Strategic Consulting: The 5 W’s to Making It Happen

shutterstock_167850515Strategic consulting involves an assessment and analysis of information generally in the field of politics and economics in order to provide a better understanding of the risks and opportunities confronting businesses, governments and other groups.  Running a successful business requires a large amount of hard work but equally, if not more importantly, requires smart work.  Intelligent and informed business decisions can make or break a business. That’s where the strategic consultant comes in.

An effective consultant provides winning proposals which ultimately leads to increased business. An understanding of the political and economic environment of a particular business is essential to providing the best service as a strategic consultant.

A large amount of strategic consultancy is focused on those developing countries and emerging markets in which political and business risks may be greater, harder to manage, or harder to assess. It is sometimes carried out alongside other activities such as corporate investigation, employee screening or vetting, and the provision of security systems, training or procedures. Clients of strategic consulting firms include companies, governments and government agencies, charities and non-government organizations, academic institutions and individuals.

Strategy Explained

Strategy in business consists of making the right choices to make your business thrive. Strategic consulting is the hiring of outside help to make these important choices or, at the very least, provide recommendations. A typical example is when a CEO is confronted by a product losing its share in the market.  To avoid financial disaster, changes have to be made.  From marketing to increase advertising, to reducing prices while maintaining your debt level, to finding the right people to bring into your business to support your development, and on and on.

Business strategy consulting is done at a very high level in the organization, typically the Board and the CEO. These are the ones making the choices. Below, the organization focuses on implementing the decisions (sometimes assisted by other consultants). Business strategy consulting is about facts and common sense much more than vision or dreams. Business strategy consulting is tailor-made thinking. What works for one company will not necessarily work for the other, even in the same industry. Strategists use tools, but tools don’t make the strategist. Only the quality of the people matters in this business. Strategic consulting trains you to deal with multiple facts and uncertainty, and to structure your thoughts, usually under time pressure because you need to sound convincing.

In short, strategy consulting is often a fast track development course to get to high level positions yourself  or to create your own business. Once you are in the field as a strategic consultant, you need to learn the way of the game which ultimately develops your repertoire of effective and ineffective business strategies.  Having that type of critical knowledge in the area of business is valuable at the start of your business career. 

A Career as a Strategic Consultant

Fresh out of business school, many graduates eagerly seek a job in strategic consulting. Strategic consulting firms, in turn, are eager to hire graduates. The opportunities offered by such firms are excellent ones but that means those firms look to only hire the best in their class.  Those who have exceptional academic records and work experience are what these firms are looking for. A candidate must have excellent business analytics which is often tested by conducting real life case simulations as interviews.  Additionally, communication and interpersonal skills are key because the job involves a lot of teamwork and networking with clients and potential client.

Typically, a junior analyst will spend his day collecting facts on which to build solid recommendations. One day he will build a financial model. Then he will conduct literature searches on specialized databases to analyse industry trends. He might interview the client’s staff members or customers. He might even conduct discussions with his client’s competitors. The list is endless. As you develop your skills, your assignments will become more and more complex, but you will interact with more senior client representatives.

Show Me the Money!

What does a salary for a strategic consultant look like, you ask? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, strategic consultants made a median salary of about $78,000 annually.  Where you received your education and where you are working make large differences in one’s earning capacity. From the lowest salary range to the highest, a strategic consultant can make anywhere from $44,000 to over $140,000.

A strategic consultant is trained to deal with challenges and oftentimes crisis management.  While the pay can be good, the hours can be on the long side.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in its 2010 survey, a large percentage of consultants work more than 40 hours a week, approximately 55-60 hours.

Performing the work of a consultant allows you to bring experience and multi-industry knowledge to your client.  Such an area of expertise is increasingly in demand as businesses continue to grow and evaluate their models in hopes of creating solutions to common problems and thus increasing profit. The area of public sector inefficiency continually and also increasingly requires the use of strategic consultants to provide better management decisions and lessen wasteful spending.

A Look at Some of the Top Strategic Consulting Firms Around

Once you’ve narrowed down what type of business work you want to get into, finding the right firm that fits your needs inside and outside your pockets may make you run for the hills.  But it doesn’t have to be this way! Our friends at vault.com have surveyed strategic consultants at a large number of strategic consulting firms and compiled their research to create a list of the top 5 strategic consulting firms for 2014:

5. Deloitte Consulting: Deloitte has been making steady ground in the rankings in recent years–the result of not only a hiring binge, but also a level of expertise at keeping those thousands of employees happy. Among Deloitte’s key selling points as an employer: the global strength of its brand and accompanying career opportunities.

4. Booz & Co.: According to Vault, this may be the last time it appears on the rankings, following Booz & Co’s recent decision to merge its operations with PwC. With decisions about the combined entity’s branding yet to be announced, it’s entirely possible that there will be something of a shakeup at the top of Vault’s next set of ranking.

3. Bain & Co.The second-placed firm in Vault’s annual Consulting 50 for 2014, Bain & Co. is a firm that is held in high regard both from within and without. With high-profile clients and compensation that ranks among the best in the industry, the firm is one of a handful that attracts elite candidates year after year.

2. Boston Consulting GroupWIth 5,000 consultants spread over 43 countries, BCG is anything but a local firm. One of the “Big Three” in the consulting world, the firm built its reputation on ideas like the Growth Share Matrix. It’s that reputation that ensures the firm is always near the top of Vault’s annual strategy consulting rankings.

1. McKinseyAs the industry’s top dog, it’s more of a story when McKinsey doesn’t end up on top of a ranking. There were no such worries for the firm in 2014, however, as consultants across the industry once again named McKinsey the top strategy firm around. 

Strategic consulting provides the backbone for many businesses and can ultimately save them from imploding.  Choosing a career as a strategic consultant comes with many benefits as well as many downsides but beginning your business career by consulting will put you in the right place.