"Consultant" is an appealing title for many college students and young careerists, but few understand what it really means as a job description.
What do consultants actually do?
What does a day in the life of a consultant look like?
What is the goal of a consultant and how do they fulfill that goal?
We’ll be answering these questions and many others today as we explore what it means to be a consultant, provide first-hand accounts by actual consultants, look at real-world consulting job descriptions, and show you exactly how to break into this exclusive and highly lucrative world.
Let’s get started.
What Do Consultants Do?
To understand what consultants do, we need to understand what consulting is in the first place.
Consulting is the business of providing expert advice to a specific group of people.
So what do consultants do?
In a practical sense, they advise. They pull from their niche experience, industry understanding, and problem solving abilities to offer valuable advice to a specific type of client or group of people.
But that’s not the whole story.
Anyone can give advice, but few get paid for their advice in the way that a consultant does.
So what makes a consultant’s advice so special? To answer that we need to answer the question, "Why makes someone willing to pay for advice?"
People pay for advice because they want to get somewhere they are not currently. They want to change something, achieve something, attain something, or become something, and they need help.
The current state of things isn’t how they want it to be. They know what their desired state is, but they need help getting there.
A consultant’s job is to help someone get from point A to point B: from their current state to their desired state.
That’s the goal.
How you get a client from A to B is significantly less important than simply being able to get them there.
Of course, that doesn’t answer our main question: what does a consultant do?
The what will be unique for every consultant, but some activities tend to be more common than others.
To better understand what consultants do, let’s look at what consultants most typically offer their clients.
What Do Consultants Offer?
The day to day dealings of a consultant vary significantly based on the consultant.
Some consultants focus on strategy while others do the heavy lifting. Some consultants will travel to a client’s business while others will only ever interact online. Some consultants offer ongoing help while others do one-time engagements.
Most of these differences revolve around the consultant’s core offer. The most common consulting offers fall into one of four categories:
- Strategic Advice
- Done-For-You Service
- One-Time Training
- Ongoing Coaching
Let’s explore these one by one.
1. Strategic Advice
Offering strategic advice is what most people associate with consulting, and with good reason. Strategy is a core part of any consulting offer and advice is a common delivery method.
But even when advice is the main offer, there’s a lot more to it than simply offering an opinion.
Advising consultants are there to problem solve. They are brought in to help a business tackle specific problems.
Sometimes these problems are unique and require highly customized solutions, but in many cases, the problems are common to the industry, and the consultant is chosen because they have helped other companies solve that type of problem already.
A common business event that often requires consulting is an acquisition. Absorbing another company is a big deal, particularly when the companies involved are publicly traded. The company making the purchase might hire a management consulting firm that is experienced in helping companies navigate acquisitions successfully.
The consulting firm is not there to provide ongoing coaching or training or to offer some sort of done-for-you solution.
They are there to take a deep look into both companies and provide strategic advice on the best way to navigate the acquisition in order to maximizes productivity, revenue, employee morale, and other important metrics.
But the world of Fortune 500 companies and management consulting firms is just a small slice of the consulting landscape.
Let’s look at a more common example for the average consultant.
Many small businesses struggle with growth. They have operations in place, and they are earning predictable revenue, but they can’t seem to increase that revenue over time. As a solution, they might hire a marketing consultant to advise them on which growth channel is a good fit for them and how to pursue that channel.
If the consultant has worked with a large number of similar businesses and achieved consistent results, it is likely that they will be massively helpful to the business simply by laying out a detailed, strategic roadmap for achieving success, even without doing any of the legwork themselves.
Strategic consultants typically start by getting to know their client’s business as well as possible, or at least the parts that are most relevant to the problem they wish to solve.
- In some cases, this might require them to travel to the business’ physical location.
- In some cases, it might require them to meet with staff.
- In some cases, it might be entirely done online.
In addition to researching the business, they might also research the market as it relates to the problem they are solving or task they are accomplishing for the client.
