Consulting firm

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A consulting firm or simply consultancy is a professional service firm that provides expertise and specialised labour for a fee, through the use of consultants. Consulting firms may have one employee or thousands; they may consult in a broad range of domains, for example, management, engineering, and so on.

Management consultants, in particular, typically work with company executives and provide them with generalists and industry-specific specialists, known as subject-matter experts, usually trained in management or in business schools. The deliverable of a management consultant is usually recommendations for achieving a company objective, leading to a company project.

Many consulting firms complement the recommendations with implementation support, either by the consultants or by technicians and other experts. This is called outsourcing.

Consulting services are part of the tertiary sector and account for several hundred billion dollars in annual revenues. Between 2010 and 2015, the 10 largest consulting firms alone made 170 billion dollars growth revenue and the average annual growth rate is around 4%.


The segmentation of advisory services varies widely across organizations and countries. Categorization is unclear, in part because of the upheavals that have occurred in this industry in recent years.[1]

One approach is to separate services into four broad service delivery families, considering the managers they are targeting:

  • Services related to the company's overall strategy, which are addressed to the CEO,
  • Services related to marketing, communication, sales and public relations, which are addressed to the CMO,
  • Services related to management, financial management, taxation, accounting, compliance with regulations, for the CFO,
  • Services related to the company's operations, intended for operational management, which may be different depending on the industrial sector (technology director, plant managers, operations directors, Research and Development managers), for instance COO and CTO.
  • Service related to information technology (see IT consulting) intended for information management, which are addressed to the CIO.


There are different types of consulting firms serving different sectors. They mainly fall under the following fields:

Some consulting firms also serve niche sectors, such as:

Consulting firm business models[edit]

The business model of consulting is similar to staffing, wherein the objective is to effectively lower labour costs for clients, for an intended result, or relative to an intended result or output, in order to charge for a profit margin for the consulting firm. Consulting sustains itself from a labour economic point of view as a method for distribution of labour, where certain positions, roles or fields of expertise within the labour market find it being more suitable for contractor work, as compared to in-house employment, for a few possible reasons:

  • Due to client needs being incontinuous, or continuous but otherwise volatile in that they may vary from time to time in nature and scope,
  • Due to potential scarcity of skilled labour available on the market,[3]
  • Due to being able to achieve a higher work level activity

and thus being more profitable to clients, consulting firms, and society at large.[4][5][6] As such, the consulting business model can be seen as a result of the knowledge economy, and as a subset of the knowledge industry.[7][8] Today, it is not uncommon for consulting firms to offer solutions to their business clients.[9][10] Knowledge transfer is also a common sales argument for consulting services.[11]

As consulting firms grow larger, in a modern, globalised and interconnected business environment, a lot of times they will take what could be seen as similar to a 3rd party position, as it relates to one or more clients, that are engaged in b2b business. The consulting firm utilises its networking capabilities (due to its high number of clients, often within diverse markets) to connect actors in for example M&A activity.[12] Since the private sector isn't allowed to use officials, nor attempt to create any such equivalent as this would be regarded as antitrust behaviour, there is a natural demand for other such private or business services to offer an alternative to this type of coordinating services.

Successful consulting firm cases[edit]


In 2013, there was a randomized trial in Mexico where 432 small and medium enterprises were allowed access to management consulting services for one year.[13] As a result of this trial, there were many positive impacts. Such positive impacts include: increase in entrepreneurial spirit, increases in employment and higher wages for employees. Even after 5 years after the trial, positive impacts are still active. These results were achieved by advertising a consulting program to 432 enterprises and recorded data on the positive effects.

Money laundering in consulting firms[edit]

A consulting firm is a suitable instrument for money laundering.[14] Illegally obtained money is laundered by the employment of consulting companies. The reason consulting firms are so effective at laundering money is because consulting services are immaterial, therefore, pricing is non-transparent.

Another reason consulting firms are effective at laundering money is because sometimes consultants regularly leverage their clients into charging higher prices.[15] When a client of the consulting firm is satisfied, the consultant can charger higher fees through more leverage while setting prices through the contracting prices. Therefore, when auditors inspect financial statements provided by the consulting firm, the consulting firm can state that a certain consulting project costed an 'x' amount of money and auditors are unable to detect fraud, thus allowing money laundering to occur.

Impact of consulting firms in emerging economies[edit]

Negative impacts[edit]

The impact of consulting firms on local businesses in emerging economies do not always have positive effects.[16] One reason for this is that firms in emerging economies suffer from the inferiority of their technologies and innovation capabilities, thus, although they have access to consulting firms, they cannot make the most of the advice given. Advice given by consulting firms to clients may not be used efficiently as clients firms in emerging markets tend to suffer due to a lack of infrastructure, organisation, and education. Another reason firms in emerging economies struggle to effectively use consulting services is that innovation is very costly and risky.

