Common Traits of Successful Consultancies

Author: Eugenija Steponkute
Published: 18/04/2022
consultancy success

Whether you’re a consultant or the owner of a consultancy, we want you to read this article. We understand how competitive your industry is and so we took a deep dive into why some consultancies thrive while others perish. This is a detailed piece outlining common traits that are prevalent in successful consultancies. 




At the time of us publishing this, there are over 10,000 consultancies in the UK. In case you are reading this in the future, we guarantee the number is much greater. Simply put, at the moment the consultancy market is expanding exponentially and it’s still in its primary growth stages. With that said, it is very clear that a saturated industry like this is becoming very cutthroat. Researching the recent data on consultancies, carried out by Responsiva, has revealed that any business consultancy, despite their ever-growing number, has a prospect pool of just 50 leads. So, why do some of them end up winning multiple big clients and others struggle to stay afloat?

In this article, we will be talking about what are the winning consultancies doing right and what are practices they utilise that you should adopt. Surprisingly, their secret only consists of two key elements: technology and people. We will dig into both and explain what is the connection between them and how it’s an engine that drives success. 

Consultancy vs Agency

It hasn’t been more than a decade since we’ve been through the skyrocketing rise of agencies. Therefore there is little wonder many are struggling to tell them apart from today’s quickest growing business phenomenon - consultancies. While the two are indeed similar, there are some key differences.

Probably the most distinguishing factor of the two is that agencies are normally hired to focus on a specific aspect of the business that is their niche. They are highly specialised in just one area, for example, recruitment, SEO, content creation, etc. 
A consultancy, on the other hand, while also the expert in their industry, is focusing on the bigger picture. Instead of focusing on stand-alone projects or business elements, they overview and advise on long-term business as a whole development and growth. To put it simply, a consultancy is hired to create the overall strategy and an agency - to execute it.

Now that we have distinguished the main difference, let’s address the question you came seeking an answer to - what makes a consultancy successful? 

Innovation to be Welcomed, Not Feared

While the concept of consultancy is far from new, its rise in recent years has been strongly influenced by rapid technological advancement. We collect more data than we ever have, which grants insights required to assess and evaluate the overall performance; as well as to base the future next steps on. This is the primary reason why consultancies suddenly became as prevalent and powerful. However, they must not stop here and continue innovating for this is their key to the future. 

Updating or Replacing Outdated Processes

One thing we often see preventing consultancies from progressing is being married to their legacy model. This normally means refusal to change how they do certain things, even if the process is no longer as effective as it had once been. Most often the refusal to let go is built around clinging onto something that has delivered success before in hopes it happens again. It is also reaffirmed by the fear that a different approach won’t bring better results and instead jeopardise the current progress. However, as the world is undergoing digital transformation the consultancies are catching up, and it’s important to remember what it entails. A disruptive, ground-breaking change of the core processes.

Very often outdated processes stagnate any sort of growth for they are high maintenance. For example - reporting. If you are doing it manually, chances are you will be spending hours if not days on end first fetching, then putting together and finally analysing the data. You may have a well-established process you’ve been following for years - but is it an effective use of your time? The answer is no. Especially not when there’s a huge market for solutions that can take over reporting for you, collecting and contextualising the data within minutes and therefore only requiring your to analyse it. It might not have been available when you have first come up with your manual reporting process - but it is now. It is a quicker, more accurate and overall better way of addressing a repetitive task that can also be put into other workflows. Therefore you should fully replace it with an automated solution and put the time you win back towards tasks that require your direct judgement. 

Smarter Project Management

Similarly to agencies, it’s rare for consultancies to work with just one client at a time. Granted, the number of accounts will be lower in a consultancy due to a more holistic nature of work and therefore the need to deep-dive into more elements. However, these clients are likely to be long-term and in constant communication with you. As the consultancy basically leads further development of their client businesses, they need to have a very organised approach. This makes project management and its capacity more vital than before.

Simple Kanban boards and time tracking spreadsheets that smaller agencies could get away with won’t work even with a consultancy that has just one client. In fact, returning to the previous section, project management is one of the processes that are in dire need of innovation and consultancies, in order to be successful, really need to embrace it. There is more than simply allocating budgets and tasks or forecasting potential threats. While a consultant is not a project manager, they need to have visibility and control over processes such as cost management, expenses approval, and many others. We have previously written this piece addressing project managers with an encouragement to innovate - and we believe consultants could find it just as useful. 

Automation Across the Business

The award-winning consultancies don’t just embrace the technology to reap more data, but also improve the overall efficiency as well as the quality of their services. A damaging trend we have observed is that while the consultants will often encourage their clients to onboard digital solutions, their own business is not following the said advice. This again goes back to the hesitation in changing core processes, such as let’s say, invoicing. But what would the clients think had they found out their trusted advisor themselves is not keen on following the advice they dish out?

Automating your own business processes would make it easier to guide and add quality to your clients and their experience. Not to mention, this could potentially help your consultancy scale as well as you would be free from many manual labour tasks. There isn’t one part of the business that couldn’t be automated - from marketing to legal, digital transformation is available across all aspects of operations. Additionally, it becomes easier to advocate for things efficiency which you have experienced and you will always have credible samples to provide. As you automate and innovate yourself, you also become more knowledgeable and sophisticated around the topic - leading to an ability to serve your clients better. 

People Are Your Key to Success

The era of prioritising income generation is over. Nowadays, when both the customer and the employee have multiple options to choose from, you can no longer expect to succeed through formerly effective tricks. Aggressive advertising, long lists of perks or competitive rates don’t work in today’s environment. Not unless they are backed by a mindset in which you prioritise serving people over profiting from them. 