Once the understanding is in place, they will summarize their findings and interpretation and then layout an in-depth framework or detailed blueprint for solving the problem.
They will likely discuss these findings at length with the client and any relevant company personnel and then in many cases, they will reconnect with the company at a later date to provide follow-up feedback and advice.
2. Done-For-Your Service
Let’s continue with our small business marketing example.
What if the marketing consultant could actually do all the work for the client? Instead of simply handing off a blueprint, they could build out the selected marketing channel themselves, have their team do it, or contract it out to talented marketers they know?
For small and mid size businesses, this option is a no-brainer. They already have a feel for the consultant from the strategy they’ve provided, and it will often take a significant amount of effort and expense to implement the solution themselves, so if the consultant has a proven team ready to handle it, that’s a win-win.
Some consultants will utilize a done-for-you service as an upsell to their strategic advice. Others simply advertise as service providers where their ability to offer strategic consultation throughout the process is a key selling point.
The two offers have a lot of synergy, and often result in more money for the consultant and better, more efficient results for the client.
Consultants who offer done-for-you services occasionally perform the services themselves, but this is more common when starting out, as it is one of the easiest offers to use when starting a consulting business.
Once you are more established however, it is more common to build a team for the purpose of fulfillment or outsource to third parties for a referral fee.
3. One-Time Training
Sometimes the problem a business wants solved has to do with their leadership team or other personnel.
- Maybe the sales team is underperforming and needs a sales expert to come in and do hands-on training.
- Maybe the management team has been struggling to meet a certain metric and needs strategic training.
- Maybe there’s a new regulation being implemented that will require your business to change the way it’s been operating for decades.
- Maybe the CEO wants to shake up expectations by having the executive team meet with an experienced mentor.
Sometimes you know exactly where your team is falling short, but you don’t have the internal capabilities to improve. Other times, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Bringing in an outside consultant for training can benefit a company in a number of ways:
- Outside consultants have a neutral, unbiased perspective
- Outside consultants have unique expertise and insight
- Outside consultants specialize in one area of training
- Outside consultants can be incredibly cost-efficient
Training can be done live onsite or it can be administered online. Some consultants like to come to the company and meet individually with each staff member. Others hold a series of group training sessions in the office. Some do group training online.
This offer can also be combined with the previously mentioned offers.
For example, a sales consultant might be brought in at the beginning stage of building a sales team to create a strategic roadmap, help the business decide on the right CRM, and do live training with the initial sales hires.
If the company isn’t at a stage where they are ready to hire a VP of sales, this can be a more cost-effective option than hiring someone with the same level of expertise full time.
As another example, the training we offer here at Consulting.com on how to become a consultant could be viewed as a one-time training offer. Our Consulting Accelerator course is all-inclusive and designed to be taken over a 42 day period.
4. Ongoing Coaching
The last delivery method we’ll touch on today is ongoing coaching.
Sometimes the value you bring as a consultant doesn’t come in a single burst. It’s more about small adjustments along the way. There’s only so much you can do right off the bat, and having 4 hours or 40 hours with the client in the first week would have very little impact on their results.
This model is very common in any sort of personal coaching business, from fitness coaching to life coaching to business coaching. Giving people a diet plan is great, but what they usually need most is ongoing accountability and coaching to adjust to life’s little curve balls.
This model is also common for small businesses, where a business owner can’t afford to hire a staff member for a specific duty and chooses instead to do it themselves with the help of strategic advice and ongoing coaching from a consultant.
For example, let’s say a business owner needs help marketing their business but can’t afford to hire a full-time marketer. They might hire a marketing consultant to map out a strategy for the next year and then get ongoing evaluation and coaching as they attempt to implement the strategy over that next year.
Another example could be a CEO who is attempting to prep a growing startup for an upcoming IPO. The CEO might hire a consultant who specializes in this area to coach him throughout the year leading up to the IPO.
In any scenario where the value brought by the consultant has more to do with adaptation and execution over time, ongoing coaching can be a powerful delivery method.
