General

The 2024 Consultant Survey Report: Industry Trends, Insights & Analysis

by
Alfredo Ramirez

When Prosal began as an idea, there was almost no research on the consulting sector, especially for small businesses and entrepreneurial solo consultants. In line with our commitment to innovation and leadership in this sector, Prosal is proud to once again lead the effort to enhance transparency and increase data availability within the consulting industry.

Earlier this year, Prosal launched the second annual Consulting Survey, partnering with Tufts University and Consultants for Good to survey 491 respondents about their consulting practice, company performance in 2023, business development trends, and other insights that consultants and companies who serve them would find invaluable to improve the sector. We’re proud to release the survey results and holistic analysis in our 2024 Consultant Survey Report, available for free download below.

This blog offers a summary of our comprehensive report and findings, coupled with narrative insights from our team and from our partners who found the data telling in our journey to help agencies and consultants of all backgrounds and sizes to scale with intent. We’re grateful to the survey participants, partners, advisors, and the Prosal team who made this survey possible.

Who Are the Consultants We Surveyed?

At Prosal, understanding the diverse landscape of the consulting industry is pivotal to our mission. This year's survey drew responses from various professionals, painting a detailed picture of who is shaping the industry today.

Most respondents to the Prosal 2024 Consultant Survey identified as consultants as opposed to freelancers, agency professionals, or vendors.

Company and Individual Demographic Summaries

Our respondents come from an eclectic mix of backgrounds, each bringing their unique perspective to the consulting world. Here’s a snapshot:

  • 76% identified as consultants, with agency professionals, freelancers, and vendors making up the remainder. This diversity in roles underscores the broad application and need for consulting across different sectors and business models.
  • A notable 58% of businesses surveyed were small businesses, with 47% owned by women and 25% by minorities. This represents a dynamic shift towards more inclusive entrepreneurship.
  • Company size varied, with over half of the consultants working in organizations with fewer than four full-time employees and 38% operating as solopreneurs. This trend highlights the lean operational models prevalent in the consulting sector.

Areas of Expertise

Consultants surveyed demonstrated expertise across a broad spectrum of industries, reflecting the dynamic nature of the consulting field:

  • Strategic areas made up the focus of many consultants, particularly in strategic planning and business development, which are critical areas that drive business growth and operational efficiency.
  • Technical services are a significant part of the consulting landscape, with software development, financial services, and web design and development notably lucrative. These areas demand specialized knowledge and command higher revenues.
  • Supportive roles such as coaching, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), and event planning were also called out in high numbers by respondents. These are vital for enhancing team dynamics and promoting a more inclusive corporate culture.
A breakdown of area of expertise for all Prosal 2024 Consultant Survey respondents

The diverse expertise highlighted in our survey results underscores the multifaceted nature of consulting, where professionals adapt to and anticipate the needs of businesses across various sectors. Each consultant brings a depth of knowledge and a commitment to driving change and efficiency in their respective fields. This variety enriches the consulting industry, providing various solutions to business challenges.

A circle graph showing that an even distribution of years worked in current role for the Prosal 2024 Consultant Survey respondents.

An Acceleration of Entrants into the Consulting Sector

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the consulting industry has seen dramatic shifts, particularly in the increase of services and offerings.

Today’s zeitgeist celebrates entrepreneurship and being your boss. Countless awards and grants are available to first-time entrepreneurs, especially those from socially or economically disadvantaged backgrounds. As a result, new consultants have entered the field in the last four years. Nearly half of the consultants who responded to our survey have been in their current role for less than three years, and almost one in five have been in it for less than one year.

In 2023, we found that over one in three consultants had been in their role for less than three years, showing an acceleration of new consultants entering the field. The longevity and success of these new consultants remain to be seen, and we expect to gain more insights in the upcoming survey iterations.

Revenue Performance: Identifying Drivers & Droppers

Our 2024 Consultant Survey Report illuminates critical revenue trends, offering insights into how different sectors and client demographics impact financial performance. Among our 515 respondents, the average revenue reported was $570,509, with a median significantly lower at $154,000, underscoring a skewed distribution where a few high-performing firms dramatically elevate the average.

