Rachel Content Marketer at CleverX with a massive thing for people, conversations, and marketplaces.

Micro consulting: The Future of Consulting 

10 min read

The post-pandemic world has entered an era of powerful disruptions. COVID-19 has accelerated phenomenal changes in key areas, consolidating years of predicted behaviors and technological developments in a few months and forcing organizations to adapt overnight or go extinct. The case is no different for management consulting. Management consulting firms today, are experiencing a similar unforeseen coming-of-age and cite unpredictability, remote and hybrid workforce models as primary challenges. 

Sharp climbs in the demand for consultants as customers buy in unanticipated ways have led to more viable employment models. Agility and adaptability find focus in this landscape. Consulting firms that can offer ‘short and sharp’ delivery of knowledge on-demand are going to make it through. Any business or independent consultant that can accept and capitalize on this new normal has the competitive edge they need for growth, scalability, and long-term sustenance. 

What is micro consulting and how did it evolve?

Micro consulting consists of short bursts of knowledge, insights, advice, expertise that help other businesses make informed and confident decisions. Wyatt Nordstrom from Maven coined the term in 2006 to describe the growing trend of short and targeted knowledge work. 

Micro consulting is a line of business in which consulting professionals connect with businesses to share their industry’s most up-to-date intel. These independent consultants are the sector leaders with the best knowledge insights or information goods. 

The expert network industry had grown to reach $1.3 billion by late 2019 after years of double-digital growth. After the pandemic hit, several factors caused more players to take advantage of the opportunity to address a particular set of business needs like remote consulting, micro-projects, on-demand services, and professional insights.

Reports show that management consulting firms have achieved a growth of over 30% since the pandemic. Among the primary differences between organizations that implemented COVID-19 responses effectively and those that didn’t were:

  • The ability to fill gaps in technology
  • More advanced in digital tech use pre-crisis
  • First-movers in implementing digital tech during the crisis
  • First to market with innovations during the crisis
  • Adequate talent with advanced digital analytics techniques
  • Successfully managed data and security-related risks during the crisis

The consulting firms that were quick to pivot to addressing capacity and capability gaps turned to micro consulting and on-demand hiring platforms to find independent consulting professionals to solve client needs. CleverX alone saw an MoM increase of 70% during the pandemic. 

A brief history of consulting 

  • The late 1900s and early 2000s 

  1. An era of Work Rationalization was influenced by thinkers like Taylor and Babbage who were among the first to introduce the concept of scientific management. Scrambling for efficiency and productivity, managers in the US adopted progressive methods to motivate employee behavior in factories. 
  2. Management consulting develops as a professional service to help managers and business heads make better decisions and run more profitable businesses. 
  • 1886 

Arthur Dehon Little, a chemist from MIT creates the first-of-its-kind strategy consulting firm.  

He paves the way for institutionalized management consulting. 

  • The early 2000s

With the second industrial revolution, there was a distinct divide between management and ownership of companies. Governments also started seeking defense and technology advice from consultants.

  • 1913 – 2002

Arthur Andersen LLP, one of the largest accounting firms, proved its expertise for more than half a century before falling prey to securities violations and fraudulence. 

  • 1914 

Booz Allen Hamilton pioneered and their work in management consulting and market research services for more than two decades bags opportunities for them in the US Navy and Army in the 1940s. 

  • 1926

  1. James O’ McKinsey, professor at the University of Chicago founded McKinsey & Co.
  2. Andrew Thomas Kearney joined McKinsey & Co. as a partner at the Chicago office. Kearney split from McKinsey in 1937 and officially incorporated A.T. Kearney. 
  • 1943

Ernest Butten, Tom Kirkham, and Dr. David Seymour founded the Personnel Administration to support the UK’s war efforts. Later named the PA Consulting Group.

  • 1944

Lyndall Fownes Urwick founded the British Urwick Orr in London. 

  • 1963

Bruce Henderson recruits Arthur Anderson to establish the consulting arm of The Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Company which eventually became the Boston Consulting Group.

  • 1967

Roland Berger was founded in Munich and expanded globally in the 1970s and 1980s.

  • 1973

Bain & Company was founded by the former Group VP of BCG Bill Bane and his colleagues. 

  • The 1980s – 90s

During which period, the demand for strategy and organization consulting boomed in the US and spread geographically to Europe, Asia, and South America. The rapid spread of computer technology led to the IT consulting niche. Key highlights: 

  1. Ross Perot, a former IBM employee, creates the Electronic Data System. 
  2. The Big Six diversify beyond just accounting and auditing into consulting in various capacities and disciplines.
  3. The Enron Scandal causes them to split.
  • The 1980s

  1. The concept of the Business of Excellence arises, thanks to McKinsey who borrowed the term from the work of Peters and Waterman ‘In Search of Excellence.’
  2. This inspires Nadler and Tushman’s Congruence Model and Galbraith’s Star Model. 
  3. Since then, operational excellence programs have become popular.
  • The 2000s

After the 1990s, several specializations and industries arose. Some specializations are strategic management, IT consulting, Human Resource Consulting, Data Management Consulting, Operations Management Consulting, Engineering Management, Leadership Consulting, etc 

  • 2019

COVID-19 disrupts the traditional consulting industry and micro consulting takes the center stage. 

