People often forget boutique consultancies. When graduates confess that they want to go into consulting, people think MBB, Big 4 etc. However, just as many go into the plethora of boutique consultancies that have popped up in almost every industry.
Granted, lots of graduates were unable to get into the bigger brand names. But many people also choose the boutiques, especially a bit later on in their career. In this article we have a look at some of the reasons why they do this.
This is essentially the big downside of boutique consulting. Very few people in or out of the industry are likely to know about a boutique firm. Moreover, there are simply fewer people within the firm to add to your ever-growing network! Therefore, if or when you want to leave, you probably will not have the same opportunities. Even if you are able to explain the intensity or difficulty of the work you did, the fact that you didn’t go through a well-known training process can count against you. Of course, this also applies when you are telling people about what you do at parties – they just won’t know what you are talking about…
The second facet of the brand is that it simply attracts fewer applicants. With a lower level of competition, it is probable that the people you work with are of a slightly lower calibre, simply because there is a smaller pool to choose from. Those people might be more similar to you than they are at a bigger firm, because they have chosen the same niche, but they will also be less capable. This does however mean it is easier to get in if you have a genuine interest in the field.
Finally, the work that the firm attracts will be of a smaller scale. Boutiques have a smaller range of resources and connections and so it will not attract the huge infrastructural cases that a multinational consultancy does. That isn’t to say that a specialised boutique wouldn’t work on a particular facet of a big business, but it probably wouldn’t be called on to engage with a company-wide profit problem. Instead, it is much more likely to carry out lots of small engagements within their niche. For many people, this decline in variety is unappealing.
That’s it for the negatives, although maybe there are more. I must confess I have never worked at one! Its worth saying that lots and lots of people start at boutiques and use their experience as a platform to get somewhere else. That is a totally normal path and there is no invisible barrier between the two!
This is the main positive for most people. If you already know what type of consulting you want to do and what type of industry, a boutique makes a lot of sense. Although you might struggle to go back if you change your mind, this could suit you well. In addition, with a lower number of cohort competitors and higher visibility in a smaller firm, it is possible to progress to the top of your niche at a much faster rate. Even if you don’t get a more important job title, you are still much more likely to be included in discussions about the company’s future and corporate strategy. There are simply fewer people in the board room! On Tom Spencer’s blog, a writer describes how he even used to go on coffee runs with senior executives.
The atmosphere of boutique consulting appeals to lots of people. It isn’t simply a case of lower intensity and less company box-ticking, but people are actually friendlier! There won’t be any up-or-out culture and you are much more likely to know the whole office. This naturally appeals to the ambitious and the less ambitious alike as rapid progression can be achieved without any of the jostling for position that big consultancies (like the big 4 consulting firms) are noted for.
Last but not least, the time commitments at a boutique are almost always smaller. Unlike at a boutique bank, where their hours are notoriously insane, at a boutique consultancy the pressure to work long hours will be considerably less.
Firstly, that is because there is less bureaucracy. There are usually fewer points to score by staying late. Since the culture is much more office focused, rather than doctrinal, it is unusual that there will be any real competition around staying late and doing performative dirty work. In addition, there will be fewer hours spent jumping through corporate hoops, like endless training programmes and company mumbo-jumbo.
Secondly, there is less travel. A boutique tends to engage primarily with companies in the country where they are based. This is a result of both their smaller brand name and lower threshold for expensed trips. There is also likely to be blue collar efficiency boutique, for example, in most developed countries, and so the UK version is unlikely to be hauled over to France. The reverse is also true sometimes – if a consultancy dominates a niche, it can choose its products to be closer to home.