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Michael View

Choosing The Right Consultant

23 March 2015 by Michael Harrison

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At some stage in the growth cycle of a business, it‘s a good idea to hire a consultant who will see things in a different light.

You can hire an experienced consultant and invest in that expert‘s advice, or you can cut corners and get a freshly graduated business student running a consultancy out of his bedroom.

Before hiring any outside help ‘" especially a business consultant ‘" put together a one-paragraph statement of what you want your consultant to do. Research? Advice? Implement? Oversee? Know what you need before you hire professional advice.

Industry-Specific Advisors

Generalists know general best business practices ‘" the information we learned in business school and forgot.

An industry specialist knows the landscape ‘" the market, the competition, the needs and drives of prospective consumers, the problems faced by your business in your sphere of operation.

So, if your company has plateaued, bringing an industry expert moves you in different directions, presents options for improving business activity, and understands your objectives as well as you do.

Generalists are fine, but if your business operates in the insurance industry, big pharma, retail, wholesale, marketing ‘" get a consultant who‘s been there and done that.

Consultant History: Study Previous Work

This may not always be possible. Most consultants routinely provide non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that prohibit them from sharing information about another company.

However, many consultants request permission to reference past successes, and smart company owners know it creates a positive impression. Your business, your sales tactics, your website are used as examples of how it should be done.

Direct your consultant.

What are your company‘s objectives? Got a plan to reach those goals, or are you still trying to figure out that part?

Get your consultant up to speed ASAP. Provide your thoughts on the issues and problems facing your company, then start listening.

Clearly define your expectations and direct your consultant to meet those expectations.

Track your consultant.

Ask for regular reports from any consultant you hire, including a time sheet if necessary.

What did the consultant do? How long did it take for her to do it?

How do you measure success?

A consultant may provide a solution that doesn‘t work to solve a business problem. How are refinements made? What are the consultant‘s projections for business improvement? How will you measure when the consultant‘s engagement is complete?

A simple contract between company and consultant will get all stakeholders on the same page, with clear objectives, and defined measures of success.

Where (And How) To Start Your Search

Talk to colleagues, sub-contractors and other individuals with whom you work. They know your needs, they‘re stakeholders in your company‘s success, and the know somebody who knows somebody.

  • Contact industry-specific trade associations for referrals.
  • Attend business conferences and trade shows, i.e. network.
  • Interview several prospects to find someone who shares the same work ethic and professional and personal values as you do.
  • Look locally to cut down on travel costs. There‘s a business consultant near you so you don‘t have to look far.
  • Start your search early. Consultants ‘" the good ones ‘" have most of their time scheduled well in advance, so start looking well in advance.
  • Don‘t let cost be the deciding factor. With consultants, the good ones know their value and charge accordingly.
  • Define exactly the outcomes you expect from your consultant to get what you need from your consultant.
  • Look at each consultants credentials. Credentials may not be proof of a consultant‘s value, but they indicate an engaged professional within your industry sphere.
  • Create a detailed statement of work (SOW) with work and payment milestones listed. When hiring a consultant, get it in writing.

Many business owners simply need some fresh ideas to grow more profitable, and because independent consultants work in many business spheres, they have those fresh ideas ‘" ideas picked up from years of business consultation.

You don‘t have to go it alone. Just take your time to find the right consultant for you, your team, and your business.

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