How to find the right consulting firm?

Consulting firms cater to the needs of clients across the industrial gamut, meaning that advisory businesses themselves also come in all manner of shapes and sizes. If you are new to the process of finding a consultancy, this can make finding the right external expertise a daunting task.

Central to making the right hiring decisions is the knowledge that finding a consulting firm to match your needs is a process, not just a split-second decision. When looking for the right consulting firm, make sure you consider the type, size and reputation of the consulting firm, as well as the cultural fit with your business and people.

Type of service

Determining which kind of work you need your consultant to carry out can be a deceptively simple task. A business must decide what kind of consulting services best match the issue which needs to be resolved. This could span services areas such as strategy consulting, management consulting, IT consulting, financial consulting, human resources consulting or any other category.

Each of these consulting areas pertains to vastly different services, although they can be closely interlinked. Implementing an automated payrolling solution, for instance, could fall within the mandate of an IT consulting firm, as well as a human resources consulting firm. A clear and nuanced definition of the nature of work you expect consultants to undertake is therefore critical to the selection of the right consulting firm.

Generalist firm versus a specialist firm?

The type of service needed could help determine which kind of consultancy you need to enlist. For a specific task relating to one area of the company, such as finances or cyber-security, it might suit your business better to seek out help from a specialist advisory firm. Operations, data science, marketing and sales, oil and gas, life sciences, capital markets, and turnaround projects similarly favour advisors who have spent their career accruing specialised skills, and keeping abreast of the latest best practices in a certain field or function.

On the other hand, generalist firms are increasingly hiring specialised consultants who have experience in a specific industry or function. This means that many of the world’s largest consulting firms are able to offer focused expertise, as well as more holistic services which can help oversee a company-wide transformation project for clients.

Firm size 

Once the category of firm required has been determined, the next consideration is selecting the firm itself. Certain consulting firms in each category will always stand out due to their size and reputation, while others might fly under the radar.

The advantage with prominent consulting firms is that they bring experience to the table, which can be a significant bonus. Consulting firms that have solved problems might find it easier to identify and solve problems that your business is facing. These consulting firms are also likely to have more resources to support their work.

On the other hand, smaller firms might have the right talent pool or niche expertise that your business requires. Also, smaller consultancies are regarded to have to closer client relationship, and a staffing model that closely matches the needs of a client with the consultant.

Reputation

Consulting is not a chartered industry, and that means that would-be-clients often face a dilemma in how to determine who will provide the best value for money. Because of this, traditionally the reputation of a firm plays a key role in this choice. Firms with a market-leading or prestigious reputation still garner the lion’s share of the most lucrative consulting work thanks to the credentials attributed to them by awards bodies and industry experts.

The heavyweights of strategy consulting such as McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company tend to take up the majority of top-level projects with big corporations and national governments. However, their reputation comes at a premium – one many small to mid-sized enterprises cannot afford. In response to this, the digitalisation of business in the 21st century and the burgeoning gig economy have decentralised how reputation is determined, and enabled clients to rely on smaller firms and boutiques for quality services on a lower price.

However, platforms such as Consultancy.org enable mid-sized and smaller consultancies to demonstrate their reputation and affordability to potential clients in a way that simply did not exist before the digital era. Similarly, matchmaking websites which link independent consultants with projects stringently vet the advisors on their platform, while clients who have already engaged them can leave detailed reviews on the level of value for money they received.

Cultural fit

Something which might be more difficult to pin down is the cultural fit between a consultant and your firm. While it is hard to define, however, it is crucial that this aspect of the relationship between a client and a consulting firm is a healthy one.

A consulting firm could have a glowing reputation and substantial expertise, but if their style of working and culture does not align with your corporate culture, challenges may likely pop up. Clear and open communication with a consulting firm before making a decision to get a sense of its approach and vision is one way of avoiding such a scenario. Seeking references specific to a firm is also a good strategy.