Technical Focus Leads to Higher Revenue Performance

Our analysis highlights distinct revenue disparities across various consulting sectors. Financial Services, Software Development, and Website Design and Development stood out as top earners. For instance, consultants in Financial Services reported an average revenue of $1.1 million and a median of $750,000; Software and Web Design consultants reported impressive median revenues of $600,000 and $440,000, respectively. These fields benefit from strong demand and scalable service models involving high-budget projects and long-term engagements.

A bar graph showing median consulting company revenue by area of expertise

Conversely, consultants specializing in Event Planning and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) reported lower revenue figures, with their services often viewed as less essential or lower priority in budget allocations, reflecting the challenges these sectors face in achieving higher financial traction. Moreover, these findings underscore the lucrative nature of technical expertise in today’s digital and financially driven markets, contrasting sharply with lower revenues in non-technical fields like event planning and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), which are critical but less monetarily rewarded.

Impact of Client Demographics on Revenue

Client demographics significantly influence revenue outcomes, with a clear correlation between client diversity and revenue figures.

A bar graph showing median consulting company revenue by area of expertise

Consultants serving large-sized private companies, publicly traded companies, and federal government agencies reported the highest revenue medians of $480,000, $380,000, and $300,000, respectively. This contrasts with consultants serving foreign entities, small businesses, and nonprofits, where median revenues were considerably lower, ranging from $125,000 to $140,000. This variance underscores the economic impact of client selection and the strategic importance of targeting client segments that align with higher financial returns.

Affinity, Demographics, and Certifications

A striking aspect of the revenue analysis involves the role of demographic identifiers and certifications. While minority-owned and woman-owned businesses generally reported lower revenues, those holding certificates such as WOSB, MOSB, or 8(a) saw a reversal, with certificates correlating with higher revenues. This suggests that formal recognition can be pivotal in overcoming systemic barriers and enhancing business opportunities. Nearly two-thirds of respondents identified as coming from economically or socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Yet, only a third had certification, pointing to a gap that, if closed, could lead to increased revenue.

72% of Prosal 2024 Consultant Survey respondents said they replied to a request for proposal in 2023.

2024 RFP Trends: Navigating a Competitive Landscape

In 2024, the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) landscape continues to evolve, revealing both opportunities and challenges for consultants. 

Our annual survey indicates that 72% of consultants responded to RFPs this year, maintaining a win rate of 30%, a slight decline from the previous year's 38%. This data underscores the growing competitiveness within the RFP arena.

Dedicated Resources for Less Time on RFPs

The average consultant engaged with three RFPs per month, a slight decrease from last year's four, suggesting a more targeted approach to RFP submissions or a growing dissatisfaction with the RFP process. The time commitment remains substantial, with consultants reporting an average of 10 hours crafting each proposal—nearly 60% more time than required for non-RFP business proposals. This considerable time investment reflects the complexity and detailed nature of RFPs, which demand high-quality, tailored responses.

Moreover, introducing new technologies and platforms, such as AI tools for proposal writing and specialized RFP databases, reflects a shift towards more sophisticated methods for handling RFP responses. About 26% of consultants have invested in enhancing their RFP process through these tools, aiming to improve efficiency and effectiveness in their submissions.

The average RFP-related business proposal takes 10 hours, and non-RFP related business proposals take about 6 hours.

Dissatisfaction Feeds the Cycle

Despite the steady engagement in RFPs, satisfaction with win rates is low, with 54% of respondents expressing dissatisfaction and only 29% feeling satisfied. Notably, minority and women-owned businesses reported a 5-point lower win rate than average, continuing a trend observed in previous surveys. This disparity highlights these groups' additional challenges within the competitive RFP landscape.

Most consultants who responded to the Prosal 2024 Consultant Survey are disappointed with their RFP win rate in 2023.

Consultants identified several critical challenges in responding to RFPs:

  • Low Returns & High Time Investments: The effort required to produce a compelling proposal is significant, often detracting from other business development activities or client work.
  • Lack of Feedback & Closure: Many consultants need more feedback from RFP issuers, which hampers their ability to improve future proposals.
  • Unclear Scopes & Low Willingness to Clarify: Ambiguities in RFP documents and issuers' need for more responsiveness to clarify doubts lead to challenges in aligning consultant offerings with client requirements

As competition grows, it is becoming more difficult to win RFPs consistently. The increased number of consultants, heavy industry specifications, and a growing number of specialized tools have made winning each RFP more challenging and critical to a successful consultancy.

