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A consulting firm is a business whose experts advise an individual or an organization in order to solve industry-specific problems, improve their business strategy, and generate growth. Consulting firms in Chicago are trained in a variety of disciplines including IT, finance, human resources, social media, and marketing. A consulting firm is usually a fully-fledged team of consultants that come together to provide efficient advisory services to companies of any size and in any industry.
According to data provided by PitchBook, there are currently more than 600 notable startups that have reached unicorn status as of the close of last year, meaning they’re valued at $1 billion or more. And while their success can be attributed to several different factors, working with a small army of consulting experts was certainly a factor in their journey to the top.
Sifting through hundreds of consulting firms in Chicago and finding the one that caters to your specific needs can be a painfully slow and frustrating process. That’s why we’re here to help.In this article, we’ve compiled some of the top local consulting firms in Chicago, broken down into four main categories: emerging technologies, marketing, public relationships, and social media.
How do Consulting Firms Work?
Organizations typically seek help from Chicago’s best consulting firms when they need some guidance, direction, or advisory services. These consulting firms’ core business is to provide actionable insights, craft effective strategies, and provide an external perspective to help businesses enhance their performance, effectiveness, or efficiency in areas like technology, advertising, and marketing.
While business executives usually hire consulting firms, the firms often work with every department of an organization, providing them with advice and insights specific to their niche and organizational focus.
Getting to know how a consulting firm works can help you decide if working with one is the right move for your organization at the moment. Services offered by a consulting firm are primarily geared towards advising and supporting an organization to accomplish its business goals and key objectives. In doing so, they help companies optimize their performance capabilities through improved strategy and data-driven business analysis.
Consultants provide a wide variety of services that range from business planning and strategy to problem-solving and restructuring. Their scope of work does go beyond offering advisory services and includes project management. They may also focus on certain target areas, such as:
Management – Consulting firms can provide management solutions designed to help with improving workflow in a range of areas, from IT to HR to finance control
IT – Often referred to as ICT, IT, or technology consultants internally, these experts advise businesses on how to incorporate technology into their workplace and workflow processes.
Human Resource (HR) – When you need advisory services for organizational restructuring, employment issues, talent management, or implementing onboarding experiences, HR consultants at a consulting firm can help you transform your company.
Operations – As with management, a consulting firm can be hired to provide business operation advice, guidance, and direction.
Financials – If something isn’t right in your business books or you plan to streamline your business financials, these experts have got you covered. They include financial restructuring consultants, corporate finance advisors, financial risk managers, and tax consultants.
Strategy – Consulting firms in Chicago can help companies and institutions with all aspects of functional strategy, economic and government policies, and organizational strategies.
Regulation, risk, and compliance – Running an organization of any size involves compliance with a series of laws, guidelines, regulations, ethical practices, and industry standards. Consulting firms also advise on all of these areas.
Consulting firms may also offer legal, environmental, cultural, and software advisory services. Obtaining these services doesn’t usually come cheap, but their insightful advisory, procedural, and consultancy services typically pay back many times over.
Are Consulting Firms Worth It?
Most consulting firms in Chicago are paid huge sums of money and, in return, offer support, advisory, and expert services. But are they worth the hefty price? Short answer: yes, consulting firms do ultimately earn their bread.
In exchange for their fees, these firms deliver a range of services that help businesses grow, boost efficiency, and increase profitability. When it comes down to brass tacks, consulting companies illuminate an organization’s strategy and execution, helping them improve performance.
However, because their clients have different weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities, consulting firms provide value for their worth in various ways. Those that focus on specific niches and industries often bootstrap and unearth an organization’s opportunities that can fuel tangible results. They normally shine some spotlight on previously untapped data insights and introduce new cost and management strategies to produce measurable outcomes for the clients.
The real value rendered by consulting firms goes well beyond just providing advisory services. Modern firms tap into data science and industry expertise to offer more concrete support and guidance in the form of business analysis and data, which can play a big role in assessing an organization’s market position and devising ways to improve its competitive edge.
Expertise, reputation, and hands-on experience gained by the consulting firm from working on many different projects and for a variety of clients in a range of industries can prove invaluable, too. More importantly, these firms leverage the insights they offer, making sure to provide clients with a well-defined roadmap for implementing their recommendations.
In many respects, consulting firms are worth it because they deliver value in the form of:
Hence, consulting firms offer great value by guiding businesses in the right direction, which can be indispensable during times of expansion, restructuring, and crisis.
What Qualities Should I Look for in a Chicago Consulting Firm?
Today, organizations are expected to outline, develop, and execute their business strategies in a matter of months, if not weeks. This seems especially true when it comes to digital strategies. If your organization is unable to keep up with the accelerated pace, it might benefit immensely from seeking advisory, support, and guidance help from a good Chicago consulting firm.
But what really makes a top-notch consulting firm in Chicago? Here are some traits you should keep an eye out for:
1- Inquires About your Organization
A forward-thinking consulting firm is keen to ask probing questions right from the get-go. After all, the firm cannot provide sound advice or create the right business strategy for your organization if it doesn’t know your company inside out.
