What is a business consultant?

The ultimate guide.

The UK business consultant industry is vast and far reaching, leading many to rightly question, what is a business consultant? Well soon you will have all the details you need. This ultimate guide has a range of key and easily digestible information about the UK Business Consultant industry. All in one place.

What is a Business Consultant?

A business consultant is an external party that offers advice, support and expertise to an individual or business. Generally, a scope of works will detail what is required and the pricing structure of the engagement. A scoping document may also highlight what is outside of this agreement but may be required at a later date. A payment structure will also be included, with common payment structures including an initial payment, milestone payments, or payments based on project delivery.

Who Can Be A Business Consultant?

The management consultancy and business consultancy industry in the U.K is completely unregulated. Anyone can do it. So to set up a business offering any type of consultancy service, you don’t require any specific or protected legal status.

A client will generally look for skills you can demonstrate in the area of consultancy that they are looking to engage. After all, consultancy itself is a service and people will want some value from the service they are buying in.

What is a business consultant?

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The UK Consultancy Industry In Numbers

Size of UK Consultancy Industry
Of UK Firms Fees Are Generated In The UK
Generated by the Big 4 Firms
10 Year Average Growth Rate
Source: MCA: Annual Report 2017
  • 2019 saw on average a growth of 8.3% in revenues for management consultants, comparative to the 7% growth experienced in 2018. Demonstrating that the overall growth of management consultant usage is increasing.
  • Firms are expecting to see continued growth through 2020 and 2021 – with an average annual growth rate of 6% per annum forecasted.
Source: MCA Members Survey 2020

Key Disciplines of a Business Consultant

There are business consultants operating in every aspect and facet of business. This sounds like defining the scope of consultants would be impossible. Don’t worry though. In the UK, there are five major pillars of consultancy that are easy to identify with.

We have put together a little introduction to each, as well as major businesses operating in this area you will probably have heard of.

Management and Strategy Consultants

Strategy and management consultancy can be used in a variety of ways. You may be hiring in a consultant that has a history of strategy execution particularly in your area of operation. Or, you may look for a holistic management consultant that can adapt complex strategic theory, to your specific situation.

Generally, management and strategy consultants will have formalised consultancy training, as well as either experience in the private sector or with a large organisation, like one of the big four.

In this segment however, the faster growing agencies are the more adaptable, and ultimately accessible SME management consultancy companies.

HR Consultants

A HR consultant is one of the most popular types of business consultant that people can think of, but don’t realise is classed as business consultancy.

If you have ever worked with an external recruiter, you have worked with a business consultant.

In the UK, a HR consultancy company you will undoubtedly have heard of would be Reed. Such companies can help identify, shortlist, primary interview and offer contracts to talent. They will generally have an extensive talent pool to pull from, both from active databases as well as relationships maintained over years of practice.

HR consultants can also support in specific strategic opportunities, such as employee retention programmes. These consultants can offer an outside perspective on opportunities to benefit your employees and overall business.

Operations Consultants

Operation consultants are focused on process redesign and implementation projects. Operation consultation and process redesign generally takes shape over four phases, starting with scoping a project and setting a team. After the existing process is mapped, opportunities are highlighted to improve the process, a trial process is tested and implemented, before a feedback loop seeks to streamline and bed in a new process effectively. Done correctly, operational consultancy projects can deliver huge benefits to businesses.

IT Consultants

IT consultants can range massively in their scope.

Infrastructure and improvement partners such as EC-MSP deliver outsourced hardware solutions, as well as wide ranging support on IT software consultancy projects.

Then there are ultra-fast growing specialist companies such as Cloud Gateway offer services you might not have known you need, or even existed – yet drive massive improvements to your current IT infrastructure.

In between both of these are a myriad of software consultants who can adapt and design software solutions specific to your business needs.

Marketing Consultants

Marketing consultants can take many guises.

The most common type of marketing consultant can range from web design agencies and SEO agencies, such as Found – PR agencies such as PR Agency One.