Hopefully this overview of common consulting offers has given you a better feel for what it means to be a consultant.
But don’t worry; we’re not done! Let’s hear from some real world consultants.
A Day In The Life Of A Consultant
When people ask the question, "What do consultants do?" they are often wondering what the day-to-day life of a consultant looks like.
On that note, we turned to our community of 11,000+ students to learn what a day in their life is like. The following answer was fairly representative of many responses we received:
I wake up at 6am, get ready, and then listen to an audiobook on the way to the gym. I work out for about an hour and a half and then spend some time meditating and getting mentally focused for the day.
At 10am, I begin working on my current client projects and go straight through 2:30pm, eating lunch along the way. From 2:30 to 5pm I’m on the phone doing strategy sessions with new leads and pitching them my services.
Once the clock hits 5, I head back home and grab dinner. From 7-10pm, I’m either on the phone with new leads again or I’m working on projects for existing clients, depending on how many clients I have booked.
11pm is bed time and then we’re back at it at 6am.
- Alex Stewart, Consulting.com Student
Just like any business, independent consultants have to split their time and effort between generating new business and fulfilling the needs of their existing clients. The system we teach here at Consulting.com automates most of the lead generation process, so the only thing our students have to worry about is doing phone-based "strategy sessions" or "consultations" with new leads.
For many in the independent consulting world, their journey wasn’t isolated, and both receiving and giving mentoring are notable parts of their daily routine.
I wake up at 8:30am and immediately go through my affirmations. Next is gym time, and then I make breakfast for the kids.
The core of my work day is 10:30am to 2:30pm. Client fulfillment is top priority during this time, but whenever I have extra hours available, I like to answer questions in the Consulting Community and help other consultants on their journey.
During the summer months, 2:30-6:30pm is family time. We’ll go outside or watch a movie and then make dinner.
At 7pm, I either meet with my mentor or do 30 minutes of self-education in my field. From 7:30-11pm, I do more client fulfillment, sometimes a strategy session or two, and then planning for the next day.
- Justin Foley, Consulting.com Student
You might notice that Alex and Justin’s schedules look very different from a typical 9-5. Independent consultants often choose to spread their work out throughout the day rather than attempt to get everything done within a single, grinding stretch.
They also tend to interact with their clients online, but that’s not always the case. Nathan Missaghi, Consulting.com student and owner of Magic Medical Marketing, meets in person with his clients every other week.
Its Friday, 7:30am, I get up, take a shower and groom myself. I pop a k-pod in my Keurig and I get dressed. As Im drinking my coffee, Im already in traffic on the way to meet with my first client two streets south from my house.
He’s a cosmetic dentist. We talk strategy as we review the numbers and data from the last 14 days marketing performance. He tells me he has 4 patients who signed up for Invisalign through my marketing efforts so far this month. We see what needs improving, and I speak with his front desk, making sure leads are being handled on time, and that everyone is getting serviced.
My job done, I move on to the next dentist on my client list. I head over to valet, get my E Class and hop on the 405 freeway to Beverly Hills. I’m usually in traffic for about an hour, which I spend on the phone doing strategy sessions with potential clients.
Once I’ve arrived at my client’s office, we start reviewing the data. Data never lies, and we leverage its insights to tweak campaigns and offers. We want to study the market and see where leads are responding to our campaigns. I go over our plan of attack for the next 14 days, and then I’m out.
I head over to Urth Caffé down the street, grab a pesto panini sandwich for my pre-workout meal, and then I hit the gym.
Next, it’s time for my final client meeting of the day. I’m bringing her 30-50 clients per month already, so we mostly just discuss lead quality and then I’m headed back home or wherever the evening is taking me.
Each of these accounts so far sounds like a far cry from the normal 9-5. In truth, the day to day experience of many in-house consultants isn’t all that different.
Here’s an account from 3rd-year Deloitte consultant Tim Tierney, via Business Insider:
4:30 a.m. — Wake up and head to the airport.
