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How To Define "Consulting" in Under 100 Words?

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September 25, 2020
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3 minutes
Bernadette Geyer
Bernadette enjoys working with innovative companies to help them communicate their value to a global audience. She's an avid ice hockey fan and balcony gardener.

If you ask 100 people to define the term “consulting”, you’ll likely get 100 different answers. However, none of them will be wrong, because each person brings their own lifetime experiences and perspectives into the picture. A freelance consultant may have one perspective, while a consultant from a big-name firm will have another. Moreover, a business that has used management consultants to help them find a solution to a problem will have a very different perspective.

Perhaps you’ve come from an industry that has traditionally been very open to the use of consultants? In reality, not every business area has been accepting of consultants. Some trades have taken a bit longer to come around to the idea that consulting offers advantages over historic business models.

Of course, the management consulting industry is just like any other industry in that it has grown and changed and evolved. Before we give you our definition, let’s take a brief look back at the history of consulting.

Boston: The Birthplace of Consulting

Arthur Dehon Little founded the first consulting firm. He opened a chemical analysis office in Boston in October 1886. He began providing outsourced research on a contractual basis to multiple clients. Finally, with the formation of an on-site research lab for General Motors in 1911, it became clear that the Arthur D. Little company had established a new business model.

A few years later, in 1914, the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm was founded. It began servicing both corporate and government clients. It was more than a decade before McKinsey & Company came along. It’s founder, James O. McKinsey, is credited with the invention of “management consulting.”

Other major firms came to the marketplace a bit later, including Boston Consulting Group in 1963 and Bain & Company in 1973. The concept of businesses outsourcing work was not a new one by this point, although the actual term “outsourcing” was not really seen as a valid business strategy until the late-1980s.

“There is an art to advanced consulting as well as a science; who you are is as important as what you do.” ― William A. Pasmore

The Rise of the Freelance Management Consultant and Consulting Platforms

According to, the word “freelance” first came into use in the early 1800s. It referred to “free lances” – medieval mercenaries “who would fight for whichever nation or person paid them the most.” Over time, the term “freelancer” came to be used for people working independently in any industry.

In 2013, Professor Clayton Christenson and others wrote in the Harvard Business Review about the disruption of the consulting industry by small, boutique firms, freelancers, and freelance consulting platforms. The article highlighted the evolution of the industry – after 100 years of a single, recognizable business model – away from big, “integrated solution shops” to smaller, specialized solution providers.

The growth in use of smaller firms and independent management consultants has enabled many businesses to be more agile. This is when facing obstacles or changes in the marketplace. Additionally, businesses nowadays have a better idea about what they need, and they have easier access to data and tools through smaller, specialized vendors and freelance consultants.

As the consulting industry has continued to evolve, the use of online platforms has become a reliable way to gain access to a multitude of independent talents. Consulting marketplaces like Consultport have entered the scene to help match highly-skilled consultants with projects that make the best use of their skills.

How Consultport Defines “Consulting” – in Less than 100 Words

At Consultport, we want to recognize the consulting industry’s past, present, and future in our definition of the word “consulting.” And so, in under 100 words, we say…

“Consulting is the act of providing knowledge, services, and/or guidance, on an as-needed basis, to businesses, organizations, or individuals. Moreover, consultants are independent of the businesses they work for. They bring an outside perspective or specialized knowledge to enrich their approach to finding a solution to a problem. The consulting industry includes large consulting firms, smaller firms, independent consultants, and consulting platforms.”

Our definition can be applied to any consulting area – from management consulting to scientific research, and from marketing to human resources.

How Do You Define “Consulting”?

We challenge you to define consulting for yourself! How would you approach coming up with your own definition? What perspective do you take? How do you think your own experiences as a consultant contribute to your perspective on the practice? It’s a good exercise to help you think more about the profession you’ve chosen. It helps you to understand what has drawn you to it!