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To Be or Not To Be A Consultant In Bangladesh

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Aug 28, 2016

It’s been a few years since I started my career as a consultant, but I have known and worked with consultants before that, and I found this to be a fascinating career path. Like many development professionals that I used to know in and outside the country, I wanted to become a consultant and I did. Over the years, I have faced this question from friends and family,

Over the years, I have faced this question from friends and family, in fact, I have asked this myself so many times:

Is consulting in Bangladesh lucrative?

Now, I cannot portray that many fields of consulting in Bangladesh, my exposure has been mostly around strategic and management consulting with donors, iNGOs, private sector companies. However, besides my own experience and experience of those I know in the diaspora, I have met dozens of highly paid professionals in Bangladesh who did quit their jobs and set up a consulting business in the country.

Before someone steps into the apparently lucrative looking opportunity, they first want to find out, "Is it profitable?" A colleague from the development industry sent me an email once, inquiring, "Fahad, how did you find the courage to quit your job and start a consulting business?

Before someone steps into the apparently lucrative looking opportunity, they first want to find out, "Is it profitable?" A colleague from the development industry sent me an email once, inquiring, "Fahad, how did you find the courage to quit your job and start a consulting business?

Consulting can be a great way to make a bunch of cash. It’s easy to start; just pick daily rate and jump in. But someday soon you’ll notice there are only so many billable days in a month or hours in a day, and you’ll be tempted to expand. Maybe hire an employee for $100 per day and re-bill them at $150. Easy money, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way

The true cost of an employee is double the nominal cost. If you bill out a so-called “$100/day” employee at $150/hour, you’ll only break even. Maybe you really need to bill out at $200/hour to make any kind of profit.

Which is hard because the client you’re billing knows, this person doesn’t really cost $200/hour. And when that client thinks about what’s “fair,” they won’t go through a practical computation; they’ll base it on the person’s nominal rate plus a little profit for you. This caps the amount you can actually re-bill before client feels ripped off.

So, Should you take up Consulting as a career?

Yes, because consulting has No or little Barriers to Entry. Compared to starting a software company or a retail business in a country like Bangladesh, consulting has relatively few to no entry barrier.

No, if you are not hungry for knowledge. Consulting is a career where you learn every day. Businesses, markets and societies are constantly evolving. Global supply chains, electronic commerce, the arrival of social media and changing demographics have radically transformed the way that we do business.

Yes, if you have a disciplined and synthesizing mind. As a consultant, you do not have to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none (by the way that’s what people will treat you like, so be prepared).

You have to master at least one way of thinking- a distinctive mode of cognition that characterizes a specific scholarly discipline, craft, or profession. The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively and puts it together in ways that make sense.

No, if you have never experienced failure. Consultants are entrepreneurs. Failure is simply indispensable to the entrepreneurial experience. The reason is a simple one: There is more to learn from mistakes than from successes. Understanding what went wrong, where instincts failed, or what internal and external factors were responsible for taking an enterprise off course are all vital lessons in business. Understanding the failures of the past is key to having success in the future.

Can You Make Money doing Consulting in Bangladesh?

You can, in Bangladesh and probably beyond if you are good at it. But I’d be lying if I told you that it is an easy path.

You have to be aware that competition is fierce, as consulting experience is very abstract and CVs of consultants are the most confusing ones ever (including mine). Consider an organization is looking for consultants to design an innovative business plan to take their products to the rural customers.

You will find yourself competing with people having experience in the advertising industry, in rural development, in social development, business planning and what not.

You will find yourself competing with people having experience in the advertising industry, in rural development, in social development, business planning and what not.

And do not forget the big players. Their presence might still be low in Bangladesh but the likes of KPMG, PwC, E&Y and maybe, Accenture, and a few others are there to take the big bites. Most big organizations and government agencies will not, repeat, will not, talk to you, if you are an unknown startup consulting firm or an individual consultant. They deal with the big sharks of consulting.

There are ways to get around this!

We chased a project with an influential development institution for almost 2 years without success. They made it clear that they work only with the elephants, and not with the small players. Finally, we told them, “We understand that elephants inspire respect and confidence. But there are cracks and corners in your project that an elephant cannot enter. You need cockroaches! Many times, it is those small matters in project gaps that ruin your projects. Allow us to be your cockroaches!” They hired us!

Think multiple streams of consulting Income. Your cash flow as a consulting business is often a huge mess. Reason: You may get a huge consulting project in one moment and at another not get any engagement for the next nine months or more. Think about other ways to earn money along your consulting value chain.

One way is to build a product. Most successful consulting companies I know have a few internal projects, which they hope to turn into moneymaking products someday.

However, it’s not a common phenomenon with Bangladeshi firms. The usual story is : The firm built a product because they needed it themselves. It gives an advantage in consulting because it accelerates their development and enhances sales pitch. But surely there are other organizations that would find this tool useful, so whenever there is a chance they utilize their product as a service. Someday that could be a cash flow generator by itself!

Consulting can fuel the idea and fund for other Businesses. Many successful entrepreneurs started as consultants, the reason? Consulting revenue can be used in funding more cost heavy business ideas like apps, software companies and more.

Being a consultant also allows you to work directly with your target market. Overtime, you see trends on the front line and can get to the heart of a problem. Consulting won’t be able to solve all of your customer’s problems, but working with your customers may lead to your next business idea.

Is consulting really that bad?

Consulting is a great way to earn a living. The trick is to avoid all the traps. For example, you know your days and hours counts, so plan accordingly. Set up incentives where employees a share in the profits when they bust ass. It’s always hard.

Most consulting companies don’t make much profit, and one in a thousand has the discipline to launch a successful product during off-hours. If you’re going to make it happen, you yourself need to be serious, disciplined, and relentless.

A typical Bangladeshi organization struggles to pay for the intangible. Knowledge is not food. It is neither a car nor a new product line. It is not a cell phone or an app. So, why pay for something you cannot eat right now?

That tide has been changing and will get better as we tend to move towards the knowledge-based economy. You will make money. But can you pay the price of persisting and waiting?


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Mohd Fahad Ifaz is a private sector development consultant and co-founder at EDGE Consulting ltd. and amarCV.com

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