What is a Consultant?

Are you an expert in a specific field? Would you like to share your knowledge and help others become successful? You may want to consider a career as a consultant.

Consulting is an enormous field, and consultants can work for practically every industry, from fashion to finance.

A consultant has extensive knowledge and experience in a specific professional field, and shares their expertise in order to solve business-related issues or problems.

What does a Consultant do?

After spending many years in a particular field or industry, seasoned experts will often become self-employed consultants, turning their knowledge into a resource that individuals and companies are willing to pay for. In some cases, these professionals contract back to their previous employers.

Consultants must bring a solid work ethic to each client, and fully dedicate themselves to their client's mission.

Consultants identify problems, suggest solutions, educate, influence, facilitate change, revitalize or downsize a business, or create a new business. Such a potential scope of responsibility demands that consultants bring both passion and a drive for excellence to every mission they undertake.

Consultants are often used before and during the start-up of a new business, or to re-align a flailing business. Consultants must bring a solid work ethic to each client, and fully dedicate themselves to their client's mission.

A consultant will look at each client individually, analyze the situation, offer an impartial analysis by identifying the problem(s), and come up with a choice of potential solutions for the client. The ultimate goal for the consultant is to come up with the best strategy and plan for the client's business.

Honesty, transparency, and effective communication is imperative in order for both the client and the consultant to have the best possible working experience and positive final outcome. Any conflict of interest needs to be divulged, and the client needs to know that they are the consultant's top priority.

Types of consultants:

Management Consultants - will offer supervisory, leadership, and management development services to help managers become better leaders, better planners, better organizers/coordinators, and more productive

Investment (Financial) Consultants - work with individuals and organizations to advise them on investment strategies. They will review the clients' portfolio(s) and determine any changes that need to be put in place in order to improve financial performance.

Organizational Development Consultants - will help improve a company's performance by using certain approaches and techniques to focus and change a portion of the company, or even the entire company. These changes could be system focused or function focused.

Technical Consultants - will provide technical assistance on specific systems and processes in the company. These could include financial and accounting systems, computer systems, market research, or facilities management.

Are you suited to be a consultant?

Consultants have distinct personalities. They tend to be enterprising individuals, which means they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic. They are dominant, persuasive, and motivational. Some of them are also artistic, meaning they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive.

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What is the workplace of a Consultant like?

A consultant can work for a variety of firms (for example; technology, management, accounting and investment firms), and for a variety of clients.

They will often travel to the client or company in order to observe and make recommendations to improve the company. Working long hours and weekends is common.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become a Consultant?

There is no clear-cut answer to this question. The simple reason for this is that consulting is probably the most diverse profession that exists. Consultants work in every industry and often in multiple industries.

They may choose to begin working as a consultant after completing a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Or they may pursue a master’s and spend another two years preparing for a more senior consultancy opportunity.

Many become consultants by first becoming something else and eventually transitioning into the consulting realm, armed with a specific kind of knowledge that individuals and organizations seek and are willing to pay for.

One individual may become a consultant literally overnight, by virtue of very particular and unique experience and expertise, the right contacts, and/or some luck; while another may invest a relatively long time networking and cultivating relationships before finally establishing a client base.

Becoming a consultant, therefore, starts with becoming something else: perhaps a marketing professional, a human resources manager, a software engineer, an accountant, a career counselor, a payroll manager, a copywriter, or even a gardener. The breadth of the work means that the route to becoming a consultant is as diverse as the industries that employ them.

Should I become a Consultant?

To properly answer this question, prospective consultants should ask themselves three other questions:

Do I have the traits and skills that consultants typically possess?

Time management
Efficient use of time is imperative, especially when the clock is ticking on a deadline. It’s also vitally important for independent consultants who are juggling more than one client at a time.

Problem-solving
Consultants are hired to solve problems, so one of the most important traits is an innate ability to look at the issues presented and come up with concrete solutions that address all of the client’s concerns.

Analytical mind
On any given project, consultants are faced with multiple components of an issue or with multiple issues. They must be able to pull all these pieces together and analyze them both individually and collectively, with an eye toward arriving at a holistic solution.

Communication and networking
Consultants provide both written and oral presentations for individual and organizational clients, and must do so in a way that their proposed solutions can be understood by everyone, regardless of their background. In addition, networking is critical to successful consulting – and the essence of networking is communication.

Reliability
While reliability is key in any professional endeavor, for consultants – who often rely on repeat contracts and referrals – it is of paramount importance. This characteristic is also high on any contractor’s list, because the projects for which consultants are hired are almost invariably time-sensitive and urgent. Therefore, consultants who do exactly what they say they will do, when they say they will do it, are indispensable.

