6 Consulting Trends That Should Be On Your Radar in 2024

blog article Jan 30, 2023

Estimated time to read: 9 minutes

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Table of contents

 

Introduction

With the current economic volatility, it’s common for independent consultants to feel nervous about their ability to hit their revenue goals and generate income. This volatility leads many consultants to question whether returning to full-time employment would give them more stability.

In this article, I’m sharing 6 consulting trends that should be on your radar in 2024 as a consulting business owner so you can turn 2024 into an advantage for your independent consulting company.

You can use this economic volatility and other trends to your advantage if you’re thinking about them like a business owner and building out strategies that turn these challenges into competitive advantages.

 

Independent consulting trend #1: The future of work is a hot topic that’s opening doors for independent consultants

The Future of Work is a hot topic. Organizations like Open Assembly, Harvard, The Center for the Transformation of Work, and Gartner are creating dialogue, awareness, and acceptance of “non-traditional” ways of bringing new skills and capabilities into organizations without hiring full-time employees.

Gartner reports in its 9 Future of Work Trends article that organizations are facing historic challenges. One of the ways Gartner recommends organizations overcome these challenges is to “quiet hire” by leveraging alternate approaches such as independent consultants to add new capabilities. (Gartner)

In the same article, Gartner also recommends that companies pursue nontraditional candidates to expand their talent pipelines. These nontraditional candidates can include independent consultants who can provide much-needed expertise and experience.

 

How to apply consulting trend #1 in your independent consulting business

The corporate barriers for companies to engage independent consultants are falling. Companies are more widely recognizing the use of external consultants as one of the key tools available to them as they build out their corporate goals, strategies, and operational plans.

To take advantage of this consulting trend, consider:

What consulting trend #1 means for your independent consulting business:

  1. Initiating conversations with companies that have been historically hesitant to hire you as an independent consultant.
  2. Refreshing your value proposition.
  3. Augmenting your lead generation process to target full-time job postings that have gone unfilled. Propose your consulting services as an alternative to hiring a full-time resource. Listen to episode 035 of the Grow Your Independent Consulting Business podcast for strategies on how to turn unfilled full-time roles into consulting opportunities.

What consulting trend #1 means for your consulting clients:

  1. To remain competitive, your consulting clients will need to revisit and evolve their human capital strategies to embrace the Future of Work.
  2. Ask yourself - in what ways can I offer clients innovative consulting solutions that will help them benefit from the Future of Work-related strategies?

 

Independent consulting trend #2: The number of independents continues to grow

According to MBO Partners in its 2022 State of Independence Report, “From 2020-2022, the total number of independents grew 69%, and the number of Full-Time Independents grew an equally impressive 59%, from 13.6 million in 2020 to 21.6 million in 2022.” (MBO)

MBO goes on to predict that “by 2025, more than half of all Americans will be independent or will have worked independently at some point in their careers – a massive tipping point in the conversation about the future of work.

MBO states that “The number of Full-Time Independents is increasing because the macroeconomic climate, the infrastructure, and the attitudes surrounding independent work are becoming more supportive.”

 

How to apply consulting trend #2 in your independent consulting business

What consulting trend #2 means for your independent consulting business:

As the number of independent consultants grows and the willingness of companies to bring on external resources increases, the nature of your competition is changing. In the past, you may have enjoyed little to no competition for your services beyond competing with internal employees doing the work themselves.

To take advantage of this consulting trend for your independent consulting business, consider:

  1. Focusing on your own differentiators and setting yourself apart as a thought leader and expert in 1-2 key niches.
  2. Doubling down on becoming known for and sought after for what you specifically do.
  3. Re-evaluating your service offerings to make them even more compelling AND to make sure you’re not missing any of the key offers that successful consulting businesses typically have in place, click here to take the Independent Consultant’s Service Offering Assessment.

What consulting trend #2 means for your consulting clients:

Think beyond traditional FTE headcount as you’re helping clients design solutions. Consider and recommend all different options for solving the problems that clients want to solve.

 

Independent consulting trend #3: The volatile economy creates opportunities for consultants

Several large U.S. companies laid off staff throughout 2023, continuing the hiring freezes and downsizing that led the U.S. labor market to cool (WSJ).

The Economist is reporting that a recession in 2024 looks likely (Economist).

Other experts have said we’re in the middle of a polycrisis (ft.com).

So, what does this economic volatility mean for independent consultants?

  1. Hiring freezes and layoffs commonly lead to increased opportunities for independent consultants as companies look to strategically fill in gaps without adding headcount.
  2. Consulting clients need consulting expertise now more than ever as they navigate the challenges of cost-cutting, labor challenges, competition, and ever-increasing customer demands.

