Why It's Hot

The prevalence of cloud computing is finally pushing companies to get rid of desktop computers, replacing them with mobile devices that allow employees to work from anywhere, anytime. "This year or next year, we’re going to see tablets outsell PCs," says Jack Plunkett, CEO of market research firm Plunkett Research. "People just want the mobility." But not all employees have the expertise to implement this technology or even to use it right off the bat. That provides a great opening for IT consultants.

Growth Potential

Since 2007, the management and technology consulting industry has been growing by an average of 8.3% a year. Profit margins have grown at 8.1% annually, according to financial information provider Sageworks. Over the next five years, the industry is expected to grow a more slowly, at about 2.9% a year. But there's no shortage of opportunity: By 2017, IT consulting will be about a $379 billion market.

The Landscape

The industry's best customers are energy, healthcare, and other businesses that require a significant amount of customer interaction.  They're aggressively seeking to move that interaction online, preferably to mobile devices. In many cases, IT consultants are on-site with their clients, reducing operating costs. Another alternative is to outsource IT, so you'll have to be able to convince would-be clients that you're a cost-effective alternative.

Barriers to Entry

Startup IT consulting firms face some of the same challenges as their would-be clients. Notable among them: Difficulty hiring tech-savvy workers. The talent pool has remained small, which means the IT consultants are in many cases competing with their clients for top tier staff.