Career paths

Boutique Consulting Firms: A Comprehensive Guide

These smaller firms provide opportunities that you won't find elsewhere

Boutique consulting firms are smaller firms that specialize in a particular industry, location, or type of consulting. So, while a larger organization like Bain & Company may offer a wide range of generalist consulting services across industries, a boutique consulting firm may decide to focus its efforts on healthcare clients or the information technology sector.

While boutique consulting firms don't boast the same level of prestige as the Deloittes and McKinseys of the world, they offer a plethora of opportunities and can be great places to jumpstart your career. Read on to learn the pros and cons of working for boutique consulting firms and our list of 10 boutique firms you should have on your radar. 

Working for a Boutique Consulting Firm

There are many factors you should consider when deciding whether to pursue opportunities at a boutique firm versus larger, better known consulting companies.

The upsides

The consulting industry isn't known for having the best work-life balance. MBB and Big Four consulting firms are notorious for 60-70 hour work weeks and regular travel. However, boutique firms are less likely to require this commitment. Many smaller consultancies expect closer to 50 hours per week and an average of one week travelling per month. Of course, this will vary across firms and projects. 

Boutique firms also tend to have more informal cultures. The relative lack of bureaucracy allows for a faster paced, easily adaptable environment, almost similar to startups. This allows individuals to be more scrappy and take on higher levels of responsibility earlier on.

Finally, boutique consulting firms will often help you gain expertise in a particular type of consulting (i.e. growth strategy) or industry (i.e. healthcare). If you're passionate about a specific field or type of work, or you're interested in being a specialist (rather than a generalist) early on, this may be the right path for you.

The downsides

Although there is much to gain from working for a boutique consulting firm, there are downsides as well. As mentioned previously, boutique consulting firms are smaller by definition and usually don't have the same name recognition as working for top consulting firms like Deloitte or Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

While the most prestigious boutique firms attract big names, larger firms are still more likely to have high-profile clients. Their clientele will also be more varied, since many boutique firms are industry-specific. 

Finally, it's worth mentioning that boutique firms tend to have lower salaries than MBB.

10 Notable Boutique Consulting Firms

Below, we've rounded up a list of 10 boutique consulting firms in the United States that should be on your radar. While this is not an exhaustive list by any means, these firms were selected because of their high rankings and positive testimonials from platforms like Vault, LinkedIn, Quora and Glassdoor.

Please note: These estimated salaries were taken off of Glassdoor and have not been verified for accuracy.

1. Vynamic

Philadelphia, PA

Vynamic is a management consulting firm that focuses on the healthcare industry and its tangential sectors. On their website, the firm advertises that they help their clients achieve three outcomes: Actionable Strategy, Operational Intelligence and Healthy Culture. Vynamic currently holds a perfect 5/5 on Glassdoor, with one recent review describing the firm as "a company that puts their employees first." Others mention Vynamic's open leadership, positive company culture and strong sense of purpose. 

According to Glassdoor, consultants can expect an average salary of $157,000.

2. Cornerstone Research

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco-based firm Cornerstone Research is a litigation consulting firm that provides economic and financial analysis. Some of their services include Consulting with Attorneys, Engaging and Working with Expert Witnesses, Consulting on Internal and Regulatory Inquiries and Preparing for Deposition and Trial, among others. The firm has a Glassdoor score of 4.0/5, with 84% of respondents noting they approve of the CEO. Past employees noted generous compensation, career development and engaging work as positive aspects of the firm.

According to Glassdoor, consultants can expect an average salary of $158,000.

3. ClearView Healthcare Partners

Newton, MA

Vault placed ClearView Healthcare Partners at number one in its list of the best boutique consulting firms of 2020. Founded in 2007, ClearView is a consulting firm that specializes in four main areas: pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices and diagnostics. The firm is highly regarded in the life sciences industry and employees have praised the firm for its driven workforce and opportunities for advancement. On their website, ClearView touts that they are the largest independent life science-focused strategy consulting firm.

