Best Software for Consultants: The Ultimate Guide to Tools & Features
If you’re looking for a way to modernize your business, software for consultants with advanced features is the way to go.
As agencies try to keep up with the newest technical developments and shifting industry standards, the need for consulting firms to match their pace becomes more apparent. One of the best solutions for consulting business owners is to invest in a tool that streamlines repetitive tasks and provides updates in real time.
The benefits of doing this can be significant, from improved client relationships to increased agency revenue, to name just two. In general, choosing the right kind of software can help you standardize and centralize all your agency operations on one platform.
Yet, this process is not always simple. Even if you know exactly which challenges you want to resolve, finding the right tool among the dozens available on the market can be difficult.
This is why this article will help you find the right software match for your consulting firm. We’ll discuss key features and benefits, and then present our list of top solutions per seven distinct software categories. By the end, you’ll be closer to making an investment for your future by choosing the right consulting management software for your agency.
Why Your Agency Needs Software for Consultants
Despite the somewhat uncertain industry landscape, the number of digital agencies in the US has grown by 54% from 2018 to 2023 (Promethean Research). This oversaturation has created an imperative for businesses to optimize their operations in order to stand apart from the competition. This is why agencies are no longer settling for just any consultancy, but are looking for the best of the best to help them achieve their goals:
A number of businesses now rely on independent consultants who offer a high-quality experience, flexibility and cost-effectiveness to help them overcome the post-pandemic critical business challenges they face due to constantly changing business needs.
So, how can consultants step up and match their client’s expectations?
According to Source Global Research, the main skills that clients are looking for in consulting firms are the ability to make things happen quickly (43%), flexibility (37%), ease of getting support organised (25%), and good stakeholder management skills (23%). The best way to achieve all of this is to turn to digital software for consultants, which can help you:
- Be more reactive to project changes with forecasting features that support scenario planning and making changes on the fly
- Improve client communications by using accurate, up-to-date data during meetings and other decision-making situations
- Become more flexible by utilizing the power of resource management to get a full overview of your consultancy’s resources and workloads
How to Use Software for Consultants to Improve Your Productivity
Software tools for consultants can offer a range of features that help improve your productivity, client relationships, team collaboration, and much more.
Consider the following quote from the CTO of the Business Innovation Consulting Group on why they decided to invest in Productive, the all-in-one agency management software:
We wanted to improve the work that we were already doing, the internal processes that were already taking place. We were looking for a tool that would let us easily track the time we dedicated to each project, that would let us organize tasks within each project, without being complex, and that would help us foresee the future: the workload that we would have in a few months. It also had to be a tool and a supplier that we trusted.
Let’s explore some of the key features you should look for in software for consultants, and how they can support your processes.
- Client management: Working with people is a consultancy’s bread and butter, and this is something that the right tools for consultants can help you with. You can support your sales processes by keeping a closer eye on your potential clients’ journey on one platform, and ensuring that all communication is timely and informative.
- Work automation: According to a survey by Zapier, more than 60% of workers believe that automation helps them fight burnout and work-related stress. Making sure that your employees can enjoy a stable and fulfilling working environment is key to retaining talent and performing successfully as an agency. Some practical examples of features that help simplify repetitive work are automatic notifications for task updates, or cloud accounting support such as invoice building and payment tracking.
See more: 10 Best PSA Software Solutions: The Essential List for Modern Enterprises
- Reporting: We can say that a consultant’s working day is separated into three core activities: creating reports, doing research, and meeting with various project stakeholders. Certain types of tools, such as agency management software, can support both your reporting and client meetings by providing insights and transparency into your budget spend. With specialized reporting tools, you can get support with processing data and generating reports
- Time management: Making sure that your workflows are efficient is one of the main considerations of any agency out there. With consultancies, where a big chunk of work is research and meetings that can be difficult to quantify, keeping track of exactly how much time is going into each activity can be crucial. This is why time-tracking tools can be an especially good investment for the optimization of your daily processes.