Client and Staff Onboarding

Onboarding is more than bureaucracy. This is your chance to make the first impression, lay out the expectations and set the tone for future communications. An onboarding that includes nothing but document signing is soulless and is an overall shaky foundation for both, team and client communication. This is a critical moment many overlook and don’t consider to be a factor of stunted business growth - but we promise that it plays a huge role in your business success. When you invest in efficient and thorough onboarding, you set people up for success. When it comes to staff, it’s a great measure to bring them up to speed quickly as well as educate them on both internal and external communications, therefore aligning them to the rest of the team.

Client onboarding is similar yet different. During this period not only do you communicate how you will proceed and discuss important matters such as requirements for both sides, but also introduce yourself and your team to the client. The consultancy works heavily relies on trust - if your client doesn’t trust you, they are not likely to follow your strategy no matter how masterly crafted it is. Onboarding is where you need to start forging that trust, mostly through positioning yourself as an advisor with a genuine human interest in helping your clients succeed. Support it with a detailed plan of action, emphasising that you will be there to aid at every step. Similarly to how you would educate a new starter on tools your company use, introduce the client to your main communication channels and other platforms that will be relevant throughout your time together. 

Outsourced Workforce Unlocks an Unlimited Talent Pool

The rise of remote work may not have been planned but it has shed light on many opportunities businesses were missing out on. It includes consultancies. Due to the prolonged time of it being mandatory, most companies have adjusted their workflows and communication to operate outside the office. What it means is that companies that would previously avoid outsourcing due to a lack of knowledge of how to manage external and remote staff members are now fully equipped to embrace it. Simply put, this has lifted a location-imposed limitation when it comes to dipping into a talent pool. Depending on the area where your company operates, there might be a very limited number of specialists your consultancy needs; and given you likely have plenty of competitors - they are all in very high demand.

Consultancies that grow fast are known to be flexible when it comes to employees. Most were operating on the hybrid model long before the pandemic has begun. Whether it would mean working with long-term contractors or having full-time staff choose their preferred work environment, flexibility is undoubtedly a key to success. Not only does it allows you to cherry-pick the best specialists from across the globe, but it’s also known to do wonders for individual performance. 53% of surveyed workers revealed that flexibility improves their productivity massively as they get to choose to work during their peak times. 

Successful Clients are a Business Asset

You have most likely heard that word of mouth is the best advertisement a company might have. No matter the market or the industry, it remains true. Today we rely on the feedback of others more than ever and the Internet accommodates that. Think about the last time you went out to eat - you’ve most likely checked the restaurant’s reviews prior to making a booking. Consultancies are the same. And this is why you must aim to deliver the best results AND experience to your clients, so they can become your advocates. The consumer of today has the power as they can swiftly switch to another option upon a minor inconvenience. This means that while you may be delivering great results to your client but aren’t putting enough effort into communication, they are more than likely to leave you. Additionally, it’s part of human nature to remember bad things better than good ones. Therefore while you might have accelerated their business, their feedback won’t be what you’d expect simply due to their negative experience.

We’ve seen it many times when consultancies would go out of their way to win the client - which, given the competitive environment, is very understandable. However, once the contract is signed, the level of their effort would dwindle, leading to frustration and the client feeling betrayed and led on. The secret to success is to maintain the mindset you’ve had when trying to bring them on board even after they begin paying. This will create a consistent experience from the first touchpoint to the very end. If done correctly, even upon leaving you the client is likely to recommend you to their business partners or acquaintances, sending new leads your way. In other words, it is a long game but the prize is worth it. As long as you prioritise the client’s success over their money, you will always win. 

Beat the Competition with Authenticity 

The popularity of consultancies means new businesses keep popping out, saturating the market with only more competition. By the time you finish this article, there will be around 10 new consultancies in your very niche, ready to snatch your leads and clients. The best way of establishing yourself and being known…Is being authentic. The world is suffering from corporate fatigue and ever-growing competition makes the uniformed approach very old, very fast. Businesses are all manned by people, and every person wants to be recognised as an individual.

This is why to be successful, you need to communicate your business values and vision consistently in all you do, even if they differ from the ‘industry norms’. They and the way you relay them to the world and internally are what makes your business what it is. When you are driven by your company’s unique identity, you will find yourself naturally personalising the experience people have with your consultancy at different stages of their journey. And people don’t always remember the interactions they’ve had - but they always remember how they made them feel. Being authentic therefore means delivering the experience no one else can replicate, therefore being remembered.

Key Takeaway 

There are so many consultancies it is truly difficult to stand out - and the ‘best practices’ most of them follow certainly won’t help that. While you shouldn’t completely dismiss industry standards, the key to being successful is adding a layer of your own input to them. After the rise and fall of agencies, your end client is well educated on their needs and expectations when it comes to services; and they are also aware they can easily replace you. This is why you need to prove to them you are one of a kind and that you genuinely value them as a client.

This can be done by simply genuinely prioritising their success over their money. Innovating from within is what will allow you to stay on top of things and have first-hand experience of what works and what doesn’t, therefore allowing you to give the guidance you are hundred per cent certain of. Best consultancies don’t send their clients in a direction of success, but rather make the path and then lead them through it.

What makes consultancy successful is the people - both within the consultancy and outside. Digital tools of today allow you to get to know and approach them better, creating personalised experiences and meaningful relationships.

We want you to be successful. Let’s talk.

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