5 ways consulting firms can leverage freelancers to drive success

The rapid rise of freelancing has disrupted traditional consulting models, sparking concerns about undercutting and outmanoeuvring. However, top consulting firms are increasingly recognizing that freelancers complement their business, enhancing client service, fueling growth, and facilitating adaptability. Embracing this shift, here are 5 ways consulting firms can leverage freelancers to drive success:

1. Drawing on specialist expertise

  • Specialist consulting firms embracing versatility: Traditionally, consulting firms have operated within the boundaries of their established expertise, relying on the skills ingrained in their core business operations. However, the advent of freelancers has revolutionized this paradigm, allowing specialist consulting firms to diversify their service offerings. They can tap into specialized talents for specific projects, such as a pure strategy consulting firm extending its capabilities to include project implementation by temporarily enlisting specialized professionals.
  • Generalist firms catering to diverse client needs: On the other hand, generalist consulting firms can also benefit from this trend by leveraging the expertise of individuals well-versed in various verticals like actuarial science, payment systems, procurement, or technology. This approach enables them to comprehensively cater to unique client demands, broadening their service horizons.

The result is twofold: existing clients enjoy a broader spectrum of services, while the firm’s ability to attract a wider clientele expands, all without committing to permanent investments in specialist skills. Furthermore, this approach provides consulting firms with a valuable opportunity to gauge their clients’ interest in new advisory domains, affording them the flexibility to test the waters before establishing a dedicated in-house team.

2. Addressing capacity challenges

In today’s fast-paced business landscape, effectively managing workforce capacity and project needs has become increasingly daunting. Striking the right balance between having enough resources to meet demand while avoiding overstaffing is a delicate endeavour. Traditional recruitment processes for permanent positions can be time-consuming, leading to delayed responsiveness to emerging projects.

However, this issue can be effectively resolved by tapping into the pool of freelance talent. Freelancers offer a valuable solution by seamlessly integrating into your projects and hitting the ground running as soon as the need arises. The freelance market is brimming with highly skilled independent professionals, ranging from bright young MBAs to seasoned project managers. Leveraging this talent pool enables firms to swiftly adapt to new project requirements, regardless of their scale, without compromising on quality.

3. Reducing fixed costs

Having seen the success of the above use-cases, forward-thinking firms are now moving towards a much leaner consulting model overall, to benefit from the cost and efficiency savings that this brings. These cost savings can then be passed onto clients, who also benefit from having one point of contact and integrated project management. It’s a win-win for both sides while ensuring consultancies are less likely to lose out to specialist boutiques. More controversially perhaps, using more independent talent is also a way for consulting firms to reduce, at least in the short term, training costs.

By only drawing on the exact skills the business needs, when it needs them, firms can minimise the ‘dead time’ that is inevitable with permanent staff.

4. Embracing fresh perspectives

While concerns surrounding the integration of freelancers into a business often revolve around potential cultural challenges, such as the risk of losing cohesion, values, or company-specific knowledge, it’s crucial to recognize the substantial benefits they bring. Freelancers represent a rich source of fresh thinking, diverse perspectives, and boundless energy.

Most freelance consultants have previously worked in a whole range of different firms, big and small, as well as directly with clients, so bring a wealth of experience and insights to bear on the projects they work on. Big consulting firms are finding that this can be extremely beneficial for bringing new ideas to tricky challenges or projects, as well as creating a knowledge transfer effect that stays with the team, even after the individual has moved on.

5. ‘Try before you buy’

Finally, although the freelance talent pool is a fantastic source of short-term, flexible talent, it can also be a way of increasing your network and testing out individuals for permanent roles. Some freelancers don’t necessarily see the independent lifestyle as something they will do forever, particularly if they are early in their career. Working with freelancers can therefore also be an effective way for firms to nurture their talent pipeline, with a view to making long-term offers in the future.

The evolution of skill demand in consulting

Consulting firms’ demand for independent consultants vary over time in terms of skills. Ultimately, this is driven by end client trends, in-house availability, and an overall shift to a more agile business model using more external talent.  

Over the last few years the most sought after skills by consulting firms have been related to digital transformation, project management, and supply chain management. More recently, we have observed substantial technological progress causing disruptions in various industries. Businesses have come to understand the value of making decisions based on data to spur their growth and stay competitive. As a result of this realisation, there has been a shift in demand also from consulting firms when it comes to bringing in independent experts to their project teams, with a stronger emphasis on adding technology, data, and risk management skills.

To learn more about what skills are in demand this year across Asia Pacific, Africa, the Middle East and India, click here. Below is a snippet from our Mid-Year Demand Trends Report.

Skill areas with the highest overall client demand. H1 2022 vs H1 2023


Looking ahead, it’s clear that independent professionals are not just additional resources but drivers of change in the consulting industry. Embracing this shift isn’t just about staying competitive; it’s about becoming more flexible, and creative and rethinking how consulting works in a changing business world.