The upsides of micro consulting 

As an agile tailor-made version of traditional management consulting, this type of business to business knowledge work has multiple advantages.

  1. Flexibility in work models

Micro consulting is primarily done virtually or by hybrid working models. Clients may choose to do expert surveys, one-on-one video consultations, remote project work depending on their business needs. In case, the consultant has to deliver work on-site, they can travel for that period without having to stay on the company’s payroll month on month.

       2. On-demand projects

The nature of project needs, costs, and delivery is changing in a post-crisis world. On-demand projects, either short-term or long-term, help clients keep work going while staying abreast of the times without too much pre-planning, contract negotiations, or redundant project costs.

       3. Reduced costs

Micro consulting helps small and medium-sized businesses carry out their projects regardless of size, scope, projects, or budgets. CleverX alone helps you save up to 43% of your project costs.

       4. Reduced onboarding time and resources

Studies show how only 50% of your strategic consulting hires prove to be an unassailable success. Besides that, the time, energy, and resources that go into onboarding a consultant are exorbitant along with the losses businesses make with every wrong hire. Micro consulting completely eliminates this vicious cycle.

       5. Quicker delivery

Traditional management consulting firms operated with a lot of systemic processes for approvals and accountability that delayed workflows. Micro consulting is a simple streamlined process without the roundabout flow of communication and deliverables. 

       6. Real-world insights

Micro consulting helps you stay up-to-date with industry trends and the latest developments in technology, economics, and current affairs. Because of their high levels of productivity and creativity, micro consultants influence the quality, relevance, and dynamism of your projects greatly. 

       7. Immediate ROI

Shorter delivery makes work more effective. Knowledge work is commoditized as information goods that can be measured and quantified easily between consultant and client. Charges are discussed beforehand based on the per-minute calls or KRAs and payouts happen almost instantly. 

       8. Increased innovation

Creativity may have once reigned supreme in business but changed on account of the uncertainty and management bureaucracy of traditional consulting firms. Micro consulting, on the other hand, brings a healthy mix of factual theoretical knowledge, fresh perspectives, and innovation in this era of context collapse. 

       9. Skill flexibility

The micro consultant’s job and skillsets are never linear or fixed. And on account of this, you’ll see your strategies ability to adapt to new situations, improvise, shift strategies, situation plan, and meet different types of challenges very quickly. 

      10. Transparency

Before micro consulting, traditional consulting was like a black box. Customers came with problems and consultants were careful not to spill trade secrets. But in the post-crisis era, consulting as a function is demystified. Transparency and trust are crucial to healthy working relationships.

Trends in hiring micro consultants

Having already established that micro consulting is the way forward, here are the top trends in the industry. The global management consulting industry is worth around $260 – 300 + billion if we bridged the gap between traditional consulting and technology micro consulting. Research says that by 2019, about 20% of this industry worked in micro consulting (firms and independent contractors included). That’s anywhere between $20 – 50 billion. But these numbers have only grown since. Here are some trends that portend to a larger share of the market for micro consulting. 

  1. Measurable results

Organizations that hire consultants will see a perceptible value from their consulting hires as consultants will need to prove cost-effective strategies quickly during these micro engagements. Organizational leadership needs to find a balance between long-term sustainable practices and agility to meet dynamic market needs. Micro consulting as a service is going to be entwined into finding strategies that work best. 

       2. Hybrid and remote work

Most consultants spend anywhere between 40 – 80% of their working lives traveling. With COVID-19 travel protocols, these trips have gone remote. This opportunity allows organizations to tap into a fresh pool of consulting talent a the barriers of geography and travel have broken down. The new normal is expected to consist of digital transformation distinct for its multi-location collaboration and launches with hybrid or remote working models.

        3. Digital disruption and integration

Digital transformation, technology disruption, and cultural shifts are the three pillars of organizational transformation today. As clients enter into emerging niche markets, consultants are expected to develop their digital capabilities and offer digital expertise. SEO, analytics, cybersecurity, AI, and BI become arguably the most happening things in the business landscape. 

        4. On-demand and bespoke work

2021 started off with uncertainty but as the economy recovers, there’s been a surge in pent-up project demand. With business margins still thin and new innovations, independent consultants are a viable option for small and medium businesses. It’s an easier way to get high-quality work done for a fraction of the cost and without the encumbrance of the black-box model. These micro consultants can be deployed on the go and paid by the minute, the hour, or the project.

        5. Specializations and new niches

Traditional management consultants hired generalists in their field and they were let to work on multi-disciplinary strategic and operational projects. But with tech and post-pandemic transformation. Consultants are required to do more and more meaningful work with niche expertise. Hiring consultants today is benchmarked against the ‘sector expertise’ framework. Furthermore, specialists in digital capabilities and analytics are in greater demand as a big portion of organizational spending is allocated to digital transformation, marketing, and advertisements. 

