Hire a consultant for business: The complete guide
Published on September 30th, 2022
Problem solvers, specialized expertise holders, recommendation listers, and the name tags for these miracle workers can continuously be rolled out. When things get heated up and situations get out of hand someone may have suggested or even yelled, “hire a consultant!”. In most situations, especially if no planning has been done in advance, haste makes waste. So, a hastily hired consultant may have added to the problems instead of solving them. If you are a victim of such a situation, then this article is meant for you.
According to this article by zippa.com, 499,861 consultants are currently employed in the United States. That’s a lot! So, there would be some point where you would have been in a scenario where your company or someone you know is hiring a consultant for their business.
What is a consultant?
If the question, “what is a consultant?” is still hovering in your mind, no worries! Here's a simple explanation: a consultant is a person or an agency that is called to provide solutions to quagmires a company is facing or might face in the future. They provide solutions to the stakeholders and who later implement the same.
There may not be a single industry where consultants are not required. Although most industries will have a highly qualified in-house workforce, the advantage of having a specialist is mainly because they get an overview of the problem as an outsider. The advantage also lies in how they are not tied down by politics or other pressures that may be evident when you are a permanent member of a working environment. Therefore, they can look at the issue with fresh eyes and focus purely on the predicament at hand, and provide unpopular opinions that may have otherwise been swept under the rug.
Hiring a consultant for your business: Why should you?
The wisdom offered by David Fields, a seasoned consultant on hiring consultants, is invaluable. Fields' insights, featured in his book, "The Executive's Guide to Consultants," span the entire consultancy engagement process. They encompass everything from selecting the right consultant to defining the scope of work, managing their contributions, and handling financial arrangements. However, the very foundation of this journey rests on two fundamental questions: Is the project worth pursuing, and do you truly need external expertise to accomplish it?
Fields recommends creating a "context document" to facilitate your understanding of the proposed project, which can also be shared with potential consultants. This document centers around six key questions:
- Why are we considering an outside expert? This section calls for a precise explanation of how the contemplated project aligns strategically with your company's goals and what underlying factors are driving the initiative. It should specify the decisions already made, their foundations (such as data or strategy), and what issues remain to be addressed. Articulate why you are contemplating external contractors instead of relying on your in-house staff. Keep this section succinct, allowing a consultant to grasp the essentials in a matter of minutes.
- What are our desired outcomes? Fields highlights that pausing to reflect on your objectives is the first step toward ensuring they are well-defined. Skipping this crucial step is a common mistake made by executives. Clarify the precise results you aim to achieve through the project and how your organization will benefit upon its completion.
- When will we know we're on the right track? This question pertains to monitoring the project's progress. Unfortunately, it is often absent from consulting agreements. Define your objectives and, for each, specify the criteria that will confirm whether they have been met, incorporating both quantitative and qualitative metrics.
- What risks do we face? Addressing risks in consulting projects is frequently overlooked, but it is vital to do so from the project's inception. Potential risks can include losing focus due to the project's demands and attrition of key staff if the project drags on. The context document should also encompass concerns about engaging consultants. Identifying and sharing these risks with prospective consultants prompts them to consider your apprehensions and develop approaches tailored to your needs.
- What is the value of taking on this project? This section addresses the fundamental question of "Why bother?" It involves presenting a concrete representation of your assumptions and the associated calculations, making the project's value clear both at present and in the event of potential delays. A conservative valuation approach, coupled with a compelling return on investment, enhances the likelihood of a successful outcome.
- Which parameters will limit or affect the project? In this final section, consider the time, personnel, and financial factors that can impact the project's success or require inclusion in the planning process. This might entail addressing board meetings necessitating progress reports or accounting for staff vacation periods that could affect project progress.
Choosing the Type of Consulting You Need
Before embarking on the journey to hire a consultant, you must define the type of assistance your business requires. The uniqueness of your problem will determine the nature of consulting you need. Consultative relationships can take various forms, including advisory, consulting, mentoring, and coaching. By clearly articulating your requirements and expectations, you can streamline your search for the right consultant. Some consulting arrangements may demand only a few hours per month, while others may require on-site sessions or short-term sprints to address pressing issues. Understanding your needs will narrow down the list of potential consultants. This will also help you estimate the cost incurred while hiring a consultant.
