The rise of remote consultancy: Steps to build a thriving global practice

How to start a remote consulting business

Consulting is one of the fastest growing professions and is one of the few sectors that managed to show consistent growth across the globe during the pandemic. The fact that this growth took place in a previously under-explored area of the profession—remote or virtual consulting — has opened up exciting opportunities.

A new digital reality

While it has been a swift (and unexpected) transition to the digital realm, the reality is that it’s here to stay.

Research by McKinsey points to the fact that more than 75% of companies now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions.

Tellingly, the research reveals business leaders believe that online and remote interaction can be as effective as in-person engagement. Companies have realised that digital technology allows them to tilt the skills playing field to their advantage – professional consultants, from anywhere in the globe, can now be found and work online.

Changed perception

This is without a doubt a game changer for independent consultants. In a business setting that is becoming more agile and accelerated by rapid digital innovation, remote consultation work is increasingly seen as the solution.

If you are interested in making your mark in what is a growing field, read on to determine how you can extend your consulting reach across the globe.

Back to basics

You’ll need to revisit the basics and review some of the things that originally set you on the path to consulting success. Avoid the error of just putting your services on the market without a plan of action. There are a number of factors to consider:

1. What services are you going to provide?

If you’re unsure about the approach to adopt, consider the ‘generalist’ versus ‘specialist’ question. A ‘generalist’ works in a variety of industries, practice areas, and roles. A ‘specialist’ concentrates or has experience in a specific function or industry. This will help you refine your services entry point.

2. What will your fees be?

It’s possible that your current fee model may not find favour in new markets. Relook your consulting fee formula and make sure you can offer fee structures based on an hourly, project- or value-basis to match client needs.

3. Which markets will you be aiming for?

Consider practicalities, like time zones and language (although English is pretty much the global business lingua franca). In addition, it’s best to take a focused approach to industries or sectors.

If you are feeling adventurous and want to target several countries, don’t play hopscotch across a continent, focus instead on economic co-operation areas, for example, the Benelux countries. This may enable you to tap into similarities across several economies.

4. How are you going to gain new clients?

There are several options to explore in this regard:

  • Start with your existing clients, they may have international branches you can service.
  • Identify companies that are similar in industry and size to your existing clients and approach them directly. You will need a strong digital and online presence in place to make a notable impact.
  • Advertising can be a rewarding strategy. Purchasing AdWords can give you good reach into markets but it is not the only option. Try to find out if the companies you are targeting have industry association memberships. These associations normally have outward bound communication platforms, which have advertising options, allowing you a more targeted approach.
  • Review your professional network. Are there any international acquaintances that can assist with entry into an international market?
  • Consider joining a platform, such as Outsized, that provides consultants with international opportunities for specific industries.
  • Research markets you want to enter and identify local consultants that are already active in this space. Make contact with them, there might be sub-contract work available.
  • No, networking is not dead. In many instances it has moved online and become more powerful. It remains one of the best ways to open doors to business opportunities.
  • Join a professional partner network. Do your homework in this regard and select a network that will further reinforce your professional credibility.
  • Really ambitious? Interesting opportunities can be found at global development finance institutions, inter-governmental agencies, and global lobbying organisations.

If you put some thought into how to approach new clients, there are bound to be opportunities that will come your way for consideration.

The bare essentials

A well thought out plan of action will certainly take you a long way. However, much of its success will be premised on having some business essentials in place. These typically are:

  • Marketing collateralA professional website which potential clients can use to contact you, is a must. So too is a social media presence – blogging, podcasts and regular posts that highlight your expertise is important – while you’re at it, don’t forget a top-notch LinkedIn profile.
  • Software – there is a myriad of software tools on the marketplace. Make sure you can meet a client’s expectations in this regard.
  • Research – you need to have capacity to research markets and potential clients. If you don’t, pay a researcher to assist.
  • Negotiation skills – increasingly everything is ‘open for negotiation,’ in many ways this reflects the new normal. Be sure to know what your non-negotiables are when approaching international clients.
  • Skills set – you’re going to be competing with the very best in the world, stick to your continuous professional development programmes.

Globally, the management consulting services market grew from $819.79 billion in 2020 and was predicted to grow to $895.46 billion in 2021, with further growth forecast for 2022 and beyond. With these figures in mind, there can be little doubt that global remote consulting is going to grow in size and importance, making it a significant and attainable future growth area for consultants.