The growth of the UK consulting market, which is outpacing growth in the economy, is reflected in the increasing number of project management consultants as organisations seek to improve project processes and delivery as part of their strategy for success.
Dr Jon Broome, chair of the APM Contracts and Procurement Specific Interest Group at the Association for Project Management (APM), believes this trend is set to rise further.
“The world is becoming more project-orientated as it speeds up, with shorter timescales for ‘business as usual’ and projects becoming more prominent.
"This is resulting in a demand for more and more professional and competent consultants,” said Jon, who runs project consultancy Leading Edge Projects.
But, he warned, consultancy firms and individuals should proceed with caution and not allow what may appear to be lucrative day rates to cloud their vision.
“While in uncertain economic times like these companies want to use consultants on short-term contracts rather than employ permanent staff, that consultant could also become the scapegoat if times get hard and their services could be the first to go.”
In APM’s Salary and Market Trends Survey report, contract lengths for consultants who responded ranged from more than a year to less than three months. Some were just a matter of weeks.
Day rate fees also varied, from £200 or less up to more than £1,000 a day, with 62 per cent earning between £300-£500 a day.
The figures may look attractive, says Jon, and they should certainly reflect the specialist professional skills and expertise that the consultant is hired to supply.
“Your professional credibility, how you conduct yourself, your experience, references and membership of a professional association such as APM can all impact the day rate that a consultant can command.
"In some instances, age may also be a factor – there is a school of thought that companies prefer consultants to have a few grey hairs.
“Specialist industry or technical experience can be helpful if the consultant is managing a project entirely on their own. It can also be dangerous as there is a risk of becoming fixated on technical detail rather than on the project management.
“It is a competitive business and you have to judge your own worth and research the going rate for those doing an equivalent job with equivalent experience. If you pitch yourself too cheaply you can’t be much good; too expensive and you are not going to get the work.”
The fee is only the gross figure, he added. Outgoings such as tax, National Insurance, pension contributions, accountants’ fees and the costs of running the business all have to be deducted.
According to a 2015 report from the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), almost all its members reported that they had met or exceeded their fee income expectations.
However, added Jon, those expectations are not guarantees of day in, day out employment. Any estimate of probability of work and annual income can only be best guesses, so the risk of lean times has to be taken into account along with the expense of looking for – and winning – that next contract.