Tierney takes a cab or a car depending on what's easier. Deloitte covers all transportation expenses while he's on the road.
6:30 a.m. — Catch the flight.
Usually the Monday morning flights are at 6:30 or 7 a.m.
9:00 a.m. — Flight lands, hop in a car to get to the client.
10:30 a.m. — Arrive at office, get coffee, and start work.
Tierney says he spends the first few hours on site making "multiple coffee runs," sifting through weekend emails, and reviewing material before meeting the client.
1:30 p.m. — Break for a half-hour lunch.
Lunch can be hit-or-miss depending on where you're working. "I was on a project in Columbus, Ga., at this bank, and Columbus is in the middle of absolutely nowhere," Tierney said. "So we're going to fried chicken places, and that's the only option."
2:00 p.m. — Begin the day's meetings.
From 2 to 4 p.m., Tierney says he'd meet with the client to get a better understanding of their job and their company. He calls these "walkthroughs" and says they give you the "nuts and bolts" of the project.
4:00 p.m. — Catch up on emails again and meet with the team manager.
Consultants spend the next few hours reviewing what they've learned, making sure they understand the client, and coming up with a game plan. When they're not doing that, Tierney says, they're busy preparing PowerPoint slides and fixing details like font size in existing presentations.
7:00 p.m. — Grab drinks and dinner.
Assuming he's not swamped with a project (and needs to eat at the office), Tierney says he and the team will usually go out for drinks and dinner on Deloitte's dime. "That's always fun, especially if you're on a good team," he says.
8:00 p.m. — Head back to the hotel.
On a normal night, Tierney gets back to the hotel around 8 and tries to find a gym. If he has a rental car, he also sometimes drives around the area looking for a movie theater or something fun to do.
Rest of the night — Do a bit more work, and then get some sleep.
In many ways, this schedule isn’t much different from that of an independent consultant. It’s certainly more demanding, and as we’ve covered previously, it comes with a very lucrative salary, but in many ways, the objectives and methods are very similar.
And you may be surprised to know we have students earning even more than management consultants while having the flexible, relaxed schedule of an independent consultant. Schedule flexibility is usually the reason consultants go solo, and we specialize in helping them do that without sacrificing income.
But maybe freelance consulting isn’t for you. What’s it like to be an in-house consultant for a large company?
Consultant Job Descriptions From Real Listings
While we focus on training independent or freelance consultants here at Consulting.com, there are hundreds of thousands of consultants employed across every conceivable industry.
When asking the question, "What does a consultant do?" we can’t ignore these in-house consultants, so we hopped onto LinkedIn’s job search section to see how companies hiring today describe what they’re looking for.
Here are a few live consulting job descriptions in 2018.
1. Business Consultant Job Description
Are you passionate about training, coaching and developing Financial Advisors?
The Business Consultant role is responsible for working with enterprise business partners to identify and prioritize changes needed in existing operations, development or technology to support the business project. With a focus on addressing business practices and the underlying systems that support those processes, you will identify options, work to gain consensus on approach, develop requirements and related business rules, and work closely with business unit and other subject matter experts to implement solutions for solving complex business challenges. Confident, persuasive, and persistent, you will negotiate and communicate with business clients, vendors, and field-based employees to ensure expectations are managed and critical objectives are addressed. This position may require field visits or occasional inter-state travel.
As a Business Consultant within Shared Business Services, you will be on the team responsible for designing, developing and rolling out a comprehensive suite of Advisor Development services.
You will work across number of field stakeholders and HO departments, business subject matter experts to understand the needs of the business and develop solutions to solve complex business challenges. You will drive organizational change management activities to promote usage and adoption of the change with a clear understanding of the broader impact to people and processes across our field.
This work requires a versatile skill set, business acumen, and excellent communication skills. You will translate needs into design requirements, negotiate and communicate with business clients, and ensure expectations are managed and critical objectives are addressed. As Northwestern Mutual continues to become more agile in its delivery methodology, this posting is for an agile Business Consultant on the Advisor Development services team. You will work with agile frameworks, and must be open to experimenting with new techniques, learning, and improving how we work.