Positive impacts[edit]

As noted above, consulting firms in emerging economies do also have positive impacts. Positive impacts include: increases in employment, increase in entrepreneurial spirit and higher wages for employees.

Impact of consulting firms in developed economies[edit]

One study shows that there is a significant difference between efficiency between consulting firms in America (developed economy) and consulting firms in Asia Pacific regions (emerging economy).[17] Efficiency scores of consulting firms in America were significantly higher than consulting firms in Asia Pacific regions. This is because firms in developed economies have better infrastructure, organisation and education, thus advice given by consulting firms is used efficiently.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Consulting on the Cusp of Disruption". Harvard Business Review. 2013-10-01. Retrieved 2017-12-30.
  2. ^ "Business plan examples". Monday, 25 November 2019
  3. ^ Maister, David H. (2004). "The Anatomy of a Consulting Firm". The Advice Business: Essential Tools and Models for Managing Consulting. Retrieved 22 May 2022.
  4. ^ Momparler, Alexander; Carmona, Pedro; Lassala, Carlos (2015). "Quality of consulting services and consulting fees". Journal of Business Research. Science Direct. 68 (7): 1458–1462. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2015.01.033. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  5. ^ Armbrüster, Thomas (2006). The Economics and Sociology of Management Consulting. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-85715-4.
  6. ^ Shogun, Steve M. (May 2004). "Editorial: Consulting, Research, and Consulting Research, Volume 23, Issue 2, May 2004". Marketing Science. INFORMS. 23 (2): 173–179. doi:10.1287/mksc.1040.0078. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  7. ^ Sarvary, Miklos (1999). "Knowledge Management and Competition in the Consulting Industry". California Management Review. 41 (2): 95–107. doi:10.2307/41165988. JSTOR 41165988. S2CID 154894228. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  8. ^ Jacobson, Nora; Butterill, Dale; Goering, Paula (2005). "Consulting as a Strategy for Knowledge Transfer". The Milbank Quarterly. 83 (2): 299–321. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0009.2005.00348.x. PMC 2690143. PMID 15960773.
  9. ^ Nissen, Volker (2018). Digital Transformation of the Consulting Industry: Extending the Traditional Delivery Model. Progress in IS. Department of Economic Science and Media, Ilmenau University of Technology, Ilmenau, Germany: Springer Cham. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-70491-3. ISBN 978-3-319-70491-3.
  10. ^ Sandberg, Robert. "Corporate Consulting for Customer Solutions: Bridging Diverging Business Logics" (PDF). Stockholm School of Economics. Retrieved 23 May 2022.
  11. ^ Butterill, Dale; Goering, Paula; Jacobson, Nora (16 June 2005). "Consulting as a Strategy for Knowledge Transfer". The Milbank Quarterly. 83 (2): 299–321. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0009.2005.00348.x. PMC 2690143. PMID 15960773.
  12. ^ Brandon, Silvio (2007). "Management Consulting, Global Markets and Corporate Networking". Social Science Research Network. SSRN 2215624. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  13. ^ Bruhn, Miriam; Karlan, Dean; Schoar, Antoinette (April 2018). "The Impact of Consulting Services on Small and Medium Enterprises: Evidence from a Randomized Trial in Mexico". Journal of Political Economy. 126 (2): 635–687. doi:10.1086/696154. hdl:1721.1/121090. ISSN 0022-3808. S2CID 5814460.
  14. ^ Teichmann, Fabian Maximilian Johannes (2019-01-01). "Money laundering and terrorism financing through consulting companies". Journal of Money Laundering Control. 22 (1): 32–37. doi:10.1108/JMLC-10-2017-0056. ISSN 1368-5201. S2CID 159328510.
  15. ^ Momparler, Alexandre; Carmona, Pedro; Lassala, Carlos (2015-07-01). "Quality of consulting services and consulting fees". Journal of Business Research. Special issue on The Spirit of Strategy. 68 (7): 1458–1462. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2015.01.033. ISSN 0148-2963.
  16. ^ Back, Yujin; Praveen Parboteeah, K.; Nam, Dae-il (2014-12-01). "Innovation in Emerging Markets: The Role of Management Consulting Firms". Journal of International Management. 20 (4): 390–405. doi:10.1016/j.intman.2014.07.001. ISSN 1075-4253.
  17. ^ Park, Gowangwoo; Lee, Seok-Kee; Choi, Kanghwa (January 2021). "Evaluating the Service Operating Efficiency and Its Determinants in Global Consulting Firms: A Metafrontier Analysis". Sustainability. 13 (18): 10352. doi:10.3390/su131810352.