Imagine you’re an executive for a popular magazine in the middle of a dilemma. You’re noticing that your website is starting to gain a lot of traction while your physical copy sales aren’t what they used to be. You don’t have a great grasp on how web publications work, so this shift is putting you in a bind. You need to figure out a course of action quickly.
How much time, effort, and capital should you allocate to your website? What kind of online subscription models could you use? Should you transition your printed copies from weekly to quarterly releases? Is it time to get rid of your physical copies as a whole?
If you were in this predicament, odds are you would consider bringing in someone called a strategy consultant. They’d be in a good position to help you address those questions.
Strategy consultants have a presence in virtually every industry and can give an outside, expert perspective on business challenges. They offer fresh, objective takes on difficult issues and ensure that businesses are considering every angle when it comes to big decisions.
In this article, I’ll explain what strategy consulting is, why business owners should consider it, and how to get into the field.
What is Strategy Consulting?
Strategy consulting is when businesspeople — generally executives, boards, or management — bring in a third party to offer an outside, expert perspective on their business challenges. Strategy consultants usually have considerable industry knowledge and are expected to assess high-level business issues objectively. They take a holistic look at specific problems companies are dealing with and give advice on how they should approach them.
In the example above, a strategy consultant with expertise in digital transformation could help the publication decide how to proceed.
They’d address issues like whether the website’s ad revenue would offset losses from reduced subscriptions. They could gather information on the company’s IT infrastructure to see if it could handle more web traffic. And they could make an educated projection as to whether people will still be interested in the company’s printed magazines a few years down the line.
At the very least, they would offer some clarity and give the company more points to consider.
Why Strategy Consulting?
The concept of strategy consulting may raise some questions.
Why do companies need external industry experts? Shouldn’t executives at companies be experts themselves? Can they not pull other employees from within the company to help address these kinds of issues in-house?
The answer to all of those questions is mostly a matter of focus and impartiality.
Generally, when you bring on a strategy consultant, it’s for a fixed timeframe. Within that window, you expect them to dedicate all of their time, effort, and energy to a specific problem.
In the example above, a strategy consultant would be focused solely on the issue of the publication’s transition from print to digital and the implications of that shift. The executives at the company wouldn’t be able to do that. They’d have an entire company to run. They wouldn’t have time to get fixated on individual topics.
Strategy consultants also offer level-headedness that can’t always be expected from people within the company. Boards, executives, and other managers have personal stakes in their businesses. Those stakes often come with biases and preconceptions that can cloud their judgment on specific issues.
A strategy consultant brings an outside perspective. They’re not bound by personal investment in the company. Their judgment is supposed to be clear and impartial. This way, executives can get an opinion from a source that’s free of emotion and personal sensitivity.
How to Get Into Strategy Consulting
Get the right degree(s)
It may go without saying, but you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to get into strategy consulting — most likely in business administration or a similar field. But a bachelor’s degree is the bare minimum when it comes to landing a strategy consulting gig. There’s no guarantee that it’ll get you there.
Though there’s no definitive education standard across the board for all consulting firms, they often prefer graduates with MBAs. Consulting firms are looking for mature candidates with a solid concept of business management, analytical skills, and a demonstrated knack for problem-solving.
You should also pursue internships — ideally with a consulting firm or within a in-demand industry — throughout your time in school. This will give you a jump on gaining the experience you need to land a strategy consulting job down the line.
Get a lot of experience under your belt
Being a strategy consultant takes considerable business and consulting acumen, and there’s a lot that goes into that.
You have to know how to conduct yourself in a boardroom. You’re going to be working closely with executives, so you need to know how to communicate with them professionally and effectively.
Strategy consultants also have to make difficult decisions on a consistent basis. That’s what they’re paid to do. If you’re interested in the field, you’re going to need the confidence and judgment to make sure your advice is sensible and actionable. You’ll also need to be prepared to clearly explain the rationale behind it at any time.
Most people aren’t born with all of these skills. They come with experience. You’ll most likely need at least a few years working in business and consulting before you develop them. You should also remember that strategy consultants are often experts in specific fields and business subjects.
Executives need to trust the decisions you make. If you want to make pivotal decisions for a healthcare company without having spent any time in that industry, they probably won’t take you seriously. The same would go for a strategy consultant with no experience in technology implementation trying to work with a company looking for advice on that subject.
Familiarize yourself with the industry
There are two buckets that strategy consulting firms fall into. Either a firm offers strategy consulting exclusively — known as a pure-play firm — or it offers strategy consulting as one option among other services.
If you’re looking to get into strategy consulting, it’s worth knowing those names. They could be good starting points for a networking effort that might just get your foot in the door.
Strategy consulting is an exciting field that serves an important purpose. It’s a way to offer businesses some clarity and help them stay on track. A job within the field isn’t the easiest to land, but you can set yourself up for success with the proper education, relevant experience, solid problem-solving skills, and flat out hard work.
Originally published Dec 13, 2019 7:30:00 AM, updated May 13 2020