I constantly work with other consultants with or on behalf of my clients. Some are consultants I help my clients locate and other are consultants they have found themselves. 99% of the time, the relationships and projects have a successful result, but in the remaining 1% everyone wonders what went wrong.
The business world is full of examples of consultants who end up providing less than desirable results. Sometimes, it's because the person is not really a consultant at all — they are in transition or just filling time between jobs. Other times, it may be the consultant is not the right fit for the organization or the project was not clearly defined.
When you hire a consultant or contractor you must have the following:
A person who is the right fit for your organization
A relationship that is set up for success at the beginning
A deal that is fair for both parties
A project that is clearly defined
I can't tell you how much time, energy and money is wasted when these things are not in place.
An outside consultant offers many advantages to entrepreneurs and smaller businesses, such as the ability to provide objective advice, a frame of reference and best practices from other clients, methodologies and models to gain results more quickly and permanent transfer of skills to internal resources. While external consultants can be fabulous, the wrong one can create as many problems as they were hired to solve. Lack of sensitivity to the client's business and culture, threatening employees by being an “outsider" and providing “perfect" solutions that are not practical for the client's business are just a few problems I've seen.
When finding the best consultant for your needs, I suggest the following:
Referrals: Ask trusted business colleagues for names of people they have used for similar needs, and find out specifically what the results were. If they have someone that has moved their business in the right direction, they will be more than happy to give you the contact information.
Chemistry & Rapport: Speak with and meet the prospective consultant several times before hiring. If you see the other person as a peer and a potential partner, then you are working in the right direction. If you don't respect them, or see them as merely a vendor or subordinate, please don't. You need a business partner for a particular issue.
If this person is a friend of yours, evaluate the relationship as a peer or potential partner. I cannot tell you how many “friendships" have been strained due to undelivered expectations. If you evaluate the relationship as a peer or potential partner for assisting with a particular issue, things will run smoothly.
Due Diligence: Ensure that the consultant has a valid business, with business cards, website, marketing materials, letters of reference from prior clients, samples of work and proven record of delivering what you need. All consultants have different experiences but I believe real world experience is a key differentiator.
Demeanor & Tone: The consultant should look professional and act accordingly. Their language should be clear and articulate. Be aware of their tone. Do they speak with you as a partner or talk down to you? I cannot tell you how many consultants I have met who forgot they were not the client. And, if you get voicemail, don't worry, it shows they are busy. The key is, do they get back to you promptly?
Fees & Deal Structure: A good consultant is willing to structure the agreement in a way that works best for both of you. Consulting fees vary dramatically and work is generally done either on a project basis or an hourly basis. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
Proposal: The consultant should provide you with a proposal based on achieving clear business outcomes, and not a methodology. You need solutions and you need them the first time. Every proposal should include an outline of work to be performed, milestone dates, how often you will be billed and whether payment is due immediately, Net 15 or Net 30.
And most of all: As a consultant, it's also my job to make sure that I am the right fit for any client's organization as well. I love working on new projects with clients but also get great satisfaction when I am able to refer a potential client to another consultant who I believe will provide solutions specifically tailored to their specific needs.
An outside perspective is a great asset for business owners; I hope this list helps guide you as you search for the right fit for your organization.
Beth Silver has been providing marketing and business strategies (http://www.doubetllc.com/services ) to entrepreneurs and small business owner for over 10 years. For more great tips and to sign up for Doubet's free monthly newsletter, The Target Advocate (http://www.doubetllc.com/newsroom ), please visit http://www.doubetllc.com