HOW to Hire a Business Consultant
By Charlie Leichtweis, Experts in HOW
Making the decision to hire a business consultant is only step one in the process. Hire the right consultant and you could unleash tremendous growth for your company. Hire the wrong one and you can end up with company chaos. My years of experience,both as a CEO and as a consultant myself, have taught me a few things about how to hire the right business consultant. Here are a few things to consider.
Start with integrity. The character of the person you hire will influence everything in your business relationship. Let’s face it, just like your company employees, some are dedicated to your success and others are only there to make a buck. Look for someone who has a track record of quality performance. Start by reviewing their resume and look for proof of success at other companies. Ask how they did it. If they can’t tell you HOW, they may be embellishing or taking credit for something they didn’t initiate.
Look for creativity. A good business consultant helps you innovate. Even in initial conversations you will detect if they have a creative approach to solving problems or growing and expanding a business. Ask about tough problems they have solved in the past. Again, look for the HOW! So many consultants can tell you what you need, they just don’t know how to do it. The best consultants know how to help improve your processes using traditional business guidelines, but the best ones also know how to innovate out of a challenging situation.
Look for someone with formal business training plus experience. Anyone can call themselves a business consultant but you improve your chances of success by making sure they have training. An educated business consultant has been trained to quickly identify process problems and has learned a number of proven solutions. This helps you identify and fix your problems more quickly than the trial and error method often implemented by consultants without proper knowledge.
Choose someone with the “heart of a teacher.” Remember, part of what you are paying for is the opportunity to learn from their expertise. Look for someone who willingly shares their information and knowledge. This type of consultant will not only help to educate you, they will also share knowledge with key members of your team, resulting in a more highly skilled and knowledgeable staff.
Choose a business consultant with considerable experience. Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience,” and in business that is doubly true. A consultant who has personally faced problems such as loss of market share, regulatory issues or changing technology, especially across a variety of business categories, is a consultant who has learned much and can relate to the complexity of your business issues. Look for someone with varied experience so you can be sure they can effectively handle your unique situation.
Size matters. Choose a consultant who has experience with businesses of your approximate size. Some consultants are great for a business with fewer than 100 employees but they lack understanding the unique issues related to scale. The reverse is also true. If your business is very small, make sure they understand the unique budget and staff issues that drive the decisions small businesses must make. Just be sure your consultant has the right experience to match your company.
A family owned business has a unique set of considerations. The best consultant choice will be someone who has experience dealing with the emotional and relationship issues that are an important part of a family business. It’s also important that they understand which generation of family members are now active. A first generation family business usually has different issues than a third generation operation.
Look for a good communication style. How easy are they to talk to? Were they able to explain things clearly or did they speak in business cliches and generalities. After your conversation did you feel optimistic and uplifted or did they drag you down? A good consultant should be inspiring and show you a clear path to solving business issues. Remember, they will also be dealing with others in your organization and providing clear direction and inspiring optimism, which can be rocket fuel for your business.
Look for someone who has experience both in business and as a consultant. These are two different skills. You need someone who’s been where you are, facing business problems: but you also need that person to have experience coaching other business leaders through tough problems. Even in your early conversations, the best consultants should share some of their insights and Inspire a few “light bulb moments” for you.
Check references. It should go without saying, but surprisingly it’s a step many people fail to take. Ask for references who will talk to you. Pick up the phone and have a conversation. It can be the easiest most revealing step you can take when making this important decision.
Look for a free consultation. Your initial conversation will give you a good feel for their style and approach. You can get a feel for their personality and if they would be a good fit for you and your organization. If the conversation is strained or feels aggressively sales oriented, it’s probably not a good fit.
Understand who you will work with. Many consultancies have several associates or bring in contract consultants. You need to be sure you meet and interview the person who will be assigned to you. You might have great rapport with the first person you talk to, but they may not be assigned to your business. It’s true that most consultancies try to make sure all associates take the same approach, but you need to be sure.
Just do it. You can spend years on a hamster wheel, bogged down in the day-to-day of your business and never make any real progress toward growth and sustainability. Working with a business consultant can invigorate your entire company, generating excitement and the motivation to succeed. And that alone can be well worth the expense!