A few questions your preferred firm may ask include:
It may sound trivial at first that a consulting company asks probing questions, but it wants to gain an in-depth understanding of your organization.
2- The Firm is Flexible
Great consulting firms know how to approach every client. They adapt to new work cultures, projects, and organizational needs easily. They don’t come in with a closed mindset; they’re willing to fit in and get the job done quickly and efficiently. Their technical expertise and malleable skills enable these adaptive firms to assume their new roles easily and without much hassle.
3- The Firm Has an Excellent Reputation
The consulting industry is fairly unregulated and not chartered, meaning that most organizations have a tough time figuring out which firm is going to be reliable and offer the best bang for their top dollar. As such, the firm’s reputation is one of the major factors influencing the hiring decision.
Prestige consulting firms with industry-renowned reputations often get a bigger slice of the market share. However, they usually have excellent reputational credentials, such as having worked with some of the most trusted brands, industry accreditations, recognition, and a cabinet full of recent awards.
Don’t just ask about their previous clients or rely on reputations. Be sure to put on your investigative hat and scope out the internet for reviews, testimonials, and case studies. A good place to start may be the firm’s website, but proceed to check out Google, Yelp, Clutch, Trust Pilot, and other consulting firm review websites.
Whether bad, neutral, or negative, reviews often give great insight into the firm’s strengths and areas where they seem to struggle. You can use this information to gauge if you’re a good fit.
4- It Provides Actionable Advice on Strategy Implementation
Creating a solid and effective business strategy is crucial for any organization. But it’s not as paramount as the ability to implement that strategy. An excellent strategic plan isn’t enough, either.
The consulting firm of your choice should have the skillset, expertise, and team you require to create, manage, and execute your business strategies and yield the results you need to grow.
5- Consistency is a Game-Changer
Your Chicago consulting firm should be persistent and consistent in its approach. After all, great consultancies don’t throw in their towels easily. They know how to maneuver unforeseen circumstances, frictions, and unforthcoming feedback, taking advantage of them to refine their strategies. A great firm will look back and learn from each setback and challenge to prevent them from happening in the future.
6- The Firm Exudes a Sense of Confidence
It’s hard to take advice from a firm that doesn’t seem confident about its expertise, team, and skill. A good consulting firm oozes confidence and is willing to collaborate to deliver success. They are team players, prioritizing the client’s goals instead of their own egos and biases.
7- Discipline is Part of the Firm’s Culture
Great consulting firms not only work smart but also are willing to go the extra mile to get the client there. They leverage tried-and-true tactics to help your organization realize the best outcomes in the most cost-effective way and shortest time possible. They are critical thinkers and problem solvers who don’t hesitate to go above and beyond to get the job done.
8- The Firm Comprises Great Listeners
A good consulting firm is a great listener. They take the time to learn the ins and outs of your organization by listening to your goals, vision, and objectives. Its core aim is to use your assets to deliver the best results possible.
9- The Firm Stays on Top of Industry Best Practices
Any smart consulting company knows that the business landscape is always evolving. To help their clients succeed in a dynamic business environment, the firm encourages its professionals to never stop learning. They hire top talents, facilitate ongoing training, use advanced tools/techniques, keep up with the latest best practices, and they know the regulations in your industry, so they can stay ahead of the game.
Are Consulting Firms Paid Upfront?
It all depends on the contractual agreement the client has in place with the consulting firm. In practice, however, Chicago consulting firms are rarely paid upfront for their services. You’d be hard-pressed to find any firm that’s paid even half of the bill upfront.
For the most part, consulting firms are paid every month according to the monthly billing agreements on materials and time contracts. If the firm charges a fixed rate, most of the time it will be paid for the work once a specific milestone has been hit.
On some occasions, the consulting firm receives payment for the whole engagement when the project has been completed. But this isn’t always the case for small projects and temporary engagements.
Nonetheless, it’s not rare for some firms to bill a small chunk (such as a third or a fourth) of the entire contract in advance. In such an instance, the client will be required to process the payment of the portion of the contract fee in question. While the pre-billing arrangement may not be widespread, it’s usually preferred by small consulting companies that rely heavily on timely cash flow. It’s also typically applied to new clients.
It’s worth mentioning that the pre-billing practice can’t be executed when dealing with any government agency or the federal government itself. It usually prevails in the private sector and the pre-billed amount rarely goes beyond a third of the total contract fee.
Where are Chicago Consulting Firms Located?
Chicago consulting firms are found in almost all major areas of the city, although the vast majority are nestled in the Loop, South Loop, and River North Area.
Are There Different Types of Consulting Firms?
The answer is a resounding yes; the Chicago consulting scene boasts many different types of firms that you can partner with to take your company to the next level. They are firms that operate as experts within nearly every industry, specialty, region, market, and niche.
Consulting firms may also focus on a particular specialty, or offer more generalized advisory services in areas like law, finance, security, engineering, healthcare, public relations, government, business management, and IT.