Marketing consultants change size, shape and specialty all the way through to full marketing consultancy agencies such as Flocc. These companies will offer full turnkey marketing solutions. Including branding, strategy through to implementation and execution.

Training To Be A Business Consultant

In the UK there are formalised and recognised management and business consultancy training courses that can give you the tools required to operate within the business consultancy sector.

The Level 7 Diploma in Professional Consulting is a joint award from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the Institute of Consulting (IoC), both UK professional institutes and awarding bodies. The syllabus has at it’s core, real world consultancy based training, and includes the following elements.

  • Communicating strategies for consulting
  • Managing consultancy interventions
  • Group dynamics and facilitating skills
  • Managing the business of consulting
  • Organisational structure and change

As an ongoing award, the IoC offers their Certified Management Consultant (CMC) course to all members or fellows. That means consultants working in real world consultancy practices with a demonstrable track record of achieving consultancy based outcomes. This involves an application, a commitment to a professional development plan and interviews with assessors to demonstrate the required knowledge and skills to uphold the IoC’s standards.

Business Consultant Education UK

Why Firms Hire A Business Consultant

Business Transformation

48% of businesses stated that business transformation projects were the most prominent need when hiring a business consultant. This can be complete strategy realignment, or transformation within a certain area of the business.

Change Management

Unlike transformation projects, where the scope isn’t necessarily designed, change management projects works to align the business and its customers through a process of change. 41% of businesses stated this was a requirement for consultancy support. A part which can be integral to other elements also, as part of the delivery stage.

Project Based Process Redesign

Unsurprisingly, a single project based consultancy around process redesign made it into the top three requirements for hiring a business consultant. In fact, 39% of hiring businesses stated they have hired consultants for this very reason.

IT and Technology Consultancy

Another huge pillar of consultancy requirements, with 37% of hiring businesses requiring support in IT consultancy. A key area being digital and technological support.

Human Resource Support

Whilst the most commonly known area of consultancy, it is only considered by 23% of hiring firms as required by business consultancy support. 

Source: MCA: Clients Perception of Consulting Study 2019

Digital Transformation Projects

Digital transformation projects were cited as one of the key growth areas for management consultant activities. With 34% of respondents citing it in 2019 as a major contributory factor to year on year growth.

Sustainability Projects

25% of UK MCA consultants cited sustainability projects as the number one trend in consulting requirements through 2019 and consider it to be a major requirement in 2020 and beyond.

Source: MCA Members Survey 2020

Process To Hire a Business Consultant

Hiring a business consultant, like any business purchase should, be given a lot of consideration. With the world of business consultants being unregulated, and not protected by a legal status, there are some key points you should take into consideration, before hiring a consultant.

If you have highlighted an issue, make sure that you outline what the project you are looking to complete. As with any contract you are tendering, ensuring a correct and specified scope is in place prior the tender process.

At the tender stage, you can write out this project outline, but in a way that allows the consultant to add their value to your specific situation. After all, it is their expertise you are hiring.

During the tender process, it is worthwhile checking the credibility of the consultant you are looking to hire. This can be done both through your meeting with the consultant, as well as with their other exiting clients and checking and accreditations they may have.

Hiring Firms Thoughts on Business Consultants

Independent Thinking

49% of hiring respondents stated that they valued the independent thinking a consultant bought into the business as the trait they especially valued when hiring a consultant.

Direction and Transformation

When considering the definition of what hiring firms perceived as their definition for consulting, transformational support and external strategic direction ranked joint first, with 35% of respondents choosing each.

Future Requirements

38% of respondents felt that digital and technology advisory services played would be the number one future consultancy requirements, with business transformation a close second, receiving 33%.

Source: MCA: Clients Perception of Consulting Study 2019

We hope you have enjoyed this in depth guide on what a business consultant actually is. If you liked this guide, or feel we have missed a key area. Please take the time to comment below and let us know.

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