This is a Project Funded Limited Term role expected to last 24 months.
Bring Your Best! What this role needs:
- Bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in MIS, Business or related field; or related work experience beyond the minimum required.
- Six or more years of experience/knowledge of business operations in the insurance area is required.
- Product Owner experience is highly desired. Prior experience with agile working methodologies/environment is preferred.
- Candidates with field experience and/or FINRA Series 6 and 63 registrations are encouraged to apply.
- Demonstrated confidence and willingness to challenge intuition and status quo based on own fact-based insights.
- Knowledgeable in current policies, practices, and ability to anticipate future trends affecting the business unit from a systems and process perspective.
- Proven ability to identify and cultivate relationships with key stakeholders representing a broad range of functions and levels.
- Proven ability to negotiate skillfully in difficult situations to include settling differences.
- Excellent communication skills focused on facilitation of meetings; ability to deliver informative, well-organized documentation and presentations and ability to effectively communicate in difficult and sensitive situations.
2. Marketing Consultant Job Description
The Consumer Marketing Consultant will be responsible for the development and execution of strategic and tactical integrated marketing plans for Individual and Family plan (IFP members) within the Consumer Marketing group. This individual will oversee relevant lifecycle marketing efforts and activities from lead generation and management through retention activities and sales support. Essential to the success of this position will be partnering with the IFP General Manager and the sales organization to accomplish membership growth and OI targets.
This independent contributor will support and contribute to a high-performing marketing team and be in involved with critical partner relationships (internal and external), to deliver the right current and prospective consumers with compelling and differentiated solutions while providing the tools necessary to beat the competition.
- Plays a leadership role with sales teams, customer service, product development and other internal parties to develop integrated and multi-media marketing strategies targeted to members to drive retention in accordance to the annual business plan.
- Partner with the IFP business owner to achieve agreed-upon objectives, strategies, goals and measures. Ensure analytical rigor is continuously applied to optimize the plans' implementation.
- Develops specialized project plans and steps to execute marketing strategies including establishing performance metrics, preparing creative briefs, estimating costs, time schedules, resource allocation, production schedules.
- Identifies prospect, member, and/or producer insights that result in new and creative marketing and communication strategies and tactics with unique messaging, positioning, and media to maximize new sales.
- Drives successful implementation including approving all technical and artistic phases of marketing collateral and materials; tracking budgets and project deliverables / milestones; managing vendor and internal unit activities and preparing reports and communications on project status to stakeholders.
- Understand the intimate details of marketing activities in the healthcare space and develop plans to best leverage opportunities and differentiate Blue Shield from competitors in the marketplace through insightful and evidence-driven research.
- Participate on and/or leading large cross-functional and project teams developing and implementing new marketing strategies, processes and tools.
- A BA/BS in a related field such as marketing or business and/or equivalent combination of education and experience. An MBA is desirable.
- 8+ years of relevant professional experience in Consumer Marketing or related function, demonstrating progressive career growth and pattern of exceptional performance
- A flexible, positive attitude with the ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment.
- The ability to prioritize, organize, and balance short and long-term goals with focus on the big picture.
- Ability to independently evaluate marketing plans and processes and recommend process improvements.
- In-depth knowledge of the health insurance industry including products, services and their financial drivers.
- Exceptional written, verbal, and presentation communications skills, with the ability to clearly communicate recommendations, vision, and complex subjects.
- Excellent cross-functional team, project and organizational leadership skills with attention to details.
- Knowledge of legal, brand, and regulatory compliance requirements for marketing health insurance plans a plus.
- Strong analytical and quantitative skills with ability to use advanced features of Excel, PowerPoint, Word and Visio.
- Supervisory Responsibilities: Requires leadership of large cross-functional teams and external third parties. May serve as mentor/coach to lower level marketing employees and/or direct, provide work assignments and performance feedback.