Learn more about BICG’s consultancy software implementation story:
Types of Software Consultants Should Consider
There are a couple of factors to consider when choosing the right software for consulting firms. We can separate potential tools by three main criteria:
- By their comprehensiveness: When it comes to how comprehensive they are, tools that are created to support overall agency project management are usually called agency management software, or all-in-one solutions. On the other hand, there are more specialized tools that focus on one or a couple of features, such as project management tools or budgeting software.
- By their data hosting type: Depending on how they store data, we can differentiate third-party cloud-based platforms and enterprise solutions that use business servers. Cloud-based solutions are known as more flexible and affordable, while enterprise tools are generally the safer option for businesses with sensitive data.
- By their supported industry: Some tools are designed to support businesses that work with clients on projects, while others might also support a wider range of product-related industries, such as retail, construction, public services, and more. Additionally, some tools are created for specific agency types, for example, tools for consultancies or creative agency tools.
In this article, we’ll cover a wide range of tools when it comes to comprehensiveness, as well as include software that caters to a variety of agencies, as all of these options also have something unique to offer to consulting projects.
When it comes to data hosting, we’ll mostly cover cloud-based solutions, as they have been rising in popularity in recent times. This is partly due to data that shows the positive business effects of cloud-based platforms, such as: reducing IT overhead by 30 to 40%, improving flexibility and scalability, and minimizing the chance for IT incidents by 70% (McKinsey).
To find out more about ERP solutions, check out our list of The Best ERP for Professional Services.
Our List of Top Consulting Software Currently Available
We’ll explore eight essential categories of consulting tools with a brief overview of what they are and their best features. Then, we’ll cover the best options currently available on the market with references to user opinions from reputable sites such as Capterra and G2.
Without further ado, here are our categories:
Let’s get started with the first type of tool on our list: agency management software.
Agency Management Software
Agency management tools are comprehensive solutions for supporting daily business processes. Some of the perks of using an all-in-one tool instead of a specialized option are reduced costs due to the possibility of cutting down on the amount of software used, as well as more efficient, centralized workflows that have benefits for project teams, clients, and projects themselves.
Users of Productive, the all-in-one agency management tool, report as much:
We used to have a project management tool, a time tracking tool, a support tool, a way we handled opportunities and sales-driven processes. Those were all separate tools that we had, and it wasn’t good. It also meant that all that data was being lost every time we switched between tools, or we had to find a way to normalize the data between them. And now, the fact that it’s all in one, it’s really a game changer.
Now, let’s explore our top pick for the agency management software category in more detail.
Productive – The Best All-in-One Agency Management Software for Consultants
Productive is a comprehensive agency management tool designed to support agencies of all shapes and sizes. Despite offering a wide range of features, Productive doesn’t compromise on its interface, offering an intuitive and user-friendly experience.
When it comes to onboarding, Productive provides written and video educational material, as well as one-on-one support, so that both experienced and inexperienced project managers can get the most out of the tool:
What I was really surprised by was the fact that Productive continuously looked to improve the platform, to build out the platform, and they worked really closely with us. So, at the very outset of the project, we worked with the Productive team to set up what the needs of Saffron were.
Some of Productive’s features that support agencies are built-in time tracking, simplified project and task management, full budgeting support and resource planning, billing, purchase orders, an integrated sales pipeline, as well as collaborative documentation.
Let’s explore these features and how they can support your consultancy’s success.
If you’re working mostly on an hourly-price basis, you probably already have a system in place for tracking and delivering employee hours. However, are you sure that you’re getting the most out of the process?
Time tracking is a critical component for leveraging advanced functionalities like utilization tracking and forecasting, so finding a tool that implements time management with wider resource planning and budgeting features can be a big asset for your agency’s profitability.
Productive does this while making the process as pleasant as possible for your consulting team, with the following capabilities:
- Desktop timer: track your time from your desktop so you don’t have to switch between tabs
- Manual tracking: input your hours after finishing tasks for complex workflows
- Pre-filled timesheets: if you book your resources through Productive, your hours can be generated automatically from your allocation
- Budgeting: track hours across budgets to get effective insights into the volume of work being performed and its profitability
With Productive, you can implement budgeting into your processes from the start of the project. Input your budgets into the platform, no matter which pricing model you’ve agreed on: fixed, hourly, or mixed.
