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Good Advice Is Good Business - Choosing and Using the Right Consultant

We find ourselves living in interesting economic times.

Unprecedented. Global. And affecting small and large businesses equally. Until now, you‘ve weathered the storm using your experience, judgment and instincts that have never lead you astray. But now what?

You‘re facing an economy that‘s stalled, credit that‘s locked up tighter than a bank vault and clients and customers seeking ways to cut back. Perhaps it‘s time to bring in some outside help. Perhaps you need an impartial view. Perhaps you‘re simply too close to the problem.

A good business consultant takes a fresh look at procedures and policies to inject new life into entrenched business practices. What worked 12 months ago is already out of date. Times have changed, and quickly.

Small business owners may be reluctant to incur the expense of an outside advisor. Qualified mentors are, indeed, expensive ‘" and for good reason. They deliver solutions and benefits that far outweigh the capital outlay for services rendered. The key is to find the right consultant among the flim-flam artists and snake oil salespeople that populate the consulting industry landscape.

So, what should you look for when you‘re looking for innovation and a quantifiable ROI?

Here‘s an insider‘s perspective on what you need in a business consultant.

Seek referrals

This one is a no-brainer.

There are a lot of people who call themselves business consultants, success coaches, life coaches, and on and on, so if you pick a name out of the telephone book you may end up with a practitioner of voodoo who recommends sacrificing a chicken to improve sales.

There‘s nothing more secure than a referral from a respected colleague or associate. It might take a little time to find the right name and number but it‘s time well spent when you consider that poor chicken.

Ask for references

A good business consultant will have a long list of clients happy to recommend his or her services. Follow up with telephone calls. Most references will be happy to discuss the problems their companies faced and how the consultant under review delivered value and solid, actionable advice.

A consultant who can NOT produce a list of satisfied clients due to NDAs or some other ruse is a consultant who may not have the experience you need to solve your problems.

Credentials?

Is the mentor trained? Certified? Licensed? Credentialed?

Once again, ask for the consultants credentials ‘" education, memberships in professional groups, licenses and other indicators of a studied professional who not only knows business but also knows consulting and the role of the consultant as adjunct to corporate management.

What are your objectives?

This is one question a consultant can‘t answer and probably the first question the consultant will ask. So having a well-considered answer is going to make your relationship with a business consultant more valuable. The less the consultant has to guess, the more help s/he can be to you and your business.

My recommendation? Put together a list of business priorities based on where you want the company to be in 12 months, 24 months and 36 months. Don‘t broad stroke this part of the exercise. Be precise. Create the projections. Fill in as many blanks as you can. This is the road map to your long-term business success. It‘s also the road map to a successful collaboration with your consultant.

Know where you‘re going. The consultant helps you get there.

Be completely open and honest.

I like straight talk. It‘s a time saver and it insures the results my clients seek. A company owner who only tells me half the story is limiting the services and quality of advice a consultant can provide. So, trust in the integrity of your consultant and give the complete picture ‘" the good, the bad and the ugly.

Ask questions. Lots of them.

It‘s your business, or at least your responsibility. A good consultant is an invaluable resource. However, these experienced professionals are not mind readers. What do you need to know? What opinions would be most helpful?

Remember, the consultant is the professional in your employ at the moment so take advantage of the expert‘s expertise. It‘s important to remember that you pay these masterminds for what they know. So dig deep and get the most you can from your consultant.

Consider using more than one consultant

In many cases, the complexity of a company‘s problems may be beyond the scope of any one individual consultant. Your cash flow pro may not be helpful with branding your company name within your business space.

A marketing professional will provide little in the way of good advice on raising VC. That‘s why it‘s so important to develop your list of company goals. You may require the services of more than one specialist. Or, you may opt for a generalist who delivers the impartial overview of a business owner. Each company is different. Each problem a distinct challenge.

Whether you‘ve just opened the doors, or your company has plateaued, consider the services of a qualified business consultant. Choose with care, use your resource well and expect quantifiable results.

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