 

How to apply consulting trend #3 in your independent consulting business

What consulting trend #3 means for your independent consulting business:

To navigate this economic downturn, recession, and polycrisis, you can

  1. Finetune your existing services so they apply to the current economic conditions, to maximize the impact for your consulting clients and uplevel your consulting value proposition
  2. Identify new services and solutions you can provide to your consulting clients based on their specific needs and obstacles during this volatility
  3. Uncover opportunities to fill in gaps left by hiring freezes and layoffs
  4. Take the Recession-Readiness Assessment for Independent Consultants to help you pinpoint the specific areas of your consulting business (both for client delivery and for your own business) to adjust so you can convert the economic volatility into a business advantage

What consulting trend #3 means for your consulting clients:

Consulting clients will be looking for creative and innovative ways to solve their business problems, to stand out among their competitors, and to hit their business goals with less headcount. Help them solve these challenges by proposing unique solutions, especially those they might not have been willing to consider just a few months ago.

 

Independent consulting trend #4: New consulting specializations are in demand, including AI technology and AI strategy

Consulting clients are navigating the requirement to evolve into areas such as AI, ML, DEI, sustainability, and hybrid working models.

As a result, companies are looking for expertise in these areas.

Consultants who specialize in these areas are in increasingly high demand.

 

How to apply consulting trend #4 in your independent consulting business

What consulting trend #4 means for your independent consulting business:

New specializations create immense opportunities for you as an independent consultant. Think about how you can augment and expand your current consulting service offerings to incorporate these areas that are in high demand.

Specifically, to evolve your independent consulting service offerings into these high-demand specializations, answer the following questions for your consulting business:

  1. What should my ideal consulting clients be focused on right now that they’re overlooking when it comes to current trends?
  2. How can my ideal consulting clients innovate in these areas?
  3. How would my clients benefit from addressing and embracing these trends?
  4. What specific solutions can I offer my consulting clients that will help them take the next step in one or more of these areas?
  5. What’s holding me back from incorporating these trends into my consulting solutions and service offerings?

What consulting trend #4 means for your consulting clients:

Your consulting clients are in one of three categories:

  1. Looking for solutions to help them incorporate current trends into their businesses. For example, your ideal clients may be looking for experts who can help them build out a DEI strategy. If you have DEI expertise, make yourself visible through speaking and writing on the DEI topics they want to solve. Or, if you don’t have DEI expertise, consider finding a collaboration partner who you could refer to and/or offer combined solutions.
  2. Aware but not sure where to start. Figure out how to make it easy for your targeted clients to build out their strategy to stay ahead of these trends.
  3. Avoiding these important trends. Consider providing ongoing education and resources to “lagging” potential clients to set yourself up as the “go-to” consultant when they’re ready to begin tackling these areas. Figure out creative ways to increase the urgency for them as well, so they don’t fall behind.

 

Independent consulting trend #5: Companies are reconsidering remote and hybrid work

Gone are the days when consultants are required to hop on a plane Monday morning (or Sunday night) and return on Friday. Clients of independent consultants are increasingly comfortable with their consultants remotely delivering high-quality, impactful services.

On top of it, consulting clients are now hesitant to pay for recurring travel expenses, as they don’t see the value they once did.

At the same time, companies are starting to require remote employees to return to the office, either full-time or in a hybrid work arrangement. Consultants are starting to see an expectation that they come onsite periodically as well.

 

How to apply consulting trend #5 in your independent consulting business

What consulting trend #5 means for your independent consulting business:

Many consultants have changed over to 100% remote work. You can run a successful business working remotely.

At the same time, you have the opportunity to stand out as a consultant if you're proposing work that includes you traveling periodically, to meet with your stakeholders in person. This gives you an opportunity to deepen your client relationships and demonstrate your alignment with the company's culture.

To get started, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is my own policy about work travel?
  2. How will I respond to questions about the location of the work I'm proposing?
  3. In what situations should I be recommending in-person work to my consulting clients? Why?

What consulting trend #5 means for your consulting clients:

Your targeted clients are facing challenges with their hybrid working models. They’re looking for practical solutions and best practices to help them build cohesive cultures, drive employee engagement, and ensure they’re delivering against their business goals.

You don’t need to be an HR consultant to incorporate best practice consulting for hybrid employee management into what you do as a consultant.

 

Thinking beyond the trends

The current volatility provides immense opportunities for independent consultants. We’re in a segment of the workforce that’s growing. Companies are starting to embrace the use of external talent and consultancies in new and innovative ways.

The key is to think about 2024 as a business owner instead of as an employee.

When you’re thinking about volatility and change from an employee perspective, it’s impossible not to go into a protectionist mode because that’s what we’re taught to do as employees.

When you were an employee, it would have been common to hear:

  • Stay under the radar
  • Don’t take a risk
  • Limit your visibility when the company is in the middle of layoffs
  • Be grateful for what you have
  • It’s not a good time to look for a new job

These employee mindsets are not beneficial for you as a consulting business owner.

The opposite of employee-thinking is usually true for you as a consulting business owner. Applying an employee mindset is risky in economic environments like those we’re facing in 2024.

Look at 2024 from your consulting business owner’s mindset instead. Start by thinking about these 6 consulting trends and how you can turn them into an advantage for your consulting business.

Big opportunities await you in 2024 if you set your business up to leverage them.

To take this deeper and uncover the areas where your employee mindset could be clouding your consulting business strategy, click here to take the Independent Consultant’s Recession Readiness Assessment.

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