Productive also provides support for recurring budgets by letting you set up your date of occurrences to automate your budget creation. For complex projects, you can also split your budget into phases for simpler money management:
I can check our budgets in just a few clicks now and we’re not in a situation where we’re at the end of the month and we still have to deliver 40% of the budget and overwork ourselves relentlessly.
You can even invite your clients onto your project and share budget access with them, so they stay up to date with your progress step-by-step with you.
When it comes to aiding consultancies in handling recurring tasks, Productive’s budgeting feature also facilitates Billing. You can create professional invoices that align with your consultancy’s branding and directly send them to your clients through the platform, as well as generate and attach time sheets for hourly-priced projects.
Related: Top 7 Project Budget Management Tools: Optimize Your Project Budgeting
Productive’s Resource Planning feature can help busy project managers gauge the availability of their consultants, as well as spot any potential gaps depending on various resource categories, including seniority, skills, departments, and more.
With Productive’s high-level planning feature, managers can easily allocate time by inputting specific daily hours or percentages of consultant capacity, letting the system take care of the scheduling automatically. Furthermore, Productive offers the flexibility to define agency-specific absences, including the allocation of paid or unpaid days and specifying eligible employees. Consultants can easily request time off within the platform, simplifying approval processes without the need for additional tools.
Consultancies thrive on informed decision-making, and Productive caters to this by offering advanced forecasting capabilities. Get insights into budget spending throughout the project’s life cycle and forecast whether you’ll be ending up in the green or in the red. Any changes in bookings are instantly reflected, allowing for the exploration of different scenarios. You can also switch to the profitability view to get critical insights into your profit margins.
Forecasting Charts have assisted our organization significantly. The way you can see in a glance that your team is allocated (Scheduled), to how much of the budget you have remaining or to see whether the budget has been invoiced, is obviously extremely insightful.
You can also forecast your consultancy’s utilization, one of the most important metrics for successful agencies. By trying to balance your utilization around the industry ideal of 85-90%, you can ensure that you’re getting the most out of your company’s resources and doing work the smart, not the hard way.
Learn more about how to calculate your agency utilization rate:
Productive streamlines daily consulting tasks by offering a combination of flexible project views and efficient task management tools as part of its Project Management feature.
Get the flexibility of transitioning seamlessly between various views, such as calendar, list, Gantt chart, and more, allowing for versatile project visualization. Consultancies can also incorporate clients into their projects with specific access permissions, which can help facilitate collaboration and communication by keeping all project stakeholders up to date.
Team members can benefit from a straightforward interface for tracking progress on individual tasks. This consolidated view provides comprehensive task details on a single screen, including task assignees, deadlines, comments, and status updates. Another notable advantage is the customizable notification system, which allows you to tailor the alerts you receive according to your preferences, such as different user actions and devices.
Finally, Productive facilitates the creation of reports with over 50+ agency-focused templates that can be populated with parameters that aren’t included within the platform by using custom fields. These insights can help your consultancy become more profitable and optimize how resources across various client projects are utilized.
Additionally, you can create custom dashboards with specific project insights and share them with various teammates, as well as schedule them to be sent to your email, or any external addresses. This is a great way to share up-to-date knowledge and information with all relevant team members, saving precious time spent on collating, updating, or seeking out reports.
- Plans start with the Essential plan at $9 per user per month, which includes essential features such as budgeting, project & task management, docs, time tracking, expense management, reporting, and time off management.
- The Professional plan includes custom fields, recurring budgets, advanced reports, billable time approvals, and many more for $24 per user per month.
- The Ultimate plan has everything that the Essential plan and Professional plan offer, along with the HubSpot integration, advanced forecasting, advanced custom fields, overhead calculations, and more for a custom price.
- You can also check out the Enterprise Plan with custom pricing for companies that would include more than 50 active users per month.
Check out Productive with a 14-day free trial before deciding on your desired pricing plan.
Optimize Your Consultancy’s Workflows
Switch to a single all-in-one agency management tool to streamline your day-to-day processes.
