In the consulting world, the decision to go Big or Small can be a tough choice for many. If you have come from a large organisation (such as the Army with a workforce of roughly 40,000), the general trend seems to be to go with a larger established firm. It seems like a safe choice, right?

If you are considering a career change however, don’t discard the little guys. Here are five reasons why you should seriously consider a niche consulting firm or a start-up firm and some factors that will really contribute to your job satisfaction.

1. Culture and quality of life.

Small firms win big on quality of life factor. Research shows that small firms, compared to big firms, win on culture, compensation, work life balance, leave policy, work hours and innovation[i].

A sense of belonging and identification is an important source of fulfilment as well[ii]. Much like an affiliation to a football team, the same concept applies to the workplace. In a small firm, employees are more likely to have the opportunity to grow and shape the culture and are more likely to identify with the values and goals of the firm. (The only area small firms really lose on is international travel opportunities, but hey that’s what holidays are for!)

2. Working with who you want to work with.

Smaller firms can be more selective with their staff as they are less likely to land a large project and be forced to fill it with lower quality staff. (‘lower quality’ implies not only to skill sets, but attitudes and values, to ensure the right ‘cultural fit’ is achieved). Smaller firms are more likely to deal with small scale niche projects where they can carefully select their specialised staff. Research shows that small firm consultants are also less competitive and thrive on a collaborative environment, further reinforcing the positive work culture of a small firm[iii]. The ‘No D#*k Head Rule’ is always in force.

3. Agile and Dynamic!

These overused buzz words truly come to life in a niche start up firm and they are not just throw away terms. If you like the work environment changing for the better, small firms particularly start-ups, are likely to experience frequent change. Whether it is due to new teams forming to respond to rapid growth or restructure due to new clients and work streams, if you like flexibility and evolving with an ever-changing beast, but even better, helping to shape the beast, a start-up is an exciting place.

4. Initiative.

Whilst I served in the Australian Army as an Engineering Officer, I was constantly assessed for my ‘initiative’. Until recently, I never understood the link of job satisfaction to the ability to practice initiative. Larger firms tend to have set processes, and new ideas may not be readily embraced. In a small firm, staff are forced to explore new opportunities and not only embrace, but develop innovation to improve business efficiency and performance. There is also no red tape or bureaucracy to stifle your enthusiasm, or people stuck in old ways …as there are no ‘old ways!’

5. Diversify your management skills.

Large firms have HR managers, Business Development managers, accounting and finance sections, marketing teams and that ‘IT guy’ that fixes all things IT related in the office. In a start-up (especially one that choses to work virtually) there’s probably a distinct lack of any corporate overheads. That means team members will likely have to pick up and be across all aspects of running the business. The variety of work and challenges you are exposed to in a small firm, whilst working with a supportive tight knit team, can be extremely rewarding and serve as a great Professional Development experience.

Have you had any experience with Big v Small consulting firms? Would be great to see them in the comments below.


[ii] Organisational Behaviour 7th Ed, Robbins, Judge, Millett, Boyle, Pearson, 2014


Rachel Murdoch

Rachel Murdoch

Operations Manager

Rachel is our amazing tri-lingual Operations Manger. She has managed high performing multidisciplinary project teams on capital works and infrastructure projects in Australia and abroad. Oh and by the way, she has been a Chartered Professional Engineer since 2012.

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