Many people have heard the term ‘business consultant,’ but relatively few have a detailed understanding of what the career entails. Put simply; a business consultant works with business owners to improve the organization’s efficiency, productivity, and overall performance. They are usually contracted for periods of time during which they provide resources, planning, and strategic advice to help the business to identify, address, and resolve problems so they can achieve specific business objectives. Business consultants can work in any field or industry and can either help businesses with overall improvement or specialize in specific areas like human resources, operations, accounting, public relations, finance, marketing or management.

Business consultants can be particularly beneficial to small businesses and organizations which, because they are often run by individuals or small teams, are lacking in specific skills. Consultants advise and support where business owners cannot find a solution or devise a strategy on their own.

This article outlines the key steps required in order to become a business consultant and what the career involves.

Being a business consultant: what’s involved?

Business consultancy is often a natural progression for experienced and successful business professionals who have specialist knowledge in a particular area. They can use their expertise to support other businesses and, if they are self-employed, they are also running their own enterprise. Business consultants (sometimes be referred to as management analysts) can also be employed by a large company or a government agency or may be contracted out by a consultancy firm.

Once hired, a business consultant will usually visit the business to assess the current operational procedures, to meet with management and staff, and to discuss any specific problems the business is facing. When the situation has been examined and analyzed, the consultant will provide suggestions as to how things can be improved. These suggestions may be provided orally, and in a written report and on some occasions, the consultant will need to present their report to a group and answer questions.

Business consultants usually work at least full-time as sometimes longer hours may be required in order to meet deadlines. They typically work in office settings but will regularly travel to visit client locations. It can be a stressful and high pressured job, but when your advice enables a business to improve and thrive, it’s also incredibly rewarding.

How to become a business consultant

1. Achieve a Bachelor’s degree

The majority of employers expect a business consultant to have a bachelor’s degree in a business-related topic as a minimum. This could be in business administration, management, finance, marketing, or another similar area. The core of the course should cover communication, project management, accounting, data analysis, ethics, and leadership, but you may also want to take additional courses in presentation or public speaking. This will enable you to get experience in communicating your opinions and analysis to groups of people, which is key part of business consultancy. You may also choose to specialize in a particular industry such as technology, agriculture, tourism, education, or healthcare. If you plan to work for a government agency, try to tailor your studies to a relevant niche.

2. Get as much professional experience as possible

A business consultant with minimal business experience is a hard sell for potential employers, so it’s best to get as much real-world experience as you can. A minimum of 2 years working with businesses (with successful results) is ideal, but it’s also a good idea to have some first-hand experience in management or accounting. A lot of consultants begin by working at a consultancy firm before branching out on their own freelance projects. A mentor with more experience in business consultancy may also be able to help you to develop and could put you in touch with potential clients. Consider joining a professional consultancy organization such as the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC) offer memberships, networking opportunities, training, and certification for established members.

3. Become certified

You can choose to become certified as a business or management consultant, but it is not compulsory. However, being certified can show potential employers that you meet high standards of training, education, and experience. The IMC offers the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) mark of excellence. The CMC is recognized in over 45 countries and involves submitting a written application, attending an assessment interview, and providing references from some of your clients. To be able to apply for CMC, you will need to be a member of the IMC with a good record of reputation and behavior and have the required educational qualifications. You will also need to have been working as a management consultant for four years.

4. Complete a Master’s Degree in Business Administration

While a master’s degree is not always essential, it can be a great advantage over competitors when employers and businesses are deciding who to hire. A master’s degree in business administration (MBA) will strengthen your knowledge and skills across a range of business disciplines including economics, marketing, financial analysis, technology and innovation, data analysis, strategy, and business consulting. You will also hone your key skills in communication, management, and leadership. It’s possible to study for an MBA online, which gives you a more flexible study schedule so you can continue to work while you learn.

Some bachelor’s degree programs (which are not business-related) will combine the bachelor’s degree with an MBA which enables students who want to start a business which is related to their chosen field of study such as healthcare or engineering.

Should you become a business consultant?

The decision to become a business consultant is not one which should be made without a lot of research and consideration. If you plan to be a freelance business consultant, you will need a great deal of motivation, self-discipline, and a willingness to put in long hours. There’s also the crucial matter of marketing and promoting your services and building a strong professional network to encourage referrals. You will also need to be confident in your experience, knowledge, and skills to be able to steer businesses towards tangible success.