We must have all heard the term at some point in our daily interactions: business consulting. It is floated around like something that we all should understand naturally, but getting a clear picture of what it really is can be a little confusing.

So what exactly is business and marketing consulting?

Put simply, it is the practice of an expert in a certain discipline offering advice to a certain player in that field. It could be in the field of business, health, governance, sports or anything that you can think of.

Narrowing down to business, the term takes a little customizing to suit the industry. The business discipline is vast and highly dynamic, so consulting may take different forms in the various sub-sectors. In most business circles, consulting goes beyond merely offering expert advice. It often involves implementing some of the advice given on behalf of the business.

But doesn’t that involve making consultants a part of the business, whereas they should theoretically be external?

No, consulting agencies do not need to get inside the business in order to carry out the implementation tasks. Instead, they get furnished with details of the current situation within the business, then use these to formulate and implement a plan. Such implementations could be internal (like hiring and firing of stuff) or external (like communicating with partners and clients).

Basically, consultants work like partners of a business rather than its employees. They are given access to sometimes sensitive information in order to enable them to offer the best advice and/or formulate the most suitable action plane. It is their duty to safeguard this information, and this is often included in the contract agreement.

Some businesses view consultancy as a business practice they can do without. They are, more often than not, wrong. Failing to engage a consulting agency leaves a business with too much ‘semantics’ to handle that eat up the time they would have used to fine tune their core functions.

How big should a business be to begin using business consultants?

Small.

A business should engage consultants in its early stages to ensure it grows fast and along the right path. As earlier mentioned, consultants are experts. Expertise is built through experience. By engaging a marketing consultant, for example, a business will acquire the best skills on how it can position itself in the market in order to reach many clients in a short time.

The reality, however, is that some start-ups may not be in a position to engage consultants. They are often on lean budgets that require their interior staff to even take up multiple roles. Such businesses need not fall over themselves running to a consultant.

What they need to do is access the free consultancy resources available on the internet and elsewhere to help them get past their baby steps. Like a good software, consultants are a generous lit and will often offer a ‘free trial’ to businesses.

As a consultant, and especially if you are starting out, it is highly recommended that you look for small businesses and grow with them. What might be a thankless job today may turn out to be your most valuable piece of business in the coming years.

See, not a complicated concept, after all. Whether you are a budding consultant or business owner, you now know what to do, right?