Task and Project Management Tools for Consultants
Task and project management tools are software solutions that help consultants execute their projects and daily tasks more easily. This usually includes various planning, organization, and collaborative capabilities that support the streamlining of daily workflows.
Related: End to End Project Management: A Beginner’s Guide
Key features to consider:
- Task tracking: Creating, assigning, and tracking tasks across a consultancy’s project and teams, usually with status updates and automatic notifications.
- Project visibility: Project management tools usually aim to combine visibility with flexible milestone visualization through customizable views, such as Gantt, timeline, and Kanban.
- Collaboration: These types of tools frequently seek to connect team members and their clients, with features such as file sharing, commenting, and real-time communication.
- Reporting: Most project management software includes insights into key metrics in some capacity, usually combined with some data visualizations and customizable dashboards.
Productive integrates project management with general agency management, so you can benefit from getting both a granular and big-picture overview of your projects. For simpler task and project management solutions, check out two popular alternatives to Productive below.
Asana – An Essential Example of Software for Project Management
Asana is a project management platform for collaboration and project management that caters to diverse agency teams, including IT, consulting, marketing, and operations. Some key features of Asana are customizable project views, personalized task dashboards, reporting dashboards, time tracking and task management.
Consider if: Your biggest challenge is managing tasks across teammates and ensuring efficient collaboration. Asana is a streamlined solution for management, which makes it a suitable pick for smaller agencies, or teams that aren’t very experienced in similar solutions. However, Asana lacks some advanced features, such as reporting or financial management, so look for a different solution if this is one of your main considerations.
See more: Wrike vs Asana vs Productive: An In-Depth Overview of Popular Project Management Solutions
Trello – A Simple Project Management Software for Consultants
Trello is a simplified project management tool with an intuitive and streamlined user interface that is well-suited for smaller teams. Trello’s Kanban-like boards can be customized with official or community-created project templates to suit various agency workflows. Trello also offers essential project-related insights, as well as numerous integrations with other productivity and budgeting tools.
Consider if: You need to structure your consultancy’s workflows in the simplest possible way, Compared to Asana, Trello takes an even more visual approach that makes onboarding your teams easy. Due to its numerous templates, Trello is also fairly customizable and can provide support for a variety of processes, for example, the entry and calculation of data.
See more: Trello vs Wrike vs Productive: Choosing the Best Software for Your Agency (Features & Reviews)
Time Tracking and Billing Software
Time tracking and billing tools are designed to support consultancies in accurately managing their billable hours, client invoicing, and project budgeting. These types of solutions often offer various types of automation that aim to reduce the number of hours necessary to carry out administrative and financial tasks.
Key features to consider:
- Flexible time tracking: When it comes to time tracking, these types of solutions preferably include multiple ways of managing your time, such as manual input or built-in timers.
- Automatic invoicing: These types of tools can generate professional, brand-friendly invoices based on time and expenses recorded on the platform.
- Budget tracking: Billing tools should enable budgeting support by letting you track your budget spend across tracked hours in real-time, so you can make timely decisions.
- Reporting: Time tracking and billing tools should provide reports and visualizations of essential metrics, including billable hours, project profitability, and financial performance.
As a comprehensive agency management tool, Productive offers fully-fledged time tracking, budgeting, and billing support, with advanced financial forecasting capabilities that help you stay one step ahead of your projects. If you’re interested in more specialized tools, check out our top picks below.
Harvest – A Good Example of Time Tracking Software for Consultants
Harvest is a time-tracking and billing software that provides integrations with various productivity tools to help consultancies and other businesses streamline their workflows. Some key features of the tool include time tracking across various devices with reminders, invoicing with integrated online payments, and essential budgeting and reporting support.
Consider if: You’re looking for an affordable, specialized solution for time tracking and invoicing. Users of Harvest frequently mention that it’s a user-friendly solution that helps them bill and manage finances for multiple projects efficiently. As a downside, some reviewers mentioned having issues with how retainers are managed on the platform, so consider this when implementing the tool.