The Consulting Work-Life Balance

The day-to-day can seem like a black box for those outside the consulting sector. The 2024 Consultant Survey sheds light on how consultants manage their time and their overall satisfaction with work and earnings.

Hours Worked Per Week

The life of a consultant might seem less structured than that of traditional roles. According to our survey, consultants reported working an average of 34 hours per week, slightly less than the typical 40-hour workweek and down from 38 hours the previous year. This reduction reflects the flexible nature of consulting work and aligns closely with general workforce trends toward shorter, more efficient work hours.

The average consultant in 2023 worked about 34.2 hours per week.

Consultants spend over half of their time (51%) on billable client tasks, which are the lifeblood of their revenue stream. Another 26% is dedicated to business development, crucial for sustaining and growing their client base. The remaining 23% is spent on administrative and non-billable activities, underscoring consultants' responsibilities.

Satisfaction with Work and Personal Earnings

Despite the challenges, consultants report high levels of job satisfaction. A robust 78% of respondents expressed being somewhat or very satisfied with the quality of their work, with less than 8% indicating dissatisfaction. This high satisfaction rate suggests that consultants find their work meaningful and fulfilling, likely due to their expertise's direct impact on clients' success.

However, the picture is slightly more complex regarding personal earnings. There is a notable division in satisfaction with earnings: while overall earnings satisfaction did not differ significantly across various groups, 33% of consultants felt dissatisfied with their compensation. This sentiment reflects a potential misalignment between effort and financial reward, particularly for those working in sectors or demographic groups that traditionally yield lower revenues.

Interestingly, service satisfaction remains exceptionally high, with over 90% of consultants satisfied with their offerings. This discrepancy between service and earnings satisfaction highlights a nuanced aspect of consulting where personal reward does not always correlate with financial outcomes.

A series of donut charts describing consultant satisfaction rates in 2023

Where Consultants Learn & Hang Out

Consultants actively pursue professional development through both digital and traditional channels.

Consultants remain highly engaged in professional development through traditional and modern channels. The data shows that business-focused platforms and events are the preferred mediums for growth and networking. LinkedIn, industry-specific newsletters, and professional conferences are the most favored resources, reflecting their importance in maintaining and expanding professional networks and staying updated on industry trends.

Most consultants use Newsletters and LinkedIn to stay up to date about relevant trends.

A notable trend from the survey is the significant resurgence in the popularity of conferences. Nearly 74% of respondents attended a conference or personal development workshop in 2023, a sharp increase from the 53% in 2022. This rise indicates a robust return to in-person or hybrid events post-pandemic and underscores the value that consultants place on live interactions and learning. Conferences provide a unique opportunity for immersive learning experiences, networking, and direct engagement with thought leaders and peers, which are highly valued in the consulting community.

This return to more traditional forms of networking and learning highlights the enduring importance of personal connections and face-to-face interactions in the consulting industry. It suggests that while digital platforms are integral to day-to-day operations and initial connections, the depth and quality of interactions at conferences and workshops play a crucial role in a consultant’s professional life

Final Thoughts

The 2024 Consulting Survey Report provides valuable insights into the consulting world, relevant trends, and subsectors, like the revenue generated in 2023 or the time spent on business development. This report is a resource for consultants looking to stay ahead of the curve and organizations wanting to serve them. 

This blog post is just the tip of the iceberg, and subsequent analyses will emerge as we explore the data. We invite you to explore the full report—download it for free below and engage with the data to enhance your understanding and strategies.

Thank you to our partners at Consultants for Good, Nonprofit.ist, and Katalyst Consulting for helping make this survey possible! Click here to join us for a conversation on May 22 at 12 PM ET with them and other consultants about these survey results and what they mean for the future of consulting:

A graphic describing the panel discussion and webinar with esteemed panelists for the 2024 consultant survey.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alfredo Ramirez

Alfredo is the COO and Co-Founder of Prosal. He has over ten years of experience working in the nonprofit industry and previously founded a successful digital strategies business, winning over $2 million in RFPs throughout his career. He is an avid mountain biker and snowboarder and enjoys anything that takes him outdoors.

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