Freelance Consultants vs. Traditional Consulting Firm
3 key advantages of each and when you should choose what
by Søren Rosenmeier, International CEO at Right People Group
Be warned! Providing freelance consultants to our clients’ for their projects is my bread and butter, and I am therefore deeply biased when it comes to this question.
With this warning in mind, I will still try to give my best advice on which elements I think you, as the customer, should be particularly aware of when purchasing consultants.
I know there are many hugely talented people who are employed by traditional consulting firms, and the truth is, the choice between freelance and a firm depends on the client’s specific situation and needs, and the vendor’s specific offers.
Below I have compiled my thoughts on generic strengths of freelance consultants and those of traditional consulting firms.
Strengths of traditional consulting companies
- Proven concept
Traditional consulting firms typically can show you a proven track record and can sell consultants on a more conceptual level than a freelance consultant agency. This is not just sales tactics, but may have value to the customer, especially if the agency has very specific and documented results for similar clients in similar situations to show.
- Tightly knit team
There is greater opportunity to deliver a team of people who have previously worked together and this can speed along the start-up process and give security to the customer that the team most likely works well together.
- Authority through brand
For some, it may have a personal security value, that a given decision or choice of solution is “approved” by a recognized consulting firm (“you never get fired for buying IBM”).
Strengths of freelance consultants
- Stronger skills relative to price
Freelance consultants are a very strong choice with regards to price vs. professional skills. Also, the best specialists within a field are found among freelancers (at least in the world of IT; and especially when they have allocated full time to the task). My assessment is that exactly the same skills in the freelance market cost only 50% -60% of the price given paid for a traditional consulting firm.
- Greater loyalty to task
It is people who perform the task at hand, and contrary to what some believe, it is very rare that a freelance consultant switches projects or works on something else during an assignment. This happens far more often by tenured consultants, where the consultant sometimes gets a new job or priorities change internally which means that the consultant is moved from on project to another.
- No additional agenda
A freelance consultant typically has no sales target. In a firm, you often see a consultant attempting to sell more consultants or specific products to the customer, yet this isn’t the case for a freelancer; resulting in independent advice and a clean and transparent handling of the client’s interests.
Who shows up on Monday morning?
My attitude is that it’s all about who actually shows up on Monday morning when the task needs to be solved. Consultancy house’s can have a global network of experts, processes and brand value; yet I will not care, unless it really has value for the specific project at hand. Instead I would take internal ownership of the project and ensure a first class team for my specific aims.
If you as a customer needed someone to step in and solve a given task in a given period, I will personally never be in doubt that the use of a freelance consultant would be the best option.
And yes, I have actually heard of an IT manager who was fired for buying IBM, and I think, fortunately, fewer and fewer IT managers need to buy a brand to protect themselves against other parts of the organization but instead choose the solution they genuinely believe creates the most value for the organization.