Finance, Accounting, and Taxation (Financial Advisory)
This category of consultants is arguably the most popular group and is dominated by professionals who may have held key senior financial positions for large corporates in the past. Financial Consultants offer financial advice, help improve financial processes, assist to enable business growth through cost reduction strategies and enhance financial governance. Other roles filled by financial consultants are tax planning, financial restatement, auditing, investments, mergers, and acquisitions. A financial consultant can help a business manage its financial affairs while remaining within its regulatory framework in order to stay in compliance with regulations.
Business Intelligence (BI) Consultants help businesses develop and implement business intelligence systems, analyze acquired data, evaluate existing systems, and test new ones. BI Consultants usually have very strong Computer Science background and are well versed in using analytics tools and developing dashboards. Essentially, BI Consultants turn data into knowledge using predictive and analytics solutions. Most Business Intelligence Consultants previously worked as Data Scientists. They have strong statistics, data mining, and reporting skills as well as a sound understanding of machine learning and AI (artificial learning).
Process Engineering & Optimization (Operations Consulting)
Process optimisation is an ongoing effort in any business due to continuous technological enhancements and changes in the value chain. When it comes to putting new processes in place, most businesses find it ideal to have an external Consultant with a fresh perspective and a bird’s-eye view of the business form part of the process transformation journey. Another reason businesses seek the help of a Process Engineer or Process Optimization Consultant is to help improve industrial processes in order to maintain efficiency, reduce cost, improve sustainability and maximize profitability.
Business Planning and Strategy (Strategy Consulting)
Another popular category, Business Consultants are well known for the role they play at critical intersections of a business, be it restructuring, mergers, expansions, when new leadership comes in place or simply at the request of the Board. Business Consultants look at the business objectively in order to provide solutions and/or support the Management team in times of transition. They normally perform a SWOT analysis to assess vulnerabilities and identify opportunities that a business can leverage. When it comes to Business Consultants, track record and previous results are more valuable than credentials.
As much as consultants play a major role in business there is a whole other world of consultants that focus their expertise on supporting individuals and I could not conclude this article without including a few notable mentions.
- Personal Financial Advisors
- Image Consultants
- Career Coaches
Thinking of becoming a consultant?
Before you quit your job to pursue a career as an Independent Consultant there are a few things to consider.
Here are five questions to ask yourself to determine if this is the right move for you.
Have you identified your niche?
In this line of work, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is trying to be a jack of all trades. Consultants are specialists, find a market you want to serve and specialize.
How will you supplement your income while you build your consulting business?
Consultancy is a very lucrative line of work, but it may take some time to acquire your first customer, you need to know how you are going to support yourself financially until those consulting cheques start rolling in.
How are you going to market yourself and attract clients?
Starting a business, being self-employed, or working as a consultant is a dream come true for most professionals, the problem comes in marketing the services and attracting clients. Figure this part out and you are well on your way to writing your own cheques.
Do you have the necessary certifications and experience?
There are various certifications you may need depending on your line of work for example CMA or IABA for Financial Consultants, IPMA-CP for HR Consultants, PMP or MPM for Project Manager, you get the drill. Experience is also key, I doubt anyone will hire a consultant based on qualifications alone, businesses want to know what you are going to recommend you’ve put in practice before.
Are you a subject matter expert in your field?
You can’t give what you don’t have, you need to be extremely knowledgeable if you want to be a good consultant who gets repeat business and recommendations.
To wrap things neatly in a bow, here are some key skills of a consultant.
Key skills of a consultant:
- Innovative Thinking
- Analytical Evaluation
- Problem Solving
- Strategic Planning
- Effective Communication