Attention to detail
Consultants are always looking to build trust with clients. Producing error-free deliverables is one of the ways to gain client confidence. Even the most minor grammar, spelling, or calculation-related mistake is a reflection of the individual consultant and the consultant team responsible for it.

Being the ‘go-to’ for something
During their first few years of work, consultants generally float between industries, areas, and clients. While versatility is an invaluable characteristic that is worth maintaining, so too is a targeted skill that allows consultants to differentiate themselves from their peers. Becoming that go-to consultant for a specific business sector or a particular type of project (for example, inventory management, change management, or IT controls) is part of building a consultancy brand.

Critical thinking
The best consultants know not only how to focus on assigned tasks, but how to think critically about the work in front of them. For instance, a consultant who is asked by a client to find cost savings in a supply chain should first try to understand why this is critical to the business. Are profits declining? Are competitors lowering product prices? Is the general marketplace changing in some specific way? This kind of thinking leads to better insights and ultimately to better client solutions.

Resourcefulness
Invariably, consultants will encounter problems and challenges which they have not faced before. And if they are to find appropriate solutions, their reaction cannot be frustration. It must be resourcefulness. The smart consultant begins by asking questions like, Is there someone I know who has done what I am trying to do, or something similar to what I am trying to do? Where can I find an expert on the issue I am being asked to address? Might I need to consider outsourcing to effectively tackle the problem at hand and accomplish my client’s objective?

Inquisitiveness
In the consultancy world, asking questions is not a sign of inexperience or lack of knowledge. It is, rather, at the core of how consultants work. They observe first; they start with what they already know; they make a solid suggestion; and then they ask with confidence. Accomplished consultants are never afraid to ask for clarification and they often restate what they have been told to clarify their understanding and inspire client confidence.

Do I want to do what consultants are often asked to do?

Consider these top 10 reasons that organizations hire consultants:

For their expertise
Consultants who have a proven track record in the field in which they choose to consult will be sought after for that expertise. Clearly, someone with diverse experience in sales and marketing will be more valuable to a company looking to boost sales than someone without that background. A non-profit organization that needs to raise a million dollars is likely to hire someone who has already raised millions for other organizations.

To identify problems
Sometimes, a company’s or an organization’s employees are too close to a problem to see it and suggest solutions. That’s when a consultant may be brought in to offer an objective perspective.

To supplement staff
It is quite common nowadays for businesses to hire consultants when they are needed, rather than hire employees on a fulltime basis. This makes good economic sense, because even though a consultant’s fees are generally higher than an employee’s salary, businesses do not pay benefits for contracted consultants.

To act as a catalyst
Change can be challenging and difficult, especially in corporate environments. When needed, a consultant may be brought in to spearhead the process. As an independent, a short-term consultant can implement changes without worrying about the corporate culture or even about employee morale that can get in the way when an organization is trying to transform.

To provide objectivity
A consultant – an outsider – can provide an objective, fresh viewpoint that may be difficult for people in the organization – insiders – to provide. With this objectivity, a consultant can think completely independently and achieve results without the burden of established, perhaps stale approaches and methods.

To teach
Consultants are hired by businesses to teach employees any number of different skills. To be contracted in a training role, however, consultants need to remain current with new discoveries, trends, and technologies in their field of expertise.

To do the ‘dirty work’
Sometimes, consultants are hired by businesses to do the work that no one on the inside wants to do. This may involve making staff cuts or eliminating an entire department or division.

To bring new life to an organization
At various points in their evolution, organizations need a refresh, a rebranding, or a kickstart. This work, which by definition involves coming up with new ideas, often falls to an outside consultant.

To create a new business
This is a specialized field of consulting, as it calls for the rather exceptional ability to conceive a business idea and develop a game plan.

To influence other people
Most consultants in this field work as lobbyists.
They may be hired based solely on who they know and what degree of influence they can exert.

Do I want to work in one or more of the industries that most often contract or hire consultants?

Although consultants work in virtually every field, the following are currently the top 20 industries that hire consultants:

Accounting
Advertising
Auditing
Business (how to turn a profit)
Business writing
Career counseling
Communications
Computer programming
Editorial services
Executive search/head-hunter firms)
Gardening
Grant writing
Human resources
Insurance
Marketing
Payroll management
Public relations
Publishing
Taxes
Writing services

What are Consultants like?

Based on our pool of users, consultants tend to be predominately enterprising people. The most common synonyms for enterprising are innovative, inventive, imaginative, resourceful, adventurous, ingenious, creative, and intrepid.

Each of these adjectives describes the quintessential consultant who, to achieve success, must genuinely understand the world of business and enterprise and be motivated by two distinct challenges: to effectively self-promote and to provide valued advice based on both entrepreneurial knowledge and intuition.

Consultants are also known as:
Company Advisor Business Advisor Business Consultant Company Consultant