Boutique vs Large: The Various Perspectives
Boutique or Large Firm - Which is for You?
Boutique Consulting - it's a term that's been bandied around for years now, but what makes a firm 'boutique' and do these kinds of companies offer better opportunities to new grads than industry giants? Ask anyone in the industry and it's unlikely you'll get the same answer twice, so we've poked around and gathered some of the opinions out there. Be sure to tell us what you think about the views we've presented here and share your own on which is best, going big or going boutique?
James Perry, SVP, InSearch WorldwideAs you build your consulting career one of the biggest questions and maybe one of the most important is what type of firm fits your abilities and personality. At this point you need to ask yourself a fundamental question of whether a small boutique firm or a large corporate organization would be right for you. They both have advantages and disadvantages. However, to make the right fit you need to directly connect them you and your goals.
Advantages of Boutique FirmsBeing part of a boutique consulting firm gives you the benefit of being a BIG fish in a small pond as opposed to a small fish in a BIG pond. Senior managers at small and midsize firms often find opportunities to take on more responsibility, earn greater recognition for successes, gain ample exposure to new practice areas and have a more direct impact on a company's bottom line. You can also take on responsibilities and duties within a smaller firm much quicker such as more project management, increased travel, training, mentorship, and possible leadership.
You also have a greater chance of being recognized for your efforts which in turn could lead to quicker advancement within the organization which ultimately leads to faster financial growth.
The nature of a small or boutique consulting firm provides you with the opportunity to have a more frequent face-to-face contact with the clientele, as well as direct contact with leadership. Within this type of firm you have the ability to develop a personal brand to promote yourself, your skills and abilities.
A boutique firm environment also allows for a faster sense of professional growth. Many small employers provide alluring trade-offs such as shorter workweeks, less travel and work-life balance incentives including telecommuting arrangements and flexible schedules. Small-company enthusiasts also mention how easy it is to gain experience in new practice areas or to return to the heart of a business. Another benefit to a smaller firm is that people are not climbing over each other in order to reach the next level.
As you think about a smaller firm really try to understand the dynamics of the environment which you are walking into and determine if this is the right fit for you and your professional goals.
Advantages of Large FirmsLarge companies in general tend to be regarded as dull and unsexy and that all the real action and fun is at small startups. However, larger firms certainly have their advantages.
You learn an awful lot. You get to see the good, the bad and the ugly. You see lots of very good ideas (like proper source control) and some not so good ideas (like how not to motivate people). Also in this setting you tend to acquire more formal and continuous training, which will in turn allow you to continually grow professionally.
While a big consulting firm may not seem very exciting, most of them must have gotten something right in the first place or they never would have become so big. Learn from this. And even the most mediocre organizations have hidden pockets of excellence where people still care and battle stoically to keep things going. They are some of the most resourceful people you will ever meet, combining great technical skills with the ability to manage on no budget and great political acumen.
You become part of a large community which will open the door for many communities.
Even in the age of social media, it is still often about who knows you and that you can do a good job. If your boss had a successful project team he will often seek to 'reunite the band' for another gig years later. A big consulting firm gives you a chance to impress and end up in the address books of lots of future high fliers. And they will take your call when you have something to sell and arrange an introduction for you on the strength of your past performance.
You learn the art of politics. For many people a large consulting firm is where you realize that it is not just about technology. A large company provides lots of opportunities to acquire diplomacy and political skills.
You also have time to reflect. At a small company or startup, it can often feel like you are squeezing a lifetime into every single day. Large companies do not move at such a reckless pace so you have time to learn, step back and take stock. Large companies tend to move in a slow, consensual way without taking risks. Sometimes this is actually a good thing.