Business Consulting: How to Become a Consultant

Consulting is the act of “providing professional or expert advice,” according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. As a business consultant, you can expect to do just that. Consultants generally play a valuable role in many different industries—and if you have a specific aptitude for helping businesses make strategic decisions, business consulting could be for you. But what does it take to become a business consultant and what exactly does a career in consulting look like from day to day? On this page, you’ll find resources about this career path to help you determine if it’s right for you.

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What is Consulting and What Does a Consultant Do?

Interested in a career in business consulting? Before committing to the profession, you’ll probably want to answer the question: what does a business consultant do? Business consultants are hired for their expertise and ability to help businesses achieve their goals. For many businesses, the main goal is growth: growing revenue, increasing their customer base, expanding in size, and cutting costs to increase bottom line. Generally, a business consultant collects information, performs research, and formulates comprehensive plans to help companies achieve certain results.

A consulting career is often highly strategic. Consultants tend to be aware of the big picture, to stay ahead of market and industry trends, and to think about the long-term implications of their work.

Business Consultant Work Environments

Businesses come in all shapes and sizes and when you become a business consultant, you have the choice of the type of environment you’d like to work in. You may wish to work at a national or global firm that assists clients. If entrepreneurship interests you, you can also forge your own consultancy to assist start-ups, small businesses, or even Fortune 500 companies. Or, you may choose to work in an industry that’s fast-growing—options range from health care organizations to government agencies to companies that produce consumer-packaged goods.

What is the Difference Between a Business Consultant and Business Analyst?

A business consultant and business analyst each help companies spot signs of inefficiency and identify areas for increased productivity. And both roles can be important in helping businesses achieve their goals. So, what defines a business consultant vs business analyst? One of the main differences is that business analysts take a heavily quantitative approach—analyzing and interpreting data to make recommendations on processes, programs, and procedures. Business consultants may use more qualitative methods to give companies advice. Business consultants and business analysts can both come in many shapes and forms and are hired along a spectrum of generalized and highly specific functions.

What is the Difference between a Business Consultant and Management Consultant?

In your search to become a business consultant, you may come across information on becoming a management consultant. What should you know about business consulting vs management consulting?

For some, management consulting may be a hard-to-grasp role. Management consultants come in various forms  and may focus on a specific discipline, such as building strategy, advising on operations management, performing competitive analysis, or improving HR functions. Often, their responsibilities include collecting data and reporting information to executives. As their role becomes more specialized and nuanced, they might focus on identifying problems, implementing solutions, and teaching clients how to resolve and remedy problems in the future. At the most advanced level, management consultants focus on improving an organization’s efficiency and effectiveness.

Business consultants hold a similar function, performing research and analyzing financials and operational workflow. One difference between a business consultant vs. management analyst is that the former uses an outward lens to think about a company’s position and growth, while the latter may look inward to boost efficiency and drive revenue through operations. Explore business management courses.

Can You Prepare for a Job in Consulting with an MBA?

If you’re thinking about becoming a business consultant, the type of education required may be a factor in your decision. Obtaining a Master of Business Administration (MBA) is one viable option for those who choose this career path. On average, professionals with a master’s degree earn a 38% wage premium over those with a bachelor’s alone, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—meaning additional education could pay off in the long run.

But you might be wondering: should I get an MBA—and is an MBA even worth it?

Not all consulting jobs require an MBA—though it may be preferred by certain employers and could give you a competitive edge. Your career outlook may depend on a variety of factors, including:

  • Where you go to business school
  • What area of business you study
  • The type of internship you secure
  • Who your mentors are
  • How active you are in career networking

The financial cost of earning an MBA may be a limiting factor for some. But there are many financial aid options, like MBA scholarships, to help you achieve your career goals.

Getting an MBA is a personal decision—one that no one else can make on your behalf. Choosing an MBA concentration is also a personal preference. Just remember that each person’s journey to becoming a business consultant is different. You may choose to start with a bachelor’s degree and go back to school after gaining a couple of years’ work experience. If and when you decide to continue your education, know that there are flexible options, including part-time and online MBA degree programs.

Business Consultant Career Checklist

Unlike some other careers, there’s no one single path for consulting. You can specialize in a variety of industries and take your own approach to working with businesses. That being said, there are some credentials and skills that may be commonly held by consultants. Here’s a general career guide to becoming a business consultant.

Education Requirements for Business Consultants

Every journey is different. But to work as a business consultant, holding some type of business degree may prove beneficial. As we explored above, a master’s degree is by no means required to secure a role in consulting. A bachelor’s degree in business is sufficient to work some entry- and mid-level business consulting jobs.

To take your career to the next level, you may eventually wish to pursue an MBA. One advantage of an MBA is the networking opportunities it can provide. The faculty you’ll learn from typically have an extensive network of contacts in a particular area of the business world. The same may apply for fellow students, who might hold executive roles or move into such positions during the course of their study. Online MBA programs as well as online bachelor’s business programs, may offer these types of opportunities, too—sometimes on a larger scale, since alumni are all across the country.