FreshBooks – A Specialized Option for Billing Software for Consultants
FreshBooks is a billing and time tracking software for businesses of all sizes that work with external or internal teams, as well as self-employed professionals and freelancers. FreshBooks offers billing and time tracking features, as well as providing support with accounting and taxes, file sharing, client communication and feedback, and profitability tracking.
Consider if: Your consultancy needs more advanced support for invoicing and time tracking that includes additional features for client work and reporting. It can be a good all-around software solution for various budgeting and accounting needs. Something to keep in mind is that reviewers frequently report issues with customer support, specifically that response times can get lengthy.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software
CRM software helps consultancies manage their client communications and relationships by organizing data, managing interactions, and optimizing engagement strategies. These types of tools are designed to enhance client experience and drive business growth by increasing the likelihood of winning projects and maintaining stable relationships.
Key features to consider:
- Data management: CRM tools can help consultancies store client information, including contact details, project notes, and various specific information that can be useful for repeated cooperation.
- Communication tracking: This feature enables consultants to keep track of their interaction with clients, including emails and calls, which reduces the chance for tardy replies or miscommunication.
- Client pipeline: Most CRM tools provide an embedded sales pipeline to streamline the tracking of a client’s journey from the beginning to the end of the funnel, including the conversion of won deals into projects.
- Analytics: CRM tools can provide insights into client engagement and conversion rates, which can be used to refine strategies and assess the potential profitability of engagements.
Productive, the all-in-one agency management tool, provides essential CRM features in the form of an integrated sales pipeline, tracking reasons for lost deals, sending quotes from the platform, forecasting sales profitability and performance, and more. For more robust CRM functionalities, check out the solutions described below.
Salesforce – A Popular CRM Software Option for Consultants
Salesforce Sales Cloud provides support to help sales teams in companies of all sizes and from all industries drive their growth and realize value faster. Key features include client engagement, email automation, sales analytics and forecasting, revenue intelligence, and sales performance management support.
Consider if: You’re looking for an advanced tool to support prospecting, keeping track of clients, streamlining time-consuming activities, and analyzing sales and marketing data. As reviewers have mentioned the pricing tiers are complex and the user interface can be confusing, Salesforce might not be the best option for smaller consultancies or inexperienced teams.
Pipedrive – A Good Alternative to Salesforce For Consultants
Pipedrive is a sales-focused CRM tool for teams of all sizes that is designed to optimize sales processes, enhance customer experience, and generate new business opportunities. Key features include an integrated sales pipeline, content management, email and communication tracking, and analytics.
Consider if: You’re running a smaller consultancy and need a solution with essential customer and sales support features. Some reviews have mentioned that users who are used to more advanced software, such as Salesforce, might notice certain integrations are missing or that API support is less developed. Overall, users believe that Pipedrive has a good cost-to-value ratio.
Financial and Accounting Tools
Financial and accounting tools provide consultants with more advanced expense tracking and cashflow management features, along with essential features such as time tracking and billing. These tools often feature connected bank feeds, online payments, tax support, purchase orders, and more. Popular examples of these types of software include QuickBooks and Xero.
QuickBooks is a simple accounting tool that supports consultancies and various other types of businesses in tracking their expenses, customizing invoices, and creating financial reports. Users often highlight that QuickBooks is an easy-to-learn solution, but that it might be easy to outgrow.
Xero is a tool for small businesses, accountants, and bookkeepers, with features such as connected bank feeds, real-time collaboration, pay runs and payroll reports, payment acceptance, and more. Users praise Xero for its range of features and user-friendly interface but often comment that the tool can be somewhat buggy and customer support slow to respond.
Document and File Management Software
Document and file management tools provide a centralized place for the organizing and management of documentation within an organization. They often include features such as version control, which helps maintain a clear history of changes and restore documentation in case of errors, as well as real-time collaboration. Other commonly included features are data security measures, search capabilities, and easy sharing. Common examples of these types of software are Google Drive and Dropbox.
Some project or agency management software might include integrated documentation management features, such as Productive’s Docs. With Productive, you can benefit by storing all of your project information in the same place where you manage tasks, schedule resources, and generate financial reports. With streamlined document handling comes improved productivity and data organization.
