Large consulting firms bring experience and a certain level of accountability. But small consultancies offer their own benefit. They can be a great value, since they’re often more niched, have experience in your area, give you deeper connections with their everyday operations, and can give you the flexibility that comes from close proximity to decisionmakers.
Ever wonder why people go with small consulting companies when there are some big ones out there that do a good job? Why does there seem to be such a connection? Sure, you can have a connection with someone at a larger company, and you might even like that larger company.
Their branding makes them seem organized and professional. Their rigid processes speak of order and reliability. They might be very well-run.
And on the other extreme, you have fly-by-night companies that show up when they want to, always make excuses for things they didn’t do right, and you’re just sure they’re paying people under-the-table to keep the business afloat.
But then there’s a layer in-between. A smaller, more-specialized group of companies that gives you as much reliability and professionalism as the larger companies, but garner more loyalty. And the question is: why is that?
How can a small consultancy give you a better value than a larger company?
Here are three ways.
Innovation (or dealing with non-standard problems) requires a little more experience and a different way of thinking.
The great, scalable, large consultancies give you a process to deal with normal issues, manned by people who understand the process, maybe even more than they understand the work itself.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some very smart people at large companies, and we all know some of them. But the system is set up to reward people who check boxes, not who can help you see around corners on a job.
Unfortunately, best practices, by themselves, aren’t enough to innovate. You need the kinds of curious people you’re more likely to find in a small consultancy. People who don’t just know best practices, but also understand how and why those best practices work. After all, if you know the rules, you can function. If you know why the rules are there, you can start to break them intelligently.
Small consultancies attract people with experience because they have to be able to function outside of a process, providing value beyond the checklist. Because the owners of these small companies know that this is why people hire them.
Not every small consultancy is great, but you’re much more likely to find fresh, passionate problem solvers in a small organization than at a huge one.
Large consulting firms have to think about process — doing things the same every time. And that’s important because it brings consistency to the process and saves them money. Unfortunately, those processes — the very ones that make them efficient — often harden into a bureaucratic culture that is polite without being all that helpful. And this goes beyond just the report you receive from them. Rigidity often extends to other departments, like billing, or when you ask for something they normally don’t do.
In smaller, you gain more ready access to knowledge and experience, since you’re often dealing with an accounts-receivable department with just a few people who know who you are and can, therefore, understand how to make exceptions or find ways to help you out in a way that won’t hurt their company. Or even just out of goodwill, because they genuinely value your business. And if you’re asking an engineering question, if it’s not something they handle, they’re usually able to understand the request and willing to help you find someone who can help.
You see, that’s what happens when people care about the people they’re doing business with. And although it’s a professional relationship, a good business relationship brings a desire for each others’ success built-in.
Large companies find it difficult to depart from their processes, as mentioned before. This means that your quote on your work is likely to provide a scope that’s heavily boilerplated. This is efficient, but not very custom. It doesn’t give you exactly what you need. Instead, it gives you what they’re good at giving you.
But when you’re working almost directly with the owners — people who started the company because they love what they do — you find a culture that follows that passion. Small consultancies give you an organization that’s built more on curiosity and a love for the work than on the desire to scale. They’re more energized by solving a new problem and leaving flexibility where it’s needed.
They love the work so much that you’re likely to occasionally find the whole team literally gathering around in the office to talk about a problem or how cool as solution is.
And since the owners are involved, they want to see their company succeed. And that means your success. So they’re much more likely to find a solution that works for you, and they have the decision-making ability to do so because of their authority in the company. In other words, unlike working with your contact at a large company, if the owner of a small company makes a promise and wants to help you, they have a complete team to back you up.
Large consultancies can be very professional, but when you’re working with a smaller company, you can see value that the larger companies just can’t offer. You gain specialization, giving you more understanding and experience applied to your job, connection with the company, and flexibility, all of which give you more support and a personalized interest from the owners to see you succeed and the project to go to completion — not just checking a box — but taking a real interest.
Next time you’re looking for a consultant, and you’re tempted to go with a larger company, get a bid or two from a smaller one and see if you can tell why what we’re saying is true.