In the Broadway musical Avenue Q, the love-struck Brian announces the end of a period of chronic unemployment saying, "I'm a consultant! And I don't even know what that means."
Brian's not the only one who has discovered the rewards of the consulting trade. The U.S. Department of Labor identifies 109,730 people as consultants, hauling in an average $86,910 per year. But they're only part of the picture: One study indicated there may be up to half a million Americans who call themselves "consultants" of one sort or another. So while a handful of top-tier firms such as Accenture and McKinsey & Co. employ a mere 50,000, there could be 10 times that many who think they're in the same profession.
Who are these mysterious souls — the self-proclaimed consultants? The Consultant Debunking Unit (CDU) spanned the globe, gathering examples of this industry's unsung troopers — those who perform consultative services not for the boards of the Fortune 500 but for, well, others. We found:
- Joy consultant After leaving her job with an insurance company in 1979, Susan L. Colantuono decided to turn her perennial peppiness into a career as a counselor of good feelings. Her book Make Room for JOY! (Interlude Productions, 2000) includes the strangely un-consultantlike admonition to "sweep away material things."
- Flag consultant FlagsPlus.com is a New Jersey company offering a variety of festive pole-top banners, including many sporting the images of cartoon characters. Those unsure of which among this potpourri of wind-flappers to select are urged to connect with the company's "flag consultant," John Ceci, whose first question is the unhelpful "What are you looking for?"
- Compost consultant A mixture of decaying organic matter with a doubtful odor would seem something no consultant would dive into. But North Carolina's Ron Alexander proudly
- proclaims his company's status as a "leader in compost market research and development." Unafraid of getting dumped on by doubters, he touts his "expertise in product development."
- Satanic consultant When legendary Church of Satan Magus Anton LaVey died, he passed the dark baton to Magistra Blanche Barton, who provides advice and counsel on the ways of the Horned One. Borrowing the counterintuitive approach of strategy consultants, Barton even claims she doesn't worship Satan.
- Maypole consultant We located the self-titled "Maypole Consultant for England" — a London-based woman named Donna Maria, whose national "Mayfayresday" tours last year set a world record with a nonstop 24-hour whirl. Asked why she does what she does, Ms. Maria spoke for many an unsung consultant, saying it's to create a world full of "color, beauty, vitality, and fun!"
spike (n.) special talent or skill; what consultants are supposed to have
A version of this article appeared in the May 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.