Different Types of Consultants, Consulting Jobs, and Firms
It’s easy to see why so many people are drawn to consulting. Besides various industry perks, who doesn’t want to get paid to give others advice? However, there’s a lot more to consulting than just giving good advice. The draw of autonomy, respect, and authority is enough to coax retirees and young entrepreneurs alike into the field. Let’s examine the different career options that may inspire you to seriously pursue work in the field.
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What Kind of Work Do Consultants Do?
One of the biggest differences between the various types of consultants is what sort of work they do. While this is the most basic way to separate out the types, it’s also the most limitless. There are consultants in every industry, able to deal with (almost) every problem, so if you find a niche in your area that needs filling, don’t shy away just because it doesn’t fit cleanly into one of these categories. The most successful consultants specialize in a specific area of their industry, but it is possible to bridge categories.
Strategy and Management Consultants
These type of consultants focus on top-level decisions. They are usually working with a board of directors, a C-Suite figure or team, or someone similarly high up in the client’s business.
Strategy consultants traditionally focus more on policy and overall project development, while management consultants focus more on working with a team and its leadership to achieve results. Both of these consulting positions center around planning, process development, and coordinating with top-level executives. You will work less with actually solving the minutiae of a problem, and instead you’ll recommend large, sweeping solutions.
Financial and Legal Consultants
These are the most prominent kind of consultants, since every business deals with money. Attorneys, financial planners, CPAs, CFAs, accountants — these are all occupations with extensive representation in the consulting field. Many legal and financial firms exist solely to provide specialized consulting on such matters, or to specific industries and clients. It is equally possible for you to open your own law firm or consultancy, or simply go solo and offer your expertise as an individual consultant.
Legal and financial consultants have virtually unlimited opportunities to specialize in taxes, investments, real estate, etc. You’ll be evaluating your client’s finances and suggesting how to best allocate their funds, manage company property, mitigate risk, protect employees and shareholders, and all manner of other tasks big and small.
These consultants work on the ground level to make sure everything goes according to plan. How exactly this works will depend on your relationship with the client and their needs, but this is one of the more hands-on fields. Many niche consultants operate under this branch, since the more specialized you are, the more likely the client will need you on-site to assist. This type of consultant is increasingly in demand as more companies diversify to incorporate more tech, digital projects and virtual engagement with the world. Having hands-on experience along with some specialized knowledge — say, web development or public relations — can go a long way to spearheading your operations consulting career.
Where Do You Work?
Where you work is the other large divider between consultants. Depending on any specific location requirements you have, it might limit your job prospects.
Freelance vs. Firm
Many consultants start out freelancing to establish some credibility. Although this is a popular route, it’s by no means the only one. If you already have some experience in the industry, you might want to join up with a firm, or even start your own.
Be aware that if you want to work more with management or executives, having a firm behind you is a powerful voucher for your performance. Large corporations are not likely to hire a one-man show out of a home office, unless you have some serious pull and a stable reputation already. There are other advantages to being a freelancer though, including setting your own hours and working from home, but you should consider the opportunity cost in either case.
Another important factor you need to consider is the market around where you live. This may sound obvious, but it’s important to emphasize that just because you have the skills to be a consultant doesn’t mean that there’s demand in your area. You might be an IT whiz, but if every business in your area is getting by with their internal IT guy, you might be out of luck.
If you’re interested in consultancy, it’s probably better to live where the work is. Consultancy is a very personal industry, so if you elect to pursue a remote strategy be prepared for an uphill battle with building and maintaining relationships.
You might’ve decided that consultancy is for you, but now a more difficult decision is ahead of you: what type of consultant you want to be. Take your time and organize your priorities. What do you want of the work? Which type of consultancy matches up with your current lifestyle? What would you be willing to give up for your career? These aren’t questions that can be answered overnight, so make sure to take an honest evaluation of your aspirations and do further research.
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Dayton is a chronic Wikipedia addict, which is detrimental to her social life but stellar for her writing. She resides in Boise, ID, surrounded by her own frantic outlines, highlighted encyclopedias, and potatoes. The latter was not by choice.
This post was updated February 28, 2019. It was originally published March 22, 2018.