        6. Knowledge diversity

Along with niche expertise, consultants are required to be both masters to project management. Skill development is becoming more and more non-linear in an attempt to meet boundless technology knowledge and possibilities. Clients consequently expect a keen knowledge of technology developments, economic factors, regulatory and legislative controls, consumer expectations, organizational psychology, and competition.

        7. Commodification of knowledge

In the age of information, knowledge is no longer an abstract unquantifiable concept. The terms ‘information goods’ and ‘productized services’ have entered the industry jargon. Types of knowledge, knowledge products, the application of non-rote cognitive work, and knowledge transfer programs are benchmarked to measure value and productivity. Consequently, there’s a certain stratification of consultants as well. Consultants may be seen as the haves and have-nots from a Maxian perspective. Those with a higher degree of information goods and consulting capabilities are naturally perched higher up the consulting hierarchy. 

        8. Strategic partnerships.

The year 2020 alone saw over 200 strategic alliances in the consulting industry. Collaborations between consultancies, agencies, and independent service providers are a rising trend to be more equipped in times of uncertainty, achieve more scale, expand offerings both horizontally and vertically, enter new geographical markets, grow the client and business development networks, and stir up better innovation. For instance, Bain & Co recently partnered with LevData to deliver the next-gen supply of management tools to the manufacturing industry. These strategic partnerships are also forcing organizations to share costs during a crisis, gain competitive advantage, re-evaluate old-school business models to more scalable ones like subscriptions or pay-as-you-go. 

       9. New players in the market 

As the appetite for organizational on-demand work increases, the consulting industry is also turning to crowdsource opportunities. A crowdsourcing consultant can work with multiple partners in the ecosystem to leverage collective intelligence to serve business goals. One can ideally task a crowd to collect and manage information, do a broadcast search, do peer-vetted creative production, and analyze intelligence. According to Darren C Brabham from MIT Press, ‘Crowd wisdom is the capacity of a group of people to outperform individuals who work alone to solve the problem.’ Independent advisors also seem to be happier than traditionally employed counterparts because of the flexibility, convenience, democratization of information searching, and ability to interact with multiple stakeholders in the market research and consulting landscape.

      10. Mergers & Acquisitions

Based on recent moves made by the Big Three, it is evident that there are three types of acquisitions: a. Data & analytics, b. Design & digital, c. Boutique consultancies. McKinsey has bought 12 companies over the past 7 years as part of its growth strategy., Bain & Co. has bought 3 companies in the two years prior to the pandemic, BCG has embraced 5 acquisitions over the last 6 years. Given client ambitions for advanced data analytics and digital transformation support, this trend is going to become more popular. 

       11. Enhanced human capital 

Among the most significant trends in the development of human capital. As automation and digital transformation become the norm, the skill gaps are likely to force organizations to enhance their human capital with niche skill sets and more meaningful work. Capacity-building efforts and programs will be the best practice as organizations decide it’s better to augment rather than replace talent to weather the rough business climate. 

       12. Value-based performance

Measurement and value remain key to effective management. With cost-optimization as another tactic, consultants need to build their business cases and proposals with distinct ROI in mind itemizing cost take-out, savings, and quantifiable value creation. As a result, micro consultants will need to have predefined self-sustained offerings and pre-testes prototypes that can be used in a limited amount of time. 

       13. Billing and pricing models

As performance-based billing becomes the norm of the hour, billing and pricing models for consulting services also evolve. Pricing may be per-minute, hourly, daily, monthly retainer, project-based, or value-based. Expensive subscription models are no longer viable when with smart cost structures. The industry is witnessing more transparency as clients engage in ‘comparison shopping’ of consulting services. 

       14. Ethical AI and automation

Optimistic AI applications in consulting call for responsible, accurate, and ethical solutions. AI can collect and analyze data more efficiently, it can increase productivity, and streamline admin tasks. The technology and software innovation space is mushrooming with tools that can make life easy for employees, customers, partners, clients, and consultants. Bots can do a lion’s share of rote administrative work as human capital enhances and savings translate into projects. 

How to make the most of every micro consulting project on CleverX

  1. Optimize your search

Go to the Find experts and type your keywords like consultants or B2B professionals along with the functional or industry expertise you need. You can further optimize your search with 

  • Minute or hour rates
  • Specific industries
  • Your geographic location
  • Top companies
  • Job roles, 
  • Expertise
  • Entry to executive-level seniority

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, try to shorten or rephrase your search.

      2. Hire smart

Drop them a message and fix a time that works for both of you. Hire them for a consultation, short-term, or long-term projects either remotely or on-site. 

      3. Pay only if you’re satisfied

We’re big on seamless delivery, value, and security. Your payment goes through only after approvals. 

Bringing together your leadership team and experts from anywhere in the world can help you make confident business decisions and yield some impressive numbers for you. As they once said in Forbes, you “ Meet experts and teams who’ve taken “rockets to the moon, and planned the best trade route from Mumbai to Frankfurt.”

The future of consulting is here. Find the world’s leading micro consultants now.

Rachel Content Marketer at CleverX with a massive thing for people, conversations, and marketplaces.

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