According to Glassdoor, consultants can expect an average salary of $115,726.

4. ghSmart

Chicago, IL

Ranked number one for Overall Satisfaction by Vault this year, ghSmart is a leadership advisory firm to CEOs, investors and boards. According to their website, the firm regularly performs Leadership Advisory work with some of the largest private equity firms, investment management firms, Fortune 500 companies and well-respected non-profits. The firm boasts an impressive 4.9/5 rating on Glassdoor, with respondees calling attention to the firm's flexible work culture, generous compensation and fun work environment.

According to Glassdoor, consultants can expect an average salary of $265,496.

5. Putnam Associates

Boston, MA

Putnam Associates is a strategy consulting firm focusing on biopharmaceutical, diagnostics and medical device clients, plus the private equity and venture capital community. With over 30 years of experience in the industry, their clients range from venture-backed startups to global biopharmaceutical companies. According to their website, Putnam Associates prides itself on "solving problems that involve the complex interactions of patients, physicians, payers, healthcare institutions and regulators." Employees on Glassdoor cited interesting projects and advancement opportunities as two of the biggest pros for working here. 

According to Glassdoor, consultants can expect an average salary of $131,491.

6. Insight Sourcing Group

Atlanta, GA

Founded in 2002, Insight Sourcing Group is a consulting firm that specializes exclusively in cost optimization and procurement consulting services. According to Vault, the firm boasts a wide range of clients including lululemon, Aaron’s Inc. and Under Armor. The consulting firm also touts some impressive outcomes; according to their website, typical client results include 20% average savings per indirect spend category, 5-15% for direct spend categories and 400-600% first-year return on investment. Insight Sourcing Group is rated 4.8/5 on Glassdoor, with past and current employees commenting on its incredible work culture and good work-life balance for the consulting industry.

According to Glassdoor, consultants can expect an average salary of $80,000.

7. Eagle Hill Consulting

Arlington, VA

On their website, Eagle Hill Consulting describes itself as "a family-run community of consultants applying the best tools and methodologies of larger consultancies in the nimble environment—and with the personalized attention—of a smaller firm." The woman-owned consulting firm provides a wide range of management consulting services in areas including Strategy & Performance, Talent and Change. Their work spans a wide range of industries including financial services, healthcare and media and entertainment. Employees here have praised the firm's transparent leadership and positive work environment. 

According to Glassdoor, consultants can expect an average salary of $77,000.

8. ILLUME Advising

Madison, WI

ILLUME specializes in the energy industry, providing end-to-end consulting using social and data science research services. Serving utilities and energy clients throughout all of North America, ILLUME provides services including Formative Research, Design & Planning, Evaluation Research and Regulatory Support. The firm calls itself a "values-driven company," encouraging its employees to give back to their communities and pursue their passions, in addition to succeeding in the workplace.

According to Glassdoor, consultants can expect an average salary of $73,000.

9. Acquis Consulting Group

New York, NY

Acquis Consulting Group focuses on strategy and implementation, providing services like New Product & Service Development, Post Merger Integration, Technology Solutions, Digital Transformation & Customer Strategy and Legal Spend Optimization. The firm has been praised for its friendly culture and work-life balance, along with generous compensation and benefits.

According to Glassdoor, associate consultants can expect an average salary of $111,081.

10. The Bridgespan Group

Boston, MA

Founded in 2000, the Bridgespan Group is a global nonprofit that works with philanthropists, nonprofit and NGO leaders, and impact investors. They offer services including strategy consulting and advising, sourcing and diligence, and leadership team support. According to their website, their vision is "to make the world more equitable and just." The Bridgespan Group boasts a Glassdoor rating of 4/5, with many people calling it a great place for young people to gain opportunities and receive professional development. 

According to Glassdoor, consultants can expect an average salary of $116,751.

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