In today’s globally interconnected economy, organizations across the spectrum of business and industry are constantly looking for ways to become more efficient and more profitable.
One common practice toward achieving this goal is the utilization of business consultants. Consultants are experienced business professionals with the knowledge and expertise necessary to create strategies designed to help organizations succeed.
Business consultants are relied upon by companies and corporations of all shapes and sizes, from organizations that have been around for decades to startups just getting ready to launch.
“Consultants are well-educated, bring years of experience, likely expansive industry knowledge and a depth of business and even people-related acumen,” said Dr. Ranjit Nair, an adjunct instructor of human resource management programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and an award-winning business author of “Potluck Culture.”
Nair, who has 25 years of corporate experience in management, leadership and business strategy, said it’s common for consultants to specialize in specific areas of business and apply that depth of expertise to company-specific challenges.
“(These include) areas such as finance, marketing, human resources, operations, information technology, customer-engagement, sales and distribution,” he said. “And since they know that all businesses are unique and different, they deploy a customized or personalized approach to engaging their clients.”
What Does a Business Consultant Do Day-to-Day?
The work of business consultants can be broad in nature, like finding ways to improve a company’s cash flow, or more focused, such as finding solutions for an organization-specific challenge with onboarding new employees.
As such, the day-to-day work of business consultants can vary greatly. Some of these tasks typically include:
- Conducting research, analyzing data and preparing forecasts
- Designing new products or services and creating budgets
- Developing strategies and recommendations for improvement
- Facilitating meetings and workshops
- Managing projects, rolling out change initiatives and monitoring implementation
It’s important for consultants to take the time to fully understand each of their business client’s specific challenges while keeping abreast of broader industry trends and conditions, as a way to empower them with strategic solutions over short-, medium- and long-term horizons.
“If their client is experiencing major pivot strategy such as entering new markets or changing to meet customer requirements, business consultants offer invaluable and impartial source of advice and counsel to take that client’s business dealings to higher levels of performance,” Nair said.
The nature of a business consultant’s day-to-day tasks can change and evolve over time, depending on the scope of the engagement and the phase of the project, said Dr. Jennifer Egrie, a team lead and adjunct instructor at SNHU with well over a decade of experience as a business consultant.
“At the beginning of the project, many days will be spent with meetings where you are establishing goals and outcomes to determine the organization’s needs,” Egrie said. “If the firm already knows what they need and you have a clear scope of the project, you’ll spend time researching and creating potential solutions.”
Egrie, who has extensive experience consulting businesses in fields ranging from health care, insurance and banking to marketing, hospitality, transportation and human resources, said it’s important to understand that every client, project and goal is unique.
Some of her day-to-day tasks typically include:
- Creating restructuring plans, identifying areas for cost reduction and process improvement
- Helping clients better understand their competitive landscape, target audience and market trends
- Developing feasibility studies and market entry strategies for smaller businesses and startups
What are the Most In-Demand Skills for Successful Business Consultants?
Succeeding as a business consultant takes a diverse set of skills, both in business-specific disciplines and areas not limited to business, but just as essential.
According to Egrie and Nair, successful business consultants bring a wide array of skills and leadership competencies and provide strategic advice and guidance on things like:
- Enhancing internal efficiencies
- Implementing organizational change
- Improving employee performance
- Increasing revenue
- Solving company-specific problems
Clearly, Nair said, a strong understanding of business principles and industry knowledge is required since consultants serve as trusted business advisors to their clients. Additionally, he said having proven abilities in the following areas is also important:
- Adaptability and creative thinking
- Analytics, critical thinking and problem-solving
- Presenting and public speaking
- Research, organization and time management
- Writing and interpersonal communication
For anyone considering a career as a business consultant, Nair said, it’s also critical to bring a high level of confidence and self-awareness, as consultants are looked upon by their clients as key subject matter experts worthy of their organization’s investment.
“Finally, an important competency that all good consultants have is the ability to be active listeners,” Nair said. “Listening to what the client is stating (regarding) their needs and problems, pinpointing their pain points and being fully present to know the client well are key characteristics.”
What Qualifications Do I Need to Be a Business Consultant?
Since business consultants can be brought in to advise and guide business owners in such a broad range of areas related to their overall operation, there’s not a single degree program specifically designed for consulting.
A good first step, Nair said, is a bachelor’s degree in business, business administration or management as a way to develop the necessary foundation in business principles and concepts. From there, a graduate degree can help expand professional opportunities in consulting.
“A master’s degree in business administration (MBA), management, finance or a related field can be beneficial,” Nair said. “These programs provide a solid foundation in business principles and concepts that can be applied in consulting roles.”
In addition to a bachelor’s degree in business and even an MBA, Egrie said there are a variety of other educational paths that business professionals can take to specialize their areas of knowledge and expand professional opportunities in consulting. These include:
Degrees alone, however, are typically only part of the equation when it comes to preparing for a career as a business consultant.
“Expertise and experience in an industry or field is needed,” Egrie said. “Possessing expertise in a particular field enables the consultant to grasp industry standards, regulations and the common vernacular.”
Relevant work experience, industry certifications and accreditations and staying current with industry best practices are also important qualifications for succeeding in the field.
Where Do Business Consultants Work?
The field of business consulting offers a lot of flexibility to those who are considering entering the field. You can work on a full-time basis independently, or as an employee at a business consulting firm.
“Opting for the latter is often the quickest path to entering the field,” Egrie said. “Joining a consulting firm offers several benefits, such as a built-in support system, an established accounting department, and the advantage of being placed in client companies.”
Another option is working as a freelance business consultant on more of a part-time basis, coupling that work with other professional roles, such as college-level teaching. For example, in addition to her role as team lead and SNHU adjunct instructor, Egrie is currently working with two clients as a business consultant — one on a business expansion plan and the other on a startup.
Regardless of which type of setting works best for you, there’s no shortage of demand for consultants. Egrie said virtually every industry relies on business consultants, including:
- Education and health care
- Supply chain and logistics
- Manufacturing and transportation
- Government and nonprofit agencies
- Hospitality and startups
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for management consultants, sometimes called management analysts, is expected to grow by 10% between 2022 and 2032, a rate much faster than the average for all other occupations.* And the 2022 median pay for management analysts was $95,290 per year, BLS reported.*
To make the most of what the field has to offer and expand your professional opportunities, you should start early when it comes to networking and building industry connections, Nair said. And gaining the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, offered by the Project Management Institute, can also demonstrate an elevated level of understanding and experience.
“The designation validates one’s understanding of the technical aspects of managing a project, the soft skills required to influence a project team and the relationship between organizational strategy and a project,” Nair said.
*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.
Cary Jordan is an Iowa-based writer with more than 20 years of writing and editing experience on a wide range of issues related to higher education. Jordan has held administrative and cabinet-level positions at multiple colleges and universities, and his writing has spanned topics related to undergraduate education as well as graduate education in the areas of business, law, medicine and engineering, among others.