Are you thinking about adding some horsepower to your organization’s team by bringing on a consultant?
I have had a lot of fun over the last 30 years consulting with all types of organizations: independent businesses, ministries, Fortune 100 corporations, not-for-profit enterprises, and start-up ventures.
I have seen many organizations benefit greatly from the contribution of consultants. Unfortunately, I have also seen many consulting relationships that were disappointing and even harmful to the organization.
To help you have the best experience possible, I’ve put together the following seven questions to ask when “shopping” for a consultant,:
Question #1: Are They a “Big Black Binder” Consultant?
There are several national consulting firms whose model is to obtain an up-front fee ($20,000 to $80,000!) and then send a team that “Blows In, Blows Up, and Blows Out.” They are on-site for a month or so and when they are finished, they leave behind the proverbial Big Black Binder. I have carefully reviewed several of these Big Black Binders and frankly, many of them are well written and have good business info in them. The problem is, I have never YET met an organization that implemented the suggestions in the Big Black Binder. While the content may have been great, the organization was left on its own to carry out the changes.
What business leaders need is regular, consistent help from a consultant who knows them personally and understands the goals of their organization. I prefer to build a strong relationship with the client and communicate very frequently. This almost always leads to a long-term relationship that is productive and affordable. Speaking of affordable…
Question #2: Is Your Consultant’s Fee Affordable?
Consulting clients should be offered an affordable, set, monthly fee. This way, they can budget their consulting investment into their cash flow.
A while back, I was reviewing one of my client’s financial statements with them. When we got to the line where my monthly fee was posted, the client remarked good-naturedly, “Well, we know what THAT expense is for, don’t we!”
Then, to my surprise, he sat up straight in his chair and looked me right in the eye. He said, “Chris, all kidding aside, let me tell you something about our fee.”
Not being quite sure what he was going to say next, I said, “OK, what’s that?”
He said, “Chris, your fee is less than I pay the receptionist. For that amount, I get a seasoned executive on my team with over 30 years experience. Chris, I don’t mind saying this…You’re the best value on my staff.”
Your consultant should make you feel great about the value they return for your investment in their services.
Question #3: How Much Access Will You Have To Your Consultant?
Will you be able to get in touch with your consultant easily? Will they respond promptly to your phone calls and email messages?
You need to be able to ask questions and bring issues to your consultant in real-time. Each of my clients has my direct phone number, and all of my team members are required to respond to all client inquiries as soon as possible, but certainly no later than “before the sun sets twice.”
Question #4: What Resources Does Your Consultant Bring to the Table?
Are you considering an individual consultant who has a “platinum” resume? Even if he or she is part of a 10 member firm, your business will be limited in the amount of intellectual resources available to it.
A consultant needs to have access to a large network of colleague who can help with any business issue a client faces. These networks can be an invaluable resource for promoting the client’s services, finding specialist support, or opening new markets for clients.
I like to tell my prospective clients, “When you have me on your team, you get my 30+ years of business experience, PLUS access to an international network of over 5,000 top executive advisors!”
Question #5: Is Your Consultant a Cutter or a Grower?
Here we get into differences in personalities and business philosophies. I was an employee of a company that brought in a consultant to help them become more profitable. The consultant began with a savage campaign of systematically cutting over two-thirds of the staff. They then began cutting expenses in employee benefits, advertising, marketing, sales, customer service, and product development.
When they were done, the expenses of the organization had definitely been cut, but they were left with virtually no resources to retain their customers or to solicit new business.
My experience has shown that just cutting expenses does not result in increased profits, especially when you cut back on items that motivate your staff and encourage prospective customers to spend their dollars with you.
I prefer to GROW businesses, by asking these questions: How can we use the resources we have to become more profitable? What new products can we introduce with little or modest investment? What ideas does the staff have that can help us to grow?
With proper consulting leadership, there are usually adequate resources of personnel and finances in the organization to begin executing an exciting and rewarding business growth strategy.
Question #6: Does Your Consultant Have a Bill of Goods They Want to Sell You?
I was introduced to a business owner who really wanted help with her organization’s business plan. She was, however, very hesitant about working with a consultant because of the bad experience she had with her last one.
She explained to me that the consultant insisted that her business could only be profitable if she outsourced her Payroll, Accounting, Human Resources, Marketing, and even Sales. After a confusing and time-consuming transfer of services, the business owner learned that the consultant received commissions from all of her new service providers. And, to add insult to injury, they were all costing her more than before!
When a consultant is asked to help in choosing business-to-business service providers, loyalty should be to the client. I don’t believe it is ethical to try and make a few extra bucks by steering them to vendors who serve the consultant instead of the client.
Question #7: Are They Suggesting a Pre-determined Mold for Your Business?
Far too often, I have heard of consultants trying to force an organization’s operation into a model the consultant wants, instead of carefully defining what the organization needs.
Every organization is unique and has its own personality. There are, however, broad business practices that are healthy for all organizations to embrace. What I find works best is to have some general rails to run on by laying out a Business Operations Blueprint with the client.
The blueprint components include the Vision and Mission Statements, Goals and Objectives, Performance Metrics, the Financial Plan and Financial Review, the Operations Model, Staffing Services, Projects, Research & Development, Marketing, and Sales.
When I begin working with a client, the most important thing for me to do is…listen! Honest, open discussions will determine the critical issues that need immediate attention. Whether there is a toxic staffing issue that needs to be corrected or marketing is not producing adequate sales to keep the doors open, it is imperative to make use of proven business growth strategies. A customized blueprint will make it possible to lay out simple, daily tasks that will accomplish the goals and objectives of the organization.
I trust that this article will help you to have a productive and profitable relationship with your consultant. Here’s to your success!
© 2009 ChrisHart1 Consulting