Building the Next Big Thing: An FAQ About Freelance Innovation Consulting

April 30, 2018 Emily Slayton

freelance innovation consultant

Whether it’s building your next market-disrupting product or just honing your internal idea-gen and development processes, freelance innovation consultants offer an experienced and often invaluable third-party perspective. Here are some of the questions we at Business Talent Group hear most often about them, and our perspective on each:

What is innovation consulting?

There are many types of strategic consulting, but innovation / research and development (R&D) consulting focuses primarily on the strategic development of new products and services. The goal is growth, and by developing the appropriate talent, culture and processes, the right consultant can help make innovation a sustainable and repeatable part of the business.

Some of the specific projects for which clients have requested support from BTG’s experienced freelance R&D consultants include: exploring breakthrough opportunities and designing new business models.

Why would I need a freelance innovation consultant?

It’s rare that a company has the in-house talent to support end-to-end innovation initiatives. A freelance innovation consultant offers the additional benefit of providing an experienced, objective third-party perspective. The value of this contribution is not to be overlooked, especially when exploring new markets or pivoting your business model.

Your existing organizational processes are effectively tailored to your existing business scope. Though efficient in this sense, they can make it difficult to nurture new ideas. An independent innovation consultant can help develop new processes that work within your existing framework, yet allow for greater collaboration and iteration around new opportunities.

How can a freelance innovation strategy consultant help?

Simply put, they’ll help you grow in new directions. They will help you think differently and more creatively so you can keep up with an evolving market and remain competitive. A freelance innovation consultant brings years of experience and expertise to your project, giving you a solid foundation on which to build.

They’ll research the market and capture relevant data—and together you’ll identify and explore potential opportunities, then develop a strategy for successful deployment.

Why not just hire a full-time R&D specialist?

There are plenty of times when a permanent hire is appropriate, but when it comes to R&D, speed and agility are significant factors. You’re not just trying to keep up with the market; you want to get ahead of it. And with how quickly markets evolve and shift, you have to be ready to move quickly.

It takes a lot of time and effort to find and onboard the right full-time candidate, which means there’s significant potential for lost momentum and missed opportunities. Plus, if the candidate doesn’t work out, there are financial repercussions to consider.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the cost of a bad hire equals 30 percent of the employee’s first-year earnings. At the executive level, that number rises dramatically, because it reflects more than just the sunk costs of recruiting and onboarding; it also includes the price you pay in reduced productivity and effectiveness—as well as potential damage to your reputation.

The agility and cost efficiency offered by on-demand talent is likely why, according to Randstadt Sourceright’s Q4 2017 Talent Trends report, 61% of employers plan to replace up to 30% of their permanent positions with freelancers, gig workers, and independent consultants.

What if I already have an in-house R&D team?

Terrific! Keep them running like a well-oiled machine by complementing their skills with expertise in niche areas like blockchain or insights from a different industry. Freelance R&D consultants combine deep experience with technical expertise, providing valuable insight that your in-house team might be missing.

You can also help them stay focused on what counts with a consultant who can take a disciplined approach to identifying which ideas are most promising and developing a strategic roadmap for their launch. Other freelance R&D consultants specialize in helping companies refine operating models and scaling successful pilots—all critical components to successful innovation at big companies.

Will a freelance innovation consultant disrupt our methodology?

This is a common fear, as businesses worry that a major shift in methodology could disrupt their current success. Rest assured that most freelance consultants are comfortable working within your existing methodology, and any tweaks or changes will be suggested with overall optimization in mind.

Will an independent innovation consultant have access to enough market data?

Though independent consultants don’t have the backing of a large consulting firm, many still have strong relationships with respected research firms. They can tap these resources for critical market data, which, when paired with client data sources, helps provide a clear, robust analysis of trends and potential paths to success.

What makes BTG’s freelance consultants different from traditional resources?

With BTG, you get access to a broader range of innovation specialists than many large consulting firms can provide. We let you pick from a robust pool of expert innovation strategists who hail from the world’s best consulting firms. The team you assemble can be selected based on background, skill set and experience level, and our consultants can ramp up or down on their given projects, as needed. Our freelance innovation consultants offer specific domain expertise without the hassle and expense of big consulting firms by providing:

  • Targeted, practical strategic advice
  • A cost-effective external perspective
  • Detailed evaluations of potential markets, competitive dynamics and major trends

Plus, you’ll frequently find our freelance planning consultants possess both functional and industry experience, which allows them to provide a comprehensive strategy for your company — without the risk and overhead of a permanent hire.

What sort of background do BTG’s freelance innovation consultants have?

Our talent pool includes more than 2,800 McKinsey, Bain, EY, Deloitte, Booz, BCG, Accenture and Capgemini alumni and more than 2,000 alumni of specialty and boutique consulting firms.
Roughly 67% have consulting and operational experience, and 78% have held executive roles at major corporations. They combine on-the-ground experience with extensive technical expertise to deliver a pragmatic outlook that goes beyond the usual abstract analyses.

How have BTG’s freelance innovation consultants helped other businesses?

Our on-demand innovation consultants have helped businesses across a number of industries successfully pursue new paths. Here are just a couple of examples:

Marketing innovation

The VP of Marketing Innovation at a F500 food and beverage company was frustrated by her team’s progress on a plan to present hundreds of new ideas to the CMO. She reached out to BTG to get smarter about which innovation models were most successful at other large consumer companies—and which was the best fit with their culture and processes.

BTG put together a tight, two-person team to restructure the company’s innovation pipeline. Leading the work was one of the nation’s top innovation experts; supporting him was an analyst who gathered data on innovation models and success rates across the consumer goods industry. The project lead, meanwhile, interviewed stakeholders across the business to better understand and document current processes and identify points of friction.

After synthesizing their findings, the two consultants organized a series of workshops to help executives understand different innovation models and best practices across the industry, and how those options could integrate with the existing pipeline.

Technology innovation

A $5 billion technology company was looking to develop its next billion-dollar business, but didn’t have the right internal resources to manage and lead the initiative. The SVP of Strategy turned to BTG for a consultant who could help the company look at out-of-the box ideas in a measured and cost effective way while identifying the resources that would be needed to make those ideas a reality.

BTG provided a serial entrepreneur and tech pioneer to lead an internal task force, uncover the best opportunities, and implement them. Within three months, the consultant provided the company with an overview of the competitive landscape, developed an innovation framework through which to evaluate options, and supplied three strategic recommendations.

Is your company struggling to grow in new ways or simply looking for strategic support on an innovation initiative? Tell us what you’re thinking and we can help find the right team for your project.

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About the Author

Emily Slayton

Emily is an award-winning writer who specializes in B2B marketing. She has been helping global brands reach targeted audiences to drive sales and awareness for more than 15 years. As a small business owner herself (, she understands what it's like to source a team that can scale with sudden growth.

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