Enlightened Leadership Blog | Choosing the Right Consultant for Your Business | October 2022
Choosing the right consultant, for the right work, at the right time for your business can feel confusing and overwhelming. What if the consultant you hire ends up overselling and underdelivering? What if you don’t communicate your needs effectively? What if you overpay? What if it’s a disaster?
I’ve navigated these questions from three interesting angles – as a consultant at big firms, consultant to small business owners, and small business owner using consultants directly for my own company.
Here are five key tips based on my own big and small business experiences:
- Admit that You Need One
Business owners and senior executives are similar in that sometimes they refuse to admit they need help. Reasons include blind spots, procrastination, and money.
In the big business world, a blind spot may be the higher ups don’t “see” the need for help because they don’t “see” employees working far too much on far too much. The work they need gets done, so they don’t feel compelled to devote resources to improvements, projects, or the engagement of their associates.
In the small business space, a typical blind spot is the owner thinks they are handling workflows adequately. Procrastination happens when they don’t want to pay someone else because their goal is to keep as much money as possible. Meanwhile, the business owner is tired, stressed, struggling to recruit and retain talent, perhaps even racking up debt.
So, how do you move forward? First, admit that you need help. You cannot do everything for extended periods of time without crashing. You don’t excel at everything – no one does. Second, realize the cost- effective answer can be a short-term consultant, not an employee.
- Specify Your Needs
Outline your specific needs by digging deeper, honestly. Write down your answers, when you’re not distracted by 100 other things going on, to these questions – refrain from the blame game:
What is my biggest weakness as a business owner?
Where do I lack the most support?
How could my business have performed better this year?
What could I learn from someone else that would make my business (and me) stronger?
What are my top two goals in the next six months?
How much am I willing to pay?
- Explore Solutions
After you jot down answers to the suggested questions, think about how to explore solutions.
Let’s look at examples:
- Is your biggest weakness an inability to delegate or lack of financial/operational acumen? Attend a training session with a consultant (start with two hours). Minimal time and cost investment considering what you learn. Many business owners think they don’t require this, costing themselves far more by not having it.
- Do you need admin type support? Explore options from part time help to a virtual assistant depending on the type of business. This could be simple like hiring a cleaning service, so you stop cleaning your workplace on top of everything else you do.
- Do you have a reliable accountant/bookkeeper? Find a good one.
- Does your staffing situation give you a headache? Seek help from a consultant (no need for an “HR person”). You need a business consultant you can trust, who will get to know your business and your personality.
- Is your business suffering from an imbalance of costs and revenue? Identify a short-term project to capture quick wins and go forward solutions.
- Do you desire help with a certain marketing task? Select a marketing specialist for a one-time project in the specific area.
Once you decide what problem you want to solve, check out service providers through referrals, online searches, LinkedIn, digital platforms like Upwork, or professional organizations.
- Understand Value Proposition
Before you spend a dollar on a consultant, protect your investment by understanding the value proposition. In other words, you pay this person and what exactly will you receive, by when? Correct financials from a skilled accountant? Lower expenses? Higher revenue? Stronger staffing plan? Logo design? Refreshed website?
As part of this examination, research the person you are thinking of hiring. Are they credible? Do they have a professional company website? Is their LinkedIn profile current? What is their work history? What types of clients do they serve? Do they share positive feedback from past clients?
During the final decision stage, consider trust and intention. I work with consultants who “feel right”. I can tell within five minutes if they would have my best interests in mind. If you don’t feel good about the person, don’t hire them.
Also, preserve your confidentiality. Be prudent with the company information you share. The only consultant who would need to see your financials (besides your accountant, tax advisor, business valuation specialist) is someone specifically working to provide solutions related to your numbers. Marketing/sales consultants do not need access to your P&L.
- Define, Define, Define
At the beginning of a service provider relationship, it is critical to define what, how, and when.
In addition, this is a good time to emphasize accountability – yours and theirs. Calendar to dos to check in with yourself and your consultant. Keep in mind if you fall behind on your “homework” so does your project.
Here are key questions to ask upfront:
What are the deliverables for which you are paying?
How do they proceed (i.e. what do they need from you in terms of time and requested information)?
What are the payment terms?
When will the steps/entire project be completed?
Do they communicate via email, phone etc. (Some folks are not email people – inquire in advance)?
Decide the Longevity of the Relationship
As a business owner paying for a service, you must feel like you are receiving value from the consultant without added stress.
You may desire to continue the relationship beyond the initial timeline. On the contrary, you may choose to move on because it was a one and done project, or because the person you hired isn’t right for you. No wrong answer here.
Later today, grab a pen and paper to journal your answers to number two, then three.
by Jennifer L. Musser