It’s 11:54 pm. 4 hours ago you told your friends you were going to be late. You just had to finish those slides. It’s ok, they understand. Well, they’re used to it. In the end you missed that dinner you were so looking forward to. Just those slides to finish. At 9 pm you gave up on any chance to say goodnight to your kids. Now you’re just wondering if you’ll get any sleep at all. And when was the last time you ate? It doesn’t matter, the client comes first. And you’re not alone. Your coworkers are here too. Their exhaustion is clear on their faces. You tell yourself that you probably look the same. A corpse in an expensive suit. So why do you do this? Well, it’s simple, the thrill, the prestige, the bond you create with some of your colleagues, the social status, the diversity of projects, the salary, all the things that you continually learn… But you’re wondering: is there a better position than this one, which you worked so hard to get?
Ring a bell?
If you are a consultant, you know this situation perfectly. Bearing in mind that between 300,000 and 500,000 employees were recognized to suffer from burnout in France in 2017, we can suppose that this condition does not spare consulting. But there are no data about burnout in consulting. Probably because the DNA of this industry – privacy, discretion, elitism – has not changed and it will always be harder to talk about burnout and work-life balance in a world where such words are almost mean failure. It is not surprising at all that consulting – especially strategy and management – is one of the industries where staff turnover is the highest (25% to 30% change in staff each year): “Take it or leave it”.
Ok, but leave it for what?
For many years, you were mainly offered two different choices as a consultant: to go to work in a company after a few years in consulting, or to move up the ladder of your firm and eventually become a partner. Today, those two paths still prevail, but with the rise of entrepreneurship, freer speech on work-life-balance, and the gig economy, another solution is emerging, which used to be seen as a failure but seems to be appealing to more and more consultants: freelancing.
Martin Videlaine, former principal at Roland Berger, and Ghita Lahlou, former consultant at BCG and Roland Berger, are now managing directors at NC Partners On Demand (NCPOD), a platform specialized in high-end independent consultant staffing and executive interim management. Martin founded NCPOD in 2018, after noting two trends in the market: the increasing attraction of freelancing among consultants on the one hand, and the growing interest of clients in independent consultants on the other.
3 main types of freelancer
He analyzed the different profiles of independent consultants on his platform and their sources of motivation for freelancing.
Firstly, there are pure freelancers, seeking a better a work-life balance, the freedom to choose their missions and specialize in a desired sector or function, a flexible timetable, or freedom from having to report to a hierarchy. “The pure freelancers merely want to get their life back, a balanced lifestyle with proper nights and leisure time. Especially women, for whom the search for a work-life balance seems to be more important. There is no female partner at Roland Berger, for instance, maybe they are more mature.”
Secondly, the entrepreneur type, who usually has an ongoing project on the side and works as a consultant while developing his activity.
And thirdly, there are the consultants who turned to freelancing as a temporary option between two jobs, to keep earning money and stay in the market.
Whatever type of freelancer they are, all face the same crucial question: Where will I find my first client? And this is what NCPOD is all about.
Growing interest from major accounts
The market of independent consulting is growing, led by demand from major accounts. Martin clearly noticed this: “What’s new is that major accounts are calling more and more on freelancers […]. As an example, we are now being contacted by the clients’ purchasing department to be referenced as a high-end independent platform”. In fact, the client’s financial equation is quickly solved. Whether you cannot afford BCG’s advice, or are just looking for a less expensive option meeting the same standards, hiring an independent rather than a big consultancy is much more attractive and comparable in terms of quality.
One main difference though: if you need a team of consultants for a major project, it will be much harder to build a team of independent consultants. This is because freelancers would not be particularly open to sharing leadership and margins; they have their own methods, points of view and experiences, and efficiency could be affected as a result of seeking consensual ways of working.
So, you still want to give freelancing a go? Wait, here comes the paradox.
“There will be self-made freelancers and those who have already worked 5 years in a consultancy […], and they won’t at all be worth the same”
According to Martin, even if independent consultants tend to be younger, solid experience in a consulting firm remains a must. “He or she will have expertise, demands, methods, will know how to behave with customers and lead teams and projects from A to Z”. Thus, it seems that freelancing may not be the immediate solution for a young generation of consultants according more and more importance to a balanced lifestyle. If they were to give it a try, they would not be entrusted with the same projects, and their services would not be invoiced at the same price. They would then face the risk of job and financial insecurity.
Toward an uberized consulting industry?
The consulting industry is therefore changing, because of both changes to the market structure and young consultants’ expectations.
On the one hand, freelance platforms are becoming more and more important in the consulting industry. For example, big consultancies are also developing their own platforms internally, like Deloitte’s Open Talent, PwC’s Talent Exchange, and KPMG’s Freelance Portal. We might therefore wonder if the existing pure platform players will be acquired by leading consultancies to keep them under control and benefit from more flexible resources.
In addition, society is changing. 86% of millennials do not want to work in a big group, 70% do not want to stay more than 5 years in the same company and 47% want to start their own business. Will millennials have the patience to receive training in a consulting firm for several years before turning to freelancing? Or will they choose the risky path?
So now it’s 2 am. You’ve finally finished those slides. You’re the only one left in the office because you clicked on this article promising a proper night’s sleep. Now you know. There is another way. Take it or leave it.
 Vaincreleburnout.fr website – “Chiffres clés” section
 Consultor.fr website –article: “Burn-out : le conseil ne fait pas exception à la loi du silence”