When Should You Engage an Independent Consultant?

November 7, 2023 Summer Foote

When should you bring on an independent professional? Given the challenges companies face to secure in-demand skills and expertise, the short answer is likely: now.

The independent marketplace is as diverse as its full-time counterpart. Each talent has a unique professional background, domain expertise, and strategic strengths. These experienced executives, consultants, subject matter experts, and project managers are adept at stepping into dynamic environments and can hit the ground running. Companies often engage independents to drive initiatives and support their teams in three key ways:

  • To provide targeted consulting or an external perspective for strategic initiatives
  • To extend or augment internal teams or drive transformations
  • To temporarily fill open roles due to leadership gaps, transitions, or organizational changes

Here are some perfect scenarios in which to think about engaging independents.

1. When you have immediate needs and have to move quickly

Embracing the short term is liberating because it allows you to focus on critical work that will have an immediate impact. Rather than pouring time and resources into finding a one-and-done permanent hire who will fill a laundry list of needs, look at what your must-haves are for the next three months. Then, break apart the work into discrete projects and identify which comes first.

This process can be applied to major initiatives as well as the projects that have been languishing on your desk. While your team is focused on the bigger picture, an independent expert who has “been there, done that” can swiftly step in to help you meet an urgent deadline or achieve an important milestone. And no matter how quickly you’re moving, on-demand talent can keep up: BTG can turn around perfect-fit talent within as little as three to five business days.

2. For target help or expertise—for a finite period of time

This is the most straightforward reason to contract an independent talent. Maybe an important project is behind schedule and your team doesn’t have the capacity to catch up. An independent project manager with relevant domain expertise could get things back on track. Maybe you’re exploring a new opportunity and need strategic guidance on an unfamiliar market. An independent expert could shortcut your analysis and help you understand how the initiative fits into your broader strategic portfolio.

Independent talent are used to jumping in mid-project and ramping up quickly. They’re not hanging back and advising; they’re hands-on contributors to the project’s success. They adjust easily to sharp learning curves and handle the heavy lifting so your employees can remain focused on their own objectives.

3. To tackle projects in the post-strategy phase or those that are too small for big firms

A strategic business plan refresh. A tech vendor reassessment. In every company and business unit, there are consulting projects that are important but not huge. So why pay for an army of junior consultants to tackle them when a few smart independents could deliver better results for less?

In other cases, you might bring in a big firm to set the strategy, but once they depart, the path to execution can be a bit murky. BTG can build small teams of independent talent to handle the follow-on work and drive implementation, thus smoothing the road to success.

With independents, you don’t just get to choose the specific people who’ll do the work—you also make it easier for your team to digest the learnings and move forward confidently by removing the heavy footprint and restrictive workflow involved with traditional consulting firms.

4. For recurring help with specific knowledge gaps

The most agile companies know where their knowledge gaps and shortages lie—and proactively identify points where they could use additional expertise. Whether it’s recurrent, finite projects like business case development or unique moments like a major business transformation, these companies systematically incorporate independents into their resourcing plans.

By strategically supplementing teams with extra skills and capacity only when necessary, companies are able to operate leanly, reduce fixed costs, and avoid overextending the resources they have on hand.

5. To get ahead while hiring

When teams are stretched thin and leadership vacancies slow momentum, interim resources can provide a much-needed bridge to permanent hires. Rather than losing valuable time to a lengthy search and onboarding process, independent talent can help you add capacity at the leadership level to continue advancing the ball down the field.

You might have a critical role open, but that doesn’t mean you need to wait until that position is filled to move on key priorities. By deploying interim talent with knowledge to support immediate priorities, you’re free to search for candidates with future-specific skills—while getting a jump start on critical work that will set your permanent hire up for success.

6. To define and build new functions

When companies are looking to set up or to step up new business lines, new functions, or new capabilities, they often approach leadership needs with a strong vision of the future state they are building toward. Not surprisingly, key roles for these new areas are critical to ultimately fill with strong permanent hires—but the desire to move quickly from today to the future can lead to overly ambitious and nearly impossible-to-fill job descriptions.

Are the skills required of a permanent leader in the function’s steady state the same as those required to build it from the ground up? Frequently the answer is no. An independent, interim leader can be instrumental in designing the functional structure, developing policies and procedures, and recruiting key personnel—and then make way for a permanent hire more suited for the long term.

7. When managing uneven workflows

Every business goes through time when workflow is variable or hard to predict: after making a major business acquisition, for instance. By utilizing a flexible talent model, companies can access independent professionals to scale teams up or down as needed.

This model is especially effective for needs such as project management for a large portfolio of products or to supplement M&A teams during times of high deal activity—allowing companies to bring in niche knowledge, add complementary skillsets, and provide additional capacity at the times they are needed most.

8. To make the most of a temporary leadership gap

While leadership transitions are rarely easy, they present an opportunity to bring on new skills, experiment with roles, rethink org structures, or implement meaningful and long-lasting change. Organizations can bring in an independent interim leader to assess the organizational culture, challenges, and objectives—allowing companies to objectively evaluate and draw insights before investing in a new hire.

In addition to temporarily filling the spot, interim leaders provide valuable help during selection. They can use their expertise and knowledge to advise organizations on what to look for to fill a permanent role. They can even assist by evaluating candidates based on their understanding of the company’s needs.

Looking for more tips? Get our Guide to Working with On-Demand Talent

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