Communication software enables internal teams, as well as agencies and their clients, to work together efficiently. Key features of this type of tool usually include real-time messaging, file sharing, the creation and management of groups, and audio and video conferencing. The most famous examples of such tools are Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Chat.
Communication software can be especially handy when it integrates with your management tools. For example, Productive’s Slack integration lets you link up your messages with your project boards, so you can efficiently turn discussions into tasks. You can also receive notifications from the platform, as well as sync up your platform leave with your status. All of this can streamline your consultancy’s daily work and give you more time and headspace to focus on more important work.
Factors to Consider When Choosing The Best Software for Consultants
Finally, after reviewing some examples of useful software for consultants, we’ll give you just a few more tips and tricks for picking the right tool for your agency.
Consider the following in regards to your consultancy, clients, and teams:
- Your tool should preferably be scalable, so that it can grow alongside your agency, eliminating the need for switching to a new tool during a critical point for your business. A good way to gauge this is to keep an eye out on how frequently the software is being updated with new features, by checking roadmaps or product updates.
- More robust and comprehensive solutions are bound to be more complex to learn than streamlined solutions. Despite this, you should not compromise on user-friendliness. Make sure that the tool you’re going with is modern and visually pleasing to avoid user fatigue.
- Even if you’re going with an all-in-one solution, there are still going to be tools with more specialized features that you’re used to, or simply enjoy using. In these cases, finding software that provides a variety of integrations to link these solutions together can significantly improve your quality of work. Check out Productive’s integrations here.
- As previously mentioned, cloud-based platforms are more liable to security issues. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to combat this with security and compliance capabilities. For example, Productive offers 2FA, encryption at rest, limited data access, continuous backups, and more.
In this guide to software for consultants, we’ve explored some of the basics you need to consider when investing in a new software solution.
There is no true one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to supporting your agency’s processes, as there are many big or small differences depending on your industry, your client type, your projects, your team expertise, and many other considerations. However, a good step towards this goal are all-in-one agency management software solutions. With just a little flexibility in your workflows, your consulting agency can get consolidated information and standardized processes, as well as potentially reduce IT overhead.
Consider booking a demo with Productive to find out more about how you can optimize your agency’s processes with all-in-one software.
How do I implement software for consultants in my business?
There are a couple of essential steps to go through when implementing new software in your consultancy. First, identify your agency’s main challenges or pain points that you want your tool to address. Keep this in mind while you’re informing yourself about various vendors and their solutions.
During the selection phase, keep four main criteria in mind: scalability, user-friendliness, ability to integrate with other tools, and security and compliance. Once you’ve picked the right tool, you need to customize and configure your account to match your business processes, as well as train team members with the help of educational materials from your vendor. During all of this, consider picking a software champion to spearhead communication and onboarding – this can significantly speed up the process.
After a successful implementation, make sure to review what the software has to offer and consider changes or updates that need to be made to further optimize your workflows.
How do I get the most out of software for consultants?
To get the most out of your software for consultants, first, you need to make sure that you’ve picked the best option for your business by conducting a needs analysis and informing yourself of the top available agency tools. Make sure you create tangible objectives for your implementation period, such as deadlines, to avoid the process stretching out longer than needed
Then, promote user adoption by providing your team with the necessary training to start using the software in their daily workflows. Encourage team feedback and get in touch with the vendor in case of necessary changes, bugs, or anything that you require assistance with.
Finally, make sure you’re staying informed on software updates by following your vendor’s page and learning about the latest capabilities. Always consider how you can tweak your existing processes in order to streamline and optimize them further.
What are the risks of using software for consultants?
Some common risks of using software for consultants might come from a lack of planning, such as setbacks and challenges during the implementation phase, often accompanied by cost overruns. Others might be tied to the software itself, for example, security issues, limitations in customization, or bugs that can impact your daily workflow. Although it can be hard to ensure that none of these issues will occur, you can minimize the possibility with proper planning and informing yourself in detail about the software you are implementing.
Optimize Your Consultancy’s Workflows
Switch to a single all-in-one agency management tool to streamline your day-to-day processes.