A ‘leap into the dark’ mentality may sound like a job requirement for a
paratrooper, but the ability and courage to take personal risks in uncertain
circumstances is equally as applicable to would-be HR consultants.
Whether you’re setting up on your own or joining a large consultancy you
will be entering a hard-headed business world where bonuses and targets have a
major importance and the flow of work is largely dependent on one person alone:
And while some HR departments may view consultancy as a cushy number, the
reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Along with securing work,
consultants have to establish themselves in a fiercely competitive market. This
means not only keeping up to speed with the latest HR trends, but to undertake
extra training where necessary as well as exploiting contacts to secure as much
work as possible. But more than anything, says Richard Chiumento, head of the
Chiumento Consulting Group, your feet need to be planted firmly on the ground.
"If I had to give one bit of advice to new consultants it would be: ‘Don’t
underestimate the difficulty of becoming a successful consultant; the vast
For some consultants these business skills may take time to perfect.
However, time is not a commodity consultants have in abundance. A successful
consultant is usually one who can combine the ability to produce good work with
the economic imperative of securing further employment. And for those who are
new to consultancy, these contacts can often be in short supply and quickly
Julie Holden, owner of Spring Consultancy, describes consultancy as "a
juggling act between delivering a service and wondering where your next client
As well as being able to think on your feet, you have to be a good marketeer
-both to sell your skills and deliver on your promise and that you will do it
better than any rival consultancy. This will involve researching the company
you are working for – studying financial reports, and analysing the company
culture to identify where help is most needed and how best to operate within
the company structure. As Ian Florence, director of ASE Consulting, points out:
"You need to understand the company you’re working for. Consulting is all
about understanding an organisation’s needs, defining a solution for them that
works and demonstrating the benefits of that solution."
The 2001 Review by the Management Consultants Association indicates that 96
per cent of clients prefer to have some form of relationship. Those that have
experienced first hand your ability to produce good work on deadline are far
more likely to refer you to their colleagues and associates.
Even when these clients move on, they are likely to retain your services
should the need arise some time in the future. John Baker, head of practice at
recruitment consultancy Macmillan Davies Hodes, says: "It’s a relationship
business. Once you have clients who know and trust you they will come back,
whoever they are working for."
It is because of this fluctuating nature that an HR consultant’s average
earnings are difficult to calculate. Starting out a consultant could charge as
little as £150 a day. At the top end of the scale consultants can expect to
earn a minimum of £100,000 a year. And for some the rewards are far, far higher
– to hire the consulting services of one leading management guru is in the
region of £100,000 a day. Quite simply, an HR consultant could earn as much as
their reputation, experience and work ethic permits.
But consultancy is not all working at the leading-edge of HR. There is a
more mundane side to the job – knowing how to run a business as well as keeping
up with self-employment regulations.
There can also be financial pitfalls. Along with having to shoulder the
expense of paying for office equipment and technology (tax deductible of
course), you could have to wait several months for fees which may present
difficulties with cash flow.
Above all, you have to be determined, and have an unwavering belief in your
As Sue Wotruba, a senior consultant at Penna Change Consulting, points out:
"A consultant has to be completely self-sufficient as they may have to
make lots of decisions at short notice, sometimes in the middle of nowhere, and
produce work of a very high standard."
Case study Richard Chiumento, director of Chiumento Consulting Group
Richard Chiumento founded the Chiumento Consulting Group 10 years ago. It
has since become one of the UK’s leading HR consultancies with 100 HR
consultants and 300 HR interim managers on its books.
Chiumento began in HR in the early 1970s, moving into consultancy nearly 20
years ago. Now dividing his time between Chiumento’s offices in Oxford and
London he has been involved in major projects within financial services,
manufacturing and the electronics sector. The consultancy has recently secured
one of the largest HR outplacement and restructuring assignments ever – a deal
that will take six years to complete.
Specialising in change management and management restructuring, Chiumento
believes that successful consultancy stems from advising HR to develop and grow
their businesses in a commercially sensitive way. His guiding ethos is to keep
things simple and avoid overcomplication.
He also stresses the need to develop an understanding with clients.
"Successful consultancy is all about building relationships," he
says, and developing trust is a key element of this. With new clients Chiumento
advises that you both promise and deliver on something that’s relatively easy
to measure. "A lot of HR people are nervous of taking risks when an HR
consultant is new," he says. "You have to take something small that
can be tested and prove how effective you are." By concentrating on these
small building blocks Chiumento believes he has developed relationships based
on mutual trust that encourage clients to use his services wherever they happen
to be working.
Along with building trust, Richard Chiumento also sets out to present as
professional an image as possible, focusing on punctuality, smart appearance
and frequent communication with clients. Through this he believes he has
developed a client-centred brand image that makes it clear what the consultancy
stands for and what it can deliver.
"To be a successful consultant you have to manage your time well, keep
your finger on the pulse of the industry, help others to manage themselves and
keep your promises. But you also have to develop a valuable and client-centred
brand that makes it clear to everyone what you stand for and exactly what you
can deliver," he says.