MBA-holders can potentially earn a median $25,000 more per year than their counterparts with a bachelor’s degree. And as opposed to a four-year doctorate degree, an MBA can usually be completed in just two years.

Training Requirements for Business Consultants

There are no specific requirements for business consultants, but there may be some abilities employers may look for to ensure you’re ready to jump into the job. Depending on the type of role, companies may want you to possess an understanding of certain software types—like a customer relationship management (CRM) system or an enterprise resource management (ERP) system. Additionally, some firms may prefer that you are proficient in the Microsoft Office Suite, and are comfortable using formulas in a spreadsheet to make projections and review data.

For many roles outside of entry-level work, employers expect consultants to possess prior work experience. You can gain this experience through internships that you complete on your own or as part of your degree program.

Certification Requirements for Business Consultants

Is there such a thing as a business consultant certification? Should you get a certification in business consulting? Similar to the question about education, the choice is personal.

As a business consultant, you can pursue optional certifications to enhance your career, show employers and clients that you’re self-motivated, and potentially even leverage them to earn a higher salary.

Here are a few certifications you might consider:

Certification: Accredited Small Business Consultant (ASBC) and Accredited SME Consultant (ASMEC) from the Association of Accredited Small Business Consultants (AASBC)

  • About: These two certifications are internationally recognized and set professionals up to provide consulting services to small-to-medium-sized businesses. This is especially useful if you primarily work with small businesses and would like to help them on a deeper level.
  • Cost: $749
  • Renewal: $149; recertification required every year

Data Pulled October 2020- reference the website for the most up to date pricing information.

Certification: CMC® (Certified Management Consultant) from the Institute of Management Consultants

  • About: If you’re interested in advancing as a management consultant, this certification may help. Candidates must have achieved a high level in their management consulting career, be able to meet rigorous standards, and pass an examination.
  • Cost: $350 for members, $550 for non-members
  • Renewal: $150 for members, $250 for non-members; recertification required every third year

Data Pulled October 2020- reference the website for the most up to date pricing information.

Some universities also offer graduate certificate programs in business, which might help you advance your career without a master’s degree.

Typical Skills Used by Consultants

There are several skills you use in business consulting. For starters, you may need to use hard skills like reporting, analyzing, and communicating (both written and verbally). But there’s a whole realm of soft skills that may help too—like being adaptable in a variety of scenarios, using creativity to solve problems, and being able to collaborate with various internal and external stakeholders. Having passion for a brand or company might also come in handy. Pursuing a role in a realm or industry you are interested in can help you cultivate this passion and use it to help businesses and clients grow.

Skills business consultants use are wide-ranging. So as you plan for your future, be sure to carefully examine the desired qualifications of your dream role and consider what skills are most relevant to the industry you want to work in.

4 Common Steps to Becoming a Consultant

As you now know, the path to becoming a consultant looks different for everyone. With that in mind, there are common steps you can take to become one yourself (just don’t be afraid to deviate from the path).

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from an Accredited Institution

    A bachelor’s degree in business is one common step in pursuing a career in business, management, and/or consulting. Most entry-level business roles require a bachelor’s degree in business. Through coursework, students learn about practical examples.

    When it comes to consulting, a bachelor’s degree may teach you how to be an asset to your team and sharpen your skills, so you’re prepared to provide clients with meaningful strategies and insights.

  2. Pursue an Internship in Business Consulting

    Companies often hire new interns for each semester of the school year. Chances are, there are opportunities for you to gain business consulting work experience close to home. In a consulting internship, you’ll gain some entry-level experience and begin to see how consultants interact with business executives and clients, formulate thoughts, implement solutions, and measure results. Because you’re typically working on real-world problems, an internship is a viable way to gain a current vantage point in an industry and learn your likes and dislikes on the job. Internships may be a part of a degree program, but you may also choose to gain relevant experience on your own, outside of school.

  3. Gain Professional Work Experience as a Consultant

    If you’re a new consultant, you may want to focus on gaining work experience before pursuing additional education (so you can be sure this is the right decision for you). This is also a great opportunity to try out consulting within a few different industries, whether it’s e-commerce, fine dining, or financial services.

  4. Continue to Learn and Develop your Skills

    Once you’re certain you want to make consulting your long-term career, you may be thinking about how to advance to the next level. As we’ve shared above, additional education and certifications may be ways to build skills and demonstrate your aptitude in the areas of business growth, operational excellence, and more.

Is a Career in Consulting Right for You?

If you’re thinking of pursuing a business career and enjoy the challenge of helping businesses meet their goals or even exceed them, consulting may be a specialization to consider. It’s a constantly-evolving field—one that with emerging businesses and existing ones trying to stay competitive. To learn more about the job outlook for business consultants, visit our MBA Salary and Career Outlook guide.

Last Updated October 2020