Report by European Consultant Marketplace COMATCH shows motivations, working reality and the impact of Coronavirus on Independent Consultants worldwide

  • 91% of global respondents are happy being independent despite the decrease in project work and earnings caused by COVID-19.

  • 6 out of 10 believe the need for advice from independent consultants will become increasingly important for large companies.

  • Self-employment is a conscious career step towards greater decision power over project topics and clients, more purpose and better work-life balance.

  • UK based Independents are more likely to achieve their goals regarding self-employment than global average

Self-employed Management consultants are satisfied with their situation and remain optimistic about the future, in spite of growing economic uncertainty. This is one of the findings made by COMATCH in their study on “The DNA of the Independent Consultant: Resilience and Flexibility in Challenging Times”. COMATCH, the leading European online marketplace for independent consultants and industry experts, collaborated with Professor Thierry Boudès from the ESCP in Paris. Almost 1000 consultants from 55 countries took part in the two surveys, in February and April 2020.

Despite the global impact of COVID-19 consultants do not regret self-employment

The pandemic and its restrictions have affected independent consultants: three out of four respondents expected to see a fall in earnings over the coming months, with one in three anticipating a loss of at least 75%. 27% of respondents have had ongoing projects postponed, while 12% have had cancelations. Planned projects have been worse affected, with 30% postponed and 19% cancelled.

Nevertheless, consultants do not regret their decision to become independent. 91% are as happy as or happier than they were in a permanent position, 89% would recommend being independent and 63% plan to remain independent over the next two years. The pandemic has not changed this positive outlook, with only a 3% difference noted in comparison to the survey in February, before the full extent of COVID-19 and its economic impact had been realised. Independent consultants are optimistic that clients will increasingly rely on the expertise of freelancers in the future: 58% believe that the demand will grow, and 6% anticipate an increase in earnings over summer.

Post-Corona: Remote Work will become more important

Being able to work remotely was an important or very important reason for 61% of those surveyed to step into self-employment, especially for women (74%). In April, 23% of respondents reported that their current project transitioned into remote mode during the lockdown. Half of all participants plan to continue working remotely after the pandemic has ended, and 80% believe that companies will be more open to remote work in the future. Furthermore, the consultants surveyed believed that companies will examine their supply chains (58%) and introduce a more agile way of working (54%). Only a minority believe that the pandemic will result in reducing internationalization (31%) or that companies will focus more on employee welfare than performance (10%).

“COVID-19 will result in more clients considering innovative consulting models, greater comfort with remote work, and an openness to projects around sustainability and flexible organisation structures.”

– Charlotte Gregson, Managing Partner UK & Ireland, COMATCH

 

Self-Employment means greater self-determination and a better work-life balance

The decision to become independent is usually done so through choice: 70% of respondents resigned from their previous role, driven by the desire for greater decision making power over project topics (91%) and clients (79%), as well as increased flexibility (67%) and purpose (73%). Having more free time (67%) was a greater motivation than earning more money (52%).

Independent consultants are successful in fulfilling their expectations: for each of the ten drivers examined, at least half of the respondents who had rated a motivation as important or particularly important, reported that through their transition to self-employment, these hopes had been realised.

 

UK-based Consultants most likely to fulfil goals through becoming independent
Consultants in the UK are more likely to achieve what they hoped to find in self-employment in comparison to other consultants around the globe. For nine out of ten drivers, they reported higher than average achievement scores. For example 82% of those who sought more decision-making power over which clients to work with achieved this aim (vs. 70% globally).

For UK based consultants flexibility (83%) and decision power over project topics (82%) and having more free time (81%) were the Top 3 motivations to become self-employed. Travelling less is especially important and was a key driver for 49% of UK-based consultants (vs. 29% globally).

95% of UK-based consultants appreciate how simple it is to become legally self-employed, however the anticipated impact of IR35 is reflected in the low percentage of consultants (28%) who agree that government regulations favour the use of independent consultants by companies. UK consultants also feel most unsure about the future, with 42% uncertain if the demand for independents will grow (vs. 30% globally). They were also more likely to indicate wanting to return to a permanent position (25% vs.18% global average).

“We see two things in these numbers: the maturity of the market and the uncertainties that UK-based consultants face. Brexit and the long road to it, the announcement of IR35 and now the pandemic have taken a toll on both the economy and individual consultant opportunities. But, there is a history of successful collaboration with the clients. It is estimated that one-fifth of the 12 Billion Pound consulting industry volume goes to independent consultants. They create enormous value for their clients and get out of self-employment what they search for.”

– Charlotte Gregson, Managing Partner UK & Ireland, COMATCH

Women are more likely to fulfil their expectations in becoming independent

Female consultants who take the step into self-employment are more likely to achieve what they hope through becoming independent than their male colleagues. This was true for seven out of the ten drivers studied, where a consultant rated the driver as ‘decisive’ for their career step. Women and men were found to have similar daily rates, based on experience and expertise (women: £1015 / men: £1055). Only 20% of the survey participants were female, with the gender ratio most balanced among the youngest respondents.