Sunday, July 22, 2007

Dos and Don’ts of Hiring a Consultant

It’s not always necessary or practical to hire new staff members. Small businesses are especially sensitive to the cost burdens associated with adding employees.

When you need extra help to power a change in course or jump-start a project, or when you need high-level experience for only a limited time to guide you from Point A to Point B, then a consultant can be your answer.

But knowing the answer might engender more questions—where do I find a consultant? How can I trust a consultant? What can I expect the consultant to do for me?

Start by asking around. Call the officers at local professional associations (think networking groups for the type of help you need, i.e., marketing, HR, computer/technical, strategic communications) and talk with other small business owners to find referrals.

Then use the following tips to help you make your choice and to establish a useful working relationship with your consultant.

Do check references.
Ask other clients with whom a consultant has worked for information about their performance, just as you would a potential employee.

Do be prepared for your meetings.
Know what you want to get from each meeting, take notes, and be sure you know which one of you is responsible for communicating those notes afterwards. You’ll pay by the hour, remember…stay on task in meetings and don’t waste time having to refresh your memory on what was supposed to be done. Plus, the more research and information you have prepared for the consultant, the quicker it will be for him or her to get up to speed to perform the work. You’ll save money by being prepared.

Do discuss expectations and responsibilities.
Clarify roles and responsibilities about project goals. Who owns what? Be sure that you are holding the consultant accountable; he or she may be the expert, but you’re the boss. Manage his or her progress toward goals just as you would any other employee.

Do protect your business interests.
Clarify whether or not your consultant has clients in a similar business. Investigate potential conflict of interest. Discuss with your attorney the benefit or necessity of making your consultant sign a non-disclosure agreement before beginning work.

Don’t hire a do-it-all.
If a consultant says he can tighten your financial controls, build you a web site guaranteed to increase sales and make it search engine friendly to boot, manage your business’s credit accounts, help you redesign your office, train your sales staff, and protect your business against lawsuits, BEWARE! Consultants are supposed to be experts in a chosen field. People who claim to be able to do it all are rarely able to deliver exceptional results across the board. For best results with multiple projects, you’ll see better results—and thereby receive better value—by hiring a consultant for each respective industry. You don’t save money in the long run when you hire one person to do mediocre work for you in every department.

Don’t think they will be a magic wand.
Consultants can’t save you from yourself. Whatever problems or troubles you might find yourself facing, you ultimately will have to lead yourself out of it. A consultant can provide expert advice, valuable perspectives, and priceless experience to help you. But don’t expect one person to single-handedly deliver you from evil.

Don’t seek a bargain.
Consultants are experts. Prepare to pay for expertise.

Don’t take their experience for granted.
Be sure to check for specific, documented proof that they can do what they say they can do. Just because they tell you they’ve done XYZ before, doesn’t mean they did. In addition to checking references, check out their previous clients’ web sites and place a phone call or two to be sure everything lines up. You’re not being paranoid, you’re performing due diligence.

For more suggestions, read, “How to Hire the RIGHT Consultant”—written by a consultant who helps businesses find and hire consultants.

1 comment:

Brett LaDove said...

For some additional tips on how to hire a consultant, you can download a pdf from the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC), NorCal at

(BTW, I'm the chapter President)
Consultants in the area can also join (for free).