consulting

balloons_There has been some discussion lately about large EHS consulting firms beginning to staff up in anticipation of a lot of “catch up” work as the recession ends. These firms advertise quite a bit that because they operate many offices located, in most cases, around the world, and offer a wide breadth of technical services they are the best firms to provide comprehensive, multi-sector EHS assistance to companies, municipalities.


However, in many instances, small consulting firms – even solo practitioners – can offer a competitive alternative to such huge firms. Because of the recession many highly experienced EHS and energy professionals laid off from their former large firms have founded their own consulting firms, and these small firms provide client companies with a viable alternative when procuring consulting services. Depending on the project, these small firms can provide services that are equal to or superior in quality for a lower cost than those provided by the large consulting firms.


I have seen it from both sides, having worked for two huge firms and now heading my own small EHS and energy consulting practice. Here are six advantages of using a small consulting firm:


1.    Personalized service. At most small firms, the owner himself or herself serves the client, and work is conducted by the owner or a trusted senior staff member. Through this arrangement, the client speaks directly to “the boss” and does not have to go through channels as is required at a large consulting firm.


2.    Expert service. With a small firm, the client gets the direct benefit of the owner’s or senior person’s many years of experience unlike at some large firms where projects are shuttled to junior staff. The small firm’s owner or experienced practitioner has direct involvement in the project from start to finish.


3.    Passion. Most small firms are thrilled to have a client’s business, as even one good project can positively impact their workload. This differs from a very large firm where a given project is one of many. Small firms tend to take the time to build close personal relationships with their clients. While large firms care for their clients too, small firms are almost always quite appreciative of their clients’ business and give that extra effort to please (sometimes providing “extras” beyond the Scope of Work) because their level of service is a direct reflection of the owner and the firm.


4.    Flexibility. Of course, a disadvantage of using a small firm is the limited depth of experience compared to a large firm. No one can know everything. However, there is a growing tendency among small companies to create teams to expand the breadth of their expertise. For example, I was recently involved in a teaming arrangement with 3 other small firms representing other sub-specialties that were needed to deliver detailed greenhouse gas reporting services. A Fortune 50 company compared the capabilities, personnel, and experience of our team to those of a huge consulting firm, and chose ours – based on merit! That large firm did not have expertise in all 4 areas that we had. The evaluation did not even consider that our cost was lower than the big firm’s.


5.    Lower costs. Of course, small firms have lower overhead costs (e.g., reduced office expenses, few or no non-technical employees, such as HR and marketing) than large firms. Project labor costs also tend to be lower with a small firm because there is less duplication of services (a second or third person reviewing the work of junior staff at a large firm). Therefore, in most cases, smaller firms can perform the same work at a significantly lower cost.


6.    Local know-how. Many small firms have an intimate knowledge of the regulations and even the unwritten procedures in the states where they practice. At many large firms, staff must perform projects in many locales and may lack experience in all jurisdictions. It is important to receive services from practitioners who have actual experience in your locale.

 

Companies seeking EHS, sustainability, and energy consulting services should consider both small and large firms in addressing their needs. While some situations may be better suited to a large firm, many can be solved just as well, if not better, by the right small firm.

 
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