Ways to Find a Business Consultant
Once you have identified the area in which you need assistance, it's time to explore how to find the right consultant. Here are some valuable methods to consider:
- Search on Google: A quick online search for terms related to your business problems can yield contact details of consulting firms. However, this approach tends to highlight larger firms investing heavily in marketing and SEO.
- Explore Consulting Networks: Platforms like Clarity and OnFrontiers list thousands of consultants across various expertise areas. These networks facilitate quick connections with consultants without the need for complex processes and negotiations.
- Leverage Your Personal Network: Your own network, including friends, family, and industry peers, can provide valuable referrals. Social media platforms and professional networks like LinkedIn are excellent resources for recommendations.
- Visit Industry Events: Attending industry-related meetups and conferences can help you connect with local consultants. Event organizers and volunteers often have insights into potential consultants.
- Join Online Communities: Online forums, social media groups, and industry-specific communities are treasure troves of expertise. Engaging in these spaces can lead you to experienced consultants.
- Indirect Consultants and Mentors: Don't underestimate the knowledge you gain from online sources like articles, podcasts, and social media posts. Many influencers and experts may offer consulting services or be willing to engage in discussions.
Vetting Business Consultants
Before reaching out to a potential consultant, it's essential to vet them thoroughly. Use a checklist that encompasses references, background, and public appearances to ensure the consultant aligns with your needs and expectations.
- Look up References: Investigate the consultant's portfolio, CV, case studies, and references to assess their experience and capabilities. LinkedIn recommendations and testimonials can be informative but should be complemented with other sources.
- Run Background Checks: Verify the consultant's work history and expertise to confirm their suitability for your specific problem. Experience in your industry is a critical factor.
- Consider Public Appearance: Examine the consultant's public speaking engagements, publications, and collaborations to gain insights into their expertise and alignment with your business.
Common Mistakes in Consulting
When working with a consultant, businesses often make four common mistakes that hinder the achievement of desired results:
- Picking the Wrong Type of Consultant: Selecting a consultant with expertise unrelated to your specific issue can lead to ineffective solutions.
- A Mismatch Between Business and Consultant: Misalignment between your organization's culture and the consultant's approach can hinder progress.
- Lack of a Smooth Process That Brings Results: Failure to identify high-impact problems or opportunities that can be addressed effectively may result in wasted resources.
- Ignoring Directives and Action Items: Failing to commit to implementing recommendations can nullify the benefits of consulting services.
Hiring a consultant is a crucial decision, and taking these factors into account will help ensure a fruitful partnership.
How to hire a consultant?
Now that you have an idea of what consultants are and what they do, the next obvious question is how to hire a consultant. In other words, is there a checklist of sorts that can help handpick the right consultant? Well, it purely depends on the field of work, however, there is a general list that you could tick away. You can also check out this blog on 'how to hire a consultant' as well
As mentioned before, the Consultant hiring process depends on the predicament and the field that you are focussing on. But, this general list of traits is common to every field and it will give you a starting point when making your own individualized checklist. So. here’s a checklist for hiring a consultant.
1. The thought process to look out for while hiring a consultant: Out-of-the-box thinking ability.
The first essential prerequisite when hiring a consultant is that they are creative. Although creativity may seem like words confined purely to the streams of fields like art, writing, graphic design, and food, the application of the concept of creativity is far broader. The advantage of having a creative resource person is that they can push beyond the norms and the tested formulas and venture deeper into roads less traveled. The creative mindset of people also ensures that different ideas and ways to approach the business are also explored.
2. The skill to look out for while hiring a consultant: Practicality and conceptuality.
Is the consultant you wish to hire a practical and conceptual thinker? Plotting the right points when it comes to identifying the problems, or setting the benchmarks for tasks are traits that set good consultants aside from the rest. Is your consultant capable of being a funnel that directs the ideas of the different people in your group? Articulation of ideas into precise bits of information is also a skill that is usually overlooked in the corporate world. As a conceptual thinker, a consultant will prompt the correct line of questioning to squeeze out the essence of brilliant minds across teams. As a leader, A consultant can also formulate inspirational touchstones for the company to believe in.
