With clients of the consulting industry currently looking to obtain better value for money regarding their advisory contracts, independent consulting could offer a vital alternative to tapping expertise from major firms. Consulthon co-founder Marieta Bencheva spoke to Consultancy.uk about the role freelancers can play helping companies amid the coronavirus lock-down.
Consulting is renowned as one of the most travelled facets of modern business – with some professionals in the trade spending as much as 80% of their working lives away from home. Experts from top firms often jet across the globe to assist clients with a variety of advisory matters, leading to consultants losing a significant amount of work amid the current Covid-19 lock-down. One way consultants are continuing to pick up contracts is via digital marketplaces.
Consulthon, an online marketplace for management consultants, is well-placed to help clients and consultants in these challenging times. The firm was founded in 2018 by Marieta Bencheva and Mirel Baila – who have over 20 years combined experience in operational, agile and lean consulting.
The collection of 300 hand-picked independent business consultants were already helping clients across the world tackle key challenges – from regulatory shifts to technological implementation – in an agile way before Covid-19 hit. According to Bencheva, those services continue to be in demand amid the current lock-down, and the Consulthon network remains active during the crisis.
Speaking to Consultancy.uk, Bencheva said, “The coronavirus outbreak positively affected the platform engagement. Because of Covid-19 and all the restrictions we are all facing, there are more people joining our platform lately because our model is based on remote working. Consultants are now working from home and have more time to spend on our platform and companies are more inclined to use a service like ours because the engagement with the consultants is done entirely remotely.”
Beyond the sudden heightened emphasis on remote work, the current pandemic has also triggered a number of sudden regulatory changes, particularly in the UK. Most notably, IR35’s reforms being postponed in the private sector until 2021 meant that many freelance consultants – who had effectively been frozen out by clients taking a “blanket” approach to the changes – were able to start looking for supplementary income again.
While she stated Consulthon is “an excellent choice for them”, however, Bencheva added, “Consulthon has always been a great choice for freelance consultants from an IR35 perspective because, by taking advisory calls on top of your day rate contract, you demonstrate that you are not working exclusively for one client only over a prolonged period of time.”
“In our model, consultants can take as many advisory calls as they want while living wherever they want and clients can afford to get input from a top management consultant without needing to have a huge budget,” Bencheva explained. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Like a number of professional services matchmaking platforms, Consulthon was launched as a bid to harness the power of the UK’s burgeoning gig economy, in order to disrupt the established order of the market. The network helped provide a space for independent consultants to gain maximum flexibility when picking their work, while offering businesses higher value for money than they would typically get by contracting an established firm. This makes it ideally positioned for SME clients to find the right consultant for them.
“Consulthon has always been a great choice for freelance consultants from an IR35 perspective because as demonstrate bidding and working for more clients at a time.”
– Marieta Bencheva
Bencheva elaborated, “It is a well-known fact that the SMEs are the backbone of the economy and we want to help them get access to something that they usually would find prohibitive… As business owners we know there are always risks that have to be faced. One in five small businesses fail in their first year. Thirty per cent of small business fail in their second year, 50% fail after five years, and 70% fail in their tenth year in business. By booking a one-hour consultancy session SMEs can immediately deep dive into the problem… [and] get access to the same expertise as the FTSE 100.”
One of the chief differentiators for Consulthon is that, according to Bencheva, not only is it “the only online marketplace that focuses on management consultants,” it also recommends consultants “based on the solutions they provide, rather than solely relying on what’s written on their CV.” This level of quality control is essential, as the platform’s co-founder stressed that “some people tend to exaggerate the truth in their CVs,” and if they land a role to implement a complex solution, they usually “fail or struggle with it.”
She added, “We are a solutions-driven marketplace, rather than a CV-based one…Whenever a business faces a challenge, they can post it on our platform and receive different “pitches” for the solution. They can then pick the consultant with the best pitch and arrange advisory calls to explore that pitch. Alternatively, the business can choose to ask us directly for consultants that we think can provide a solution and we will directly select someone based on the reputation on the site and their previous answers.”
At a time when many matchmakers are turning to artificial intelligence, Consulthon notably sticks to a manual process. Bencheva is not concerned by the more analogue approach, however, and believes that this allows for a better fit for clients and consultants.
In the long run, while she said there are plans to “streamline our selection process by analysing the types of answer each consultant gives,” leveraging a machine learning algorithm to analyse the firm’s database of answers to business challenges, for now, another level of input is required. In the meantime, Consulthon has a number of major ambitions beyond “streamlining” its selection process.
Bencheva asserted, “First and foremost, we want to become the go-to place for SMEs that want to solve their operational problems and business challenges. Eliminating inefficiencies and solving business problems is crucial for SMEs and Scale-ups and many of these companies could benefit from the help of an experienced consultant – but simply can’t afford it. We want to change that.”
In the long run, Consulthon also hopes to work with larger companies. According to Bencheva, there is “an untapped market of middle managers in large corporations” which face business challenges and do not have the budget to hire a consulting company to help them find a solution. In times when many major companies are scaling back or freezing their consulting spending all-together, this could become a reality sooner than expected – as such managers could “organise a few advisory calls with some of our consultants and get the same outcome as a longer engagement with a management consultant.”
Ultimately, though, Bencheva’s ambition centres on her network’s members. She concluded, “We want to be a large revenue generator for independent consultants. There are many management consultants who are either bored with their current projects and lack challenges or they do not fully utilise their knowledge and experience or they want to have their independent consulting practices. Our platform will enable them to choose the projects they want to work on whilst providing full flexibility regarding the place they want to work from.”