Looking for a chance to do meaningful work that touches millions? Come join the hardest working, nonprofit health plan in California and help us shape the future of health care. Blue Shield of California is focused on transforming health care by making it more accessible, affordable and customer-centric. Being a mission-driven organization means we do much more than serve our 3.5 million members: we were the first health plan in the nation to limit our annual net income to 2 percent of revenue and return the difference to our customers and the community, and since 2005 we have contributed more than million to the Blue Shield of California Foundation to improve community health and end domestic violence. We also believe that a healthier California begins with our employees, so we provide them with resources to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle through our award-winning wellness program, Wellvolution. We're hiring smart thinkers and doers who want to work for a leader and innovator in the challenging, ever-changing healthcare space. Come and help us make health care better for everyone.
3. Analytics Consultant Job Description
Quantitative Marketing Analytic Insight Roles: Analyst, Consultant and Manager Positions
Locations: Pursuing candidates already based in these areas: New York, NY, Chicago and Norwalk, CT
MMA is searching for professionals with strong quantitative and analytic skills who can apply those skills to generate predictive models and forward looking insights for our clients in order to help them answer key questions, including how to drive more efficient and effective marketing, how to optimize pricing and promotion decisions, improve overall brand and marketing ROI, achieve both short and long term brand and equity objectives, optimize channel effectiveness and better forecast their business. Candidates need to be willing to work in fast-paced, dynamic team environment.
MMA has been a leader in driving innovative analytic solutions for 26 years. In the past four years MMA has grown over 300%. Candidates need to be able to work and thrive in an evolving, growth-oriented business focused on winning and adding measurable, material value to our clients business. Ideal candidates will have a combination of strong skills and experiences in data management and quantitative analytics, with an emphasis on marketing mix modelling, pricing and promotion analytics, forecasting and financial analysis. Successful candidates should possess exemplary focus on quality management, attention to detail, strong work ethic and a commitment to project and data excellence.
Key Prerequisite Skills
MMA is looking for three (3) levels of Analytic Consultant roles. Educational requirements are: BA, MA, MS in statistics, economics, operations research, quantitative marketing, engineering or related fields; or MBA with a strong quantitative emphasis.
- Analyst: Recent graduate school graduates and candidates with 0 - 2 years of experience in quantitative analytics.
- Consultant: Candidates with 2 – 5 years of experience in quantitative analytics. Direct experience working with client-based analytic and insights projects and teams.
- Manager: Candidates with 5 - 10 years of experience in quantitative analytics working on complex projects in a team environment.
Qualified candidates should have the following skills:
- Excellent communication skills with a demonstrated ability to translate data into a business story.
- Strong analytic skills with ability to interpret analytic results and convert them into insightful client value.
- Creative problem solver who enjoys thinking "outside the box" to solve complex problems.
- Ability to analyze complex analytic data sets and results and understand/diagnose potential quality issues and anomalies.
- An interest in becoming proficient with a variety of analytic methodologies and approaches necessary to solve client analytic challenges.
- Team players who embrace the concept of "we" versus "me."
- Excellent work ethic and desire to ‘do what it takes’ to learn, grow and provide value to our clients
- Highly focused on quality and "doing it right the first time."
MMA is an established analytic leader and is growing rapidly. Opportunities for advancement of skilled, committed professionals include:
- Analytics and Project Management
- Product Development and Innovation
- Global Client Management
- Strategic Consulting
- Marketing & Business Development
How Do I Get Into Consulting?
Now that you have a feel for what consultants do, the next question becomes a matter of access. How do you get into this lucrative consulting world?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!
Our proven, 10-step method has allowed over 3,000 Consulting.com students to quit their jobs and become completely self-employed. Out of that group, over 400 are earning six figures and 24 have crossed over into seven figures.
If you have any interest in ditching the 9-5 grind and creating a career on your own terms, this is the guide for you! Click below to signup for our 100% free webinar training.