Are consultants really like seagulls?

The other day we typed in ‘Consultants are’ into Google and the results that popped up were… Well, let’s just say they were slightly disturbing and thought-provoking at the same time! Results such as ‘consultants are like seagulls’ or ‘consultants are a waste of money’ were the more polite suggestions. Clearly, findings from search engines should be treated with care, but it made us think about why many people’s first thoughts about consultants seemed so negative.

Why the bad reputation of consultants?

Consultants are like seagulls – they swoop in, eat your lunch, crap all over you, and then they fly away.

Opinions are much more nuanced than the quote above suggests, but we know that many client decision makers agree with the essence of it. From speaking to buyers of consulting services every day, we know that their perception is driven not by prejudice, but sadly by real-life experiences. Often clients have been getting lovely slide decks, but ultimately limited value for the fees paid in terms of positive business impact. Recycled and generic advice, junior project delivery teams, lack of implementation and execution experience, no knowledge transfer to the client organisation and overall poor value for money is not uncommon.

Freelancers and independent consultants have a much more positive reputation than the big consulting firms. The reason is that individual consultants are typically focused on execution and implementation, and not just producing lovely slide decks. However, it’s worth remembering some of the existing prejudices that exist when using the C-word.

Google is wrong – why consultants have never been more important

New market entrants, digital disruption and regulatory changes mean that businesses need to find ways to stay relevant, build knowledge and turn challenges into advantages. Adding to this picture is pressure to keep the fixed cost base low. The pace of change and competitive pressures are unlikely to change so it’s not hard to see why many organisations feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

We firmly believe that external consultants is a great way to access expertise, transfer knowledge and stay ahead of the curve as well as adding flexible resources to internal core teams.

However, clients need the right type of consultant for different type of projects, and they also need to have realistic expectations and the correct project set up.  In practice this harder than it might sound. Attention all employers: If you haven’t already seen we have a useful piece on how to set consultants up for success.

Finding the right consultants

The right external partners to help improve business performance are certainly out there but they can be hard to find. We also know that the best match between project requirements and proven expertise is not always the biggest consulting brands with whom firms might have a preferred supplier agreement or existing relationships.

Sometimes clients are in fact best served by a Big brand accounting firms or one of the big strategy houses. In our experience, however, they are not always the best option and should not be the default choice because considered a ‘safe’ option.

Boutique consulting firms and teams of specialist freeelancers can be a better option for projects where clients need doers and practitioners, rather than strategic advice. Digital implementation? Tick. Marketing to mass-market consumers? Tick. Mobile app developers? Tick. HR transformation? Tick. PMO best practice? Tick. The list goes on.

No more seagulls

How do you find the right consultants? It’s not always easy but it’s getting easier…  There are a number of platforms connecting freelancers and independent consultants with clients. Some platforms are focused on certain skills, eg marketing or tech development, whereas other have a sector or geographic focus.  

But whether using platforms such as Upwork, Toptal and Outsized or not, the key is to have a thorough, quality and process driven sourcing strategy in place to take out the risk and make the process efficient and painless. Better matching between requirements and expertise means higher growth, efficiency improvements and more effective skills transfer. Replicated over and over again that makes a big difference. And you can go to bed knowing you haven’t fed the seagulls!