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7 Trends in Boutique Consulting Project Work

Talent Response has a unique level of visibility across many of the leading boutique consulting firms with over 30 active clients representing scores of open project-based and full-time consulting positions. We thought we’d give back to those firms as well as the consultants in our network to share seven trends we see in boutique consulting project work.

1. Level: Many boutiques differentiate against the big shops because they aren't rolling up to the client site with a bus full of junior resources. Boutiques are increasingly adopting more of a diamond-shaped model, with experienced Engagement Managers and Principals giving Partners the leverage they require to hit growth targets.

2. Project focus: While we don’t have full visibility across all boutique consulting firms, our sample size is reasonably significant. We see several trends. First, we imagine rows of consultants lining biotech and pharmaceutical companies around the country. Project work is also booming to redefine a client’s value proposition and tell that story in the buyer’s language; we see this in areas from sales effectiveness to voice of the brand initiatives. Innovation and design thinking has increasingly become en vogue, so much so that many boutique design shops have been bought up by the big firms.

3. Revenue vs. Cost: After the financial crisis, the world was all about trimming the fat. That effort kept margins relatively solid even in a tough macroeconomic environment. As we continue to emerge from those lows, the projects we see are more focused on driving revenue and mitigating risk than reducing cost. Trimming the fat can only go so far in increasing total profitability, and we are seeing most project work geared towards getting that go-to-market engine going.

4. Strategy vs. implementation: Many boutique consulting Partners left big firms so that they could work on their passion: strategy projects. While those strategy projects remain critically important to those consulting firms, Partners increasingly recognize the economic value of the implementation follow-on work. While the 3-month strategy project with 3 team-members may get you out of bed in the morning, the 9-month implementation project with 6 team-members pays the mortgage - and enough of them, pays for the yacht.

5. Adjacent market plays: When Partners begin to see constraints to growth in their traditional project areas, they often look to adjacent practices areas that could benefit from their core skillset. To deliver on those adjacent projects, firms are increasingly relying upon domain experts that lend credibility to the project and upskill the team to more effectively tackle the next project internally.

6. Rates: Most firms continue to bill on an hourly or daily basis for each individual on the team, and likely will continue to do so. Some with full-time project teams are using a rate card for the entire team rather than billing out by the individual. None of this is new. Some of the most forward-thinking firms, however, are throwing the billable hour away and are instead pricing on a monthly basis or even based on value delivered. While it can be tougher to calculate margins when selling a project, it can be a way to better align the incentives of the consulting firm and its clients.

7. Seasonality: All firms face seasonality, but not all in the same ways at the same times. We see due diligence projects peaking in Q3; long-term strategy projects tend to kick-off in Q1 when budgets and goals are reset; and shorter-term projects tend to tick off in Q3/Q4 when strategic goals are at risk.

We’d love to hear from consulting firms and consultants alike on whether this is consistent with the world in which you live. For boutique consulting firms interested in understanding our approach, please reach out to learn more. For consultants interested in access to all of our project-based and full-time opportunities with boutique consulting firms, please apply here.

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