Select a consultant when you need added expertise to solve problems in your business. Which expert should you hire? When is a consultant a good idea? There are pitfalls to avoid and ways to ensure an efficient consulting process. Following these steps will help:
Know why you need a consultant.
You can’t always see the forest for the trees. Sometimes problems arise that are complicated or even mysterious. You may need a consultant who can be objective in order to identify the problem and suggest a solution.
You may know the problem only too well. For example, you need a marketing plan for a new product or you are upgrading your computer system. Congratulations, you just narrowed your consultant search.
No one person can be an expert at everything. No matter how brilliant you are, your management skills can’t cover every problem or think of every possible way to solve them.
Sometimes the solution is a big organizational change. Employees may respond better when the change is proposed from outside rather than from familiar managers or officers.
However, if your management team or employees have the expertise you need, think about “hiring” within and paying a bonus rather than bringing in a consultant. Evaluation the potential costs of both possibilities.
Do your homework.
Do what you can to identify the problems. Talk with your management team and employees.
Conduct fact-finding conversations with managers. Be sure these conversations are private. If you assure someone that a conversation is confidential, be sure you can keep that promise.
Try an anonymous written survey if you find that employees are unwilling to point fingers. Just be sure it is truly anonymous.
Set a reasonable budget for paying the consultant and for implementing solutions. An expensive idea that will solve all your problems isn’t much good if you can’t afford it.
Do a thorough search.
Use your local resources, professional organizations, and the Internet to identify candidates.
Word of mouth is often reliable, but sometimes not. You might want to ask colleagues in similar businesses for their recommendations.
Hiring someone from out of town may give you a fresh perspective.
Have several candidates from which to choose.
Interview carefully. Be sure you get your money’s worth.
Take the time to conduct in-depth interviews.
Ask if a candidate is a member of a professional consultants’ organization. Then check with that organization to see if they are in good standing.
Does the candidate work independently or does he represent a company that markets a particular system or solution to your problem? You probably need an independent consultant who can consider a variety of solutions.
Ask if the candidate has worked for any of your competitors. Be sure she is willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Be clear about why you need the consultant. State the problem or describe your difficulties in detail.
Ask questions about fees and costs. Who will pay for travel or supplies?
How soon can the candidate start to work for you?
How long will they need before proposing solutions?
Will they help you implement changes in your organization? Do you want them to do that?
Can you work easily with the candidate? They will need to fit with your business culture, your employees, and especially with you. Think about qualities such as a sense of humor, tactfulness, direct communication and integrity.
Have a good contract.
Know precisely what you want your new consultant to do and put it in writing.
Have a clear agreement about the consultant’s fee and who will pay expenses.
Draw up a contract yourself or ask for a sample contract from the consultant.
Be sure to have your attorney review it and revise all written agreements.
Have a written calendar of goals and deadlines that both parties sign.
Get a good start.
Prepare the way. How you introduce the consultant to your employees is important. Encourage them to be honest and forthcoming when communicating about your business.
Stay in touch and follow up. It’s still your job to solve the problem, make the marketing plan, or install that new computer system.
Don’t look back; you’ve made the best hire you could and now you have to trust your new consultant.
Be ready for the bad news. And the good news.
Once you hire a consultant, you owe it to yourself to pay attention to their recommendations.
Be willing to extend deadlines, but not too willing. If the consultant can’t meet the goals he agreed to, learn why. There may be a good reason to revise your timetable. Or not.
Evaluate all suggestions and ideas before you implement them. Meet with your management team or employees and make realistic adjustments.
When it’s over, it’s over.
Consultants make money by keeping you engaged, so watch for suggestions that you expand your project beyond the original plan.
Consider whether you really need those added services.
If you do want to expand the project, start over at the planning stage. Engage your management team and employees, make a budget, and write a new contract. Set a new timetable.
If you don’t need to continue – or want to – thank your consultant, pay the bill, and say good-bye.