Consider what your specific organizational needs are when choosing which type of consulting firm to hire. In Chicago, your company can work with a variety of consulting firms that include:
1- Business Consulting Firms
Consulting firms that fall into this broad category offer their clients management, advisory, and consultation services. Their consulting services are tailored to an organization’s needs to help it improve its efficiency and performance. In the process, the organization may also delegate the strategic work that its in-house team doesn’t handle.
Specifically, they help organizations optimize internal workflows, improve business processes, and offer an ‘outsider’ perspective. Their primary focus areas include business environment, operations, team cohesion, organization, structure, and hierarchy.
2- IT Consulting Firms
An IT consulting firm in Chicago does what the name suggests – the company helps organizations determine technological solutions that can improve customer acquisition, enhance performance, and grow the business. As such, it creates and implements technology strategies within the client’s timeline, budgets, and objectives. It may offer to consult on aspects that touch on data analytics, software acquisition, cyber-security, and system testing.
3- Marketing Consulting Firms
Marketing consulting firms are industry experts and thought leaders that advise organizations on advertising and marketing strategies. Their services may cut across the entire marketing gamut, but often include branding, creating SEO strategies, crafting marketing strategies, building actionable content marketing plans, and much more.
4- Financial Consulting Firms
Financial consulting is one of the better-known types of consultancies. The firm usually works with the organization’s internal business strategist or CFO to help optimize and align its financial goals, such as return on investment (ROI), spending habits, overheads, profit margins, and other aspects of an organization’s financial goals.
These firms often focus on creating strategic financial plans for both the short-term and long-term. They may also help with a range of helpful financial tasks, such as lowering customer attrition, cost-saving strategies, insurance, taxes, and investment plans.
5- Strategy Consulting Firms
These firms are brought in to advise, strategize, and support the client with making strategic decisions. They serve as expert advisors to the organization to create and implement a long-term strategic plan or roadmap. The primary aim of the strategic partnership is to help the organization realize its business goal in a financially viable and manageable manner.
Organizations hire strategy consulting firms in Chicago to:
6- HR Consulting Firms
Human resource is a core part of any functioning organization. Through industry insights, market research, and expertise, these consulting firms help solve and meet their human resource needs. They can help with team restructuring, advising on employee relationships, and making other HR strategic decisions.
7- Brand Consulting Firms
The brand of an organization encompasses everything related to its public perception and image. It touches on everything from the website logo to PR and imagery used in ads. A brand consulting firm in Chicago can help your organization explore new ways to optimize its assets to boost public image and increase brand awareness.
Can I Find Firms Specialized in a Specific Industry?
Absolutely, some firms will work more with the government, others with healthcare, and others with aerospace. It doesn’t need to be the only thing they do, though.
While Chicago consulting firms operate as experts within almost every industry, they can be specialists that serve organizations in specific niches, such as law, healthcare, academia, government, engineering, finance, biologics, or security. Within their organizations, these firms have skilled professionals that can also specialize in a particular market, niche, specialty, and industry.
You can’t even begin to fantasize about building a world-class company without first learning how to implement emerging technologies.
If you’re looking to join the big leagues of highly successful companies, you’ll need to start using artificial intelligence (AI). Top-performing companies are more than twice as likely as their industry counterparts to use the AI for marketing and 84% of businesses say AI will enable them to stand out from the competition.
Among other things, AI application can automate recruiting and supply chain processes, assist with cybersecurity defense, and identify patterns in data to create business value.
As amazing as they are, emerging technologies can be a hard to grasp concept.
Finding the perfect local digital marketing partner can be as challenging as finding your soulmate. That might be an exaggeration, but only because we want you to understand what a pivotal role marketing is playing in today’s world.
There are so many ways a marketing consultant can help you, but digital advertising might be top of the list. A marketing expert will make sure your online ads get in front of targeted audiences, on the right channels, at the perfect time and packaged in a way that’s too appealing to turn down.
Content marketing is another sought-after service. According to the 2018 Content Marketing Institute Report, 56% of companies in America outsource their marketing functions to third party agencies. Every piece of content coming from your company, from blog posts to whitepapers, infographics, and banners all add to your overall brand story and impacts the way the world perceives you.
Perfectly executed marketing content can turn customers into brand ambassadors who not only will continue to buy your products and services for years to come, buy they will happily spread the word about them without asking anything in return.
It’s not surprising that 75% of marketers plan to increase spending on PR over the next five years. Public relations and advertising services come in handy at every stage of your company’s growth. Building a strong brand image and ramping up your promotional activities will ensure you stand out in a crowd of local competitors and generate sales.
Attracting investors for your startup or increasing your prospects list becomes effortless when you’re covered in renowned media outlets. And establishing your business as a thought leader with the right PR strategy will make you irresistible to top talent.
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Constantly posting on your social media accounts, creating engaging content, optimizing your website for local searches, figuring out the best platforms to place your ads on, staying on top of your negative reviews, while also tending to day-to-day business operations can be a tall order.
In a time when 97% of users search online to find a local business and 86% of consumers read reviews for local businesses, investing in SEO services is the best way to survive – and thrive – in the digital age.