You’ve been there. Your business is growing and you just can’t do everything. It’s time to call in the experts – consultants who can help take you to the next stage of your business.
This is be hard for control freaks. But if you want your business to grow it’s important to accept that there are only 24 hours in a day and you can’t actually be an expert in SEO, sales, operations, admin, customer service, accounting, strategy and human resources. Well, you can try – but you’ll go crazy!
Handing over the reins to consultants can be both liberating and filled with danger. Some consultants can truly transform your business. Yet some consultants can charge you a tonne of money but you end up with little to show for it.
So how do you determine of a consultant is right for you?
Well, if I had a magic formula that could give us all the answer for this, I would already be retired and sipping pina coladas on a tropical island.
Nevertheless, over the years, I’ve learnt a few things – often, the hard way. So here’s my take on it:
1. Would you have a beer (or bubbles) with this person?
Hey, I’m not saying you need to become BFFs. But you need to click. If conversation isn’t flowing easily then that’s already a red alert. So ask yourself if you’d break out a boutique beer or two with this consultant before you move on.
2. Is your first question about price?
If you’re chatting to different consultants, is one of your first questions about price? If so, ask yourself whether you’re just looking for a bargain as opposed to finding the right consultant. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bargain. And if you’re shopping for widgets or commoditised products, go nuts. But this may not be the right approach when it comes to consultants.
I often mentor small business owners who are experiencing their first stage of growing pains. They typically look for consultants – particular with their website or SEO – and the first question out of their mouths is about price.
While price is obviously important, it’s far more important to see whether the consultant is the right fit for your business, has a passion for what they do, and actually takes the time to understand your business and how they can help you.
If you go straight to a discussion on price, chances are that you’ll end up wasting both their time and yours.
3. A recommendation is worth its weight in gold
It’s always worthwhile to ask your network whether they can recommend a supplier. But remember that you need to compare apples with apples.
Just because your best mate found a graphic designer who did an amazing job on a logo doesn’t mean the same graphic designer is skilled at designing a magazine.
4. Present scenarios to the consultant
It goes without saying that you should do your due diligence before you engage any consultant/supplier. However, make sure you go beyond reading the “About” page on their website.
Talk to them. Present them with scenarios about how you might work with them. I’m not talking about getting free advice on the nuts and bolts of your business. But talk to them about the process of working together; get their suggestions on how this would work. Their answers should give you an insight into how they work and whether this process resonates with you.
For example, “Once the initial designs are done, what’s the best way for me to convey my feedback to you?”
Not: “How would you design my logo?”
5. Determine what the outcomes are going to be from the start
This is all about setting expectations so that no one is disappointed at the end of the project. My most successful professional relationships have had very clear deliverables stated upfront, so it’s clear what the consultant is going to achieve.
One of the biggest disappointments among some of the entrepreneurs I meet is when they invest a significant amount of money in a consultant who delivers a beautifully presented strategy document at the end of the project but has no interest in implementing it. Yet it’s help with the implementation that the entrepreneur needs the most.
There’s obviously been a gap in expectations. And it’s one that can be avoided if the deliverables are agreed on in writing from the outset.
6. Don’t abdicate responsibility
It’s tempting to engage a consultant and hope they will transform your business. But don’t just give them free rein. Too often, I’ve heard small business owners say: “I trusted their decisions. In the end, their strategy didn’t work out and it cost us a lot of money. I never really agreed with their strategy from the start but I thought they were the experts.”
Yes, they are experts but the buck needs to stop with you. If your gut is telling you that a certain approach doesn’t feel right, listen to it. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years it’s that I need to listen to my gut more. I’m open to consultants challenging me, questioning my practices and pushing me out of my comfort zone. And you should be too – because it’s great to be forced to think in a different way.
Ultimately, the buck needs to stop with you. It’s your business. The consultant can walk away at the end of the project. But you’re going to be left picking up the pieces if things don’t go as planned. Embrace the new thinking and ideas that a consultant can bring but be prepared to invest the time and money to truly determine which of those ideas are right for your business.