3. The mentality you need to verify while hiring a consultant: Are they solutionists or problemists?
Well, we need both types of people as solutions cannot exist without problems, but when hiring consultants, definitely a problem solver is what is needed! Well, in a way, the previous few characteristics add to this one. Active problem-solving is a mentality that needs to be fuelled by creativity as well as practical and conceptual thinking. A consultant must be able enough to take care of conflicts that may arise without any anticipatory warnings or additional information. Permanent employees need additional guidance or expertise. The areas you may have looked into could be conflict resolution among co-workers, assisting in business plan creation for a self-employed person or even analyzing bookkeeping practices of a company, or providing training in a variety of fields.
4. The mindset you need to verify while hiring a consultant: Being like water.
M&As to rightsizing and restructuring, for companies to survive, change is an eventuality and a requirement. As a consultant, change management is a very important skill. A consultant may be hired by a company’s board, senior management, or a single department. They must cultivate a sense of poise, politeness, excellent listening skills, public speaking skills, and friendliness which will keep them in the good books of their hirers. So, in Bruce Lee’s words, being like water is a mindset that a consultant needs to have. The changes come without prior warning and the capability of consultants to adapt to these changes is a good determinant, especially if you are at the end of the line and you are desperately seeking help.
5. The other skill that should be checked when hiring a consultant: One eye on the watch and the other on the task.
The capability to organize and manage time is a rare skill. Although the phrase “time is money” is synonymous with breathing in the world of business, very few people can truly execute and deliver at a functional level. When hired by any company that values time, ensure that the consultant reciprocates by respecting this invaluable resource. Does your consultancy keep meetings beyond a formality and stress their functionality? Do they prepare an agenda in advance and keep a firm but gentle hand to ensure the meeting is on task? Do they only call in the required set of employees as a part of each meeting? Check if they are prepared with electronic presentations and documents. Observe if they prepare for meetings well in advance. These small metrics act as subtle determinants of how reliable the consultant is.
6. The third skill to check upon when hiring a consultant: How good a dealer is he?
Nope, this is not one of those scenarios where you fan out a deck of cards. Examine the conduct and the style of dealing. Is the offer the consultant provides making sense for the solution required? Are the timelines coherent with the objectives? Under what scenarios can the contact with the consultant be canceled? A few deeper questions sprinkled across the conversation with the consultant could act as the litmus test you need. At a more basic level, also see if your consultant is dependable. Do they have the “client comes first” mentality? Do they deliver what’s required on time?
7. The most obvious yet the most important quality to check while hiring a consultant: The trust factor
The highlight is always pushed as the last one on the list. Credibility and reputation are the two keystones or highlights that a very good determinants when picking a consultant. If the resources are available, a background check could give you an in-depth insight into the consultant you wish to hire. If the numbers clocked by experience are not according to your liking, then the qualifications and an assessment could help you determine the right pick. How good is the building? Check the blocks. To understand how good your consulting team is, have a comprehensive look at the team. What are the skills and qualifications of the people involved? Check if there is someone supervising the project from start to finish. It may seem like nitpicking, which is not required, but be aware of the red flags. It is better to pull the plug sooner rather than later.
Although the points given here are general, as a leader, contextualizing these points according to your field is your homework. All the best! And we hope you get the great problem solver that you deserve!
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Or if you are looking for a quick solution, why not check out the solution we have? Our management consulting skill assessments are quite the hit! Just book a quick 15-minute call with us and let us know the type of consultant you wish to hire. Don’t get us wrong, we are not a hiring consulting agency. We focus on creating tools that help source candidates that are AI-based. We also provide skill-based assessments as well as video interviews which will help you hire the right fit for any job role, even consultants! We’ll provide a customized solution that provides you with a set of handpicked consultants to help you out. Oh, and by the way, if you need a problem solver for your hiring needs, feel free to reach out to us as well!
Thomas M. A.
A literature-lover by design and qualification, Thomas loves exploring different aspects of software and writing about the same.
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