Almost every business will eventually need to hire a consultant. Why? Because most businesses aren’t able to afford to hire top talent and experts in every conceivable field. Businesses tend to specialize in one or two main areas, and their full-time support staff needs to be able to accomplish tasks important to the daily function of the business. Tackling tough problems, conducting audits, or brainstorming new ideas are obstacles that only highly experienced industry professionals can perform efficiently—but they’re too costly to keep on hand indefinitely.
However, consultants are still a major investment and need to be considered carefully. Consultants often charge hundreds to thousands of dollars an hour, depending on their level of expertise and the nature of the consultation. A weeks-long engagement, or even a single session could cost your business tens of thousands of dollars or more—and dictate your future success. Accordingly, you’ll need to do your research to make the best decision possible, but what’s the best approach here?
The Evaluation Phase
Your first step is to figure out what you actually need. Chances are, you’re facing some immediate problem; for example, you may be seeing lackluster results in your advertising campaign, or you may be seeing a decline in overall profitability. Work with staff members to determine the root causes of the problem, as best you can, and determine the following:
- What’s the problem? Try to summarize the problem in a single sentence. “Something’s wrong” isn’t specific enough to help you find the best candidate.
- What’s the ideal solution? A consultant can help you set more specific goals, but you should have something general in place to guide your research, such as “we need more sales.”
- What have you tried already? This can help you avoid consultants who specialize in tactics you’ve already exhausted.
- How much are you willing to spend? This will help you find a consultant who operates within your budgetary limits.
The Research Phase
Next is the research phase. With your list of needs and other criteria, you can start generating a list of potential candidates who could help your business, with the following tactics:
- Online search. For starters, you can use a platform like Consultants 500, which lists consultants from many industries and with many backgrounds, along with rates, ratings, and reviews. This is helpful because it gives you a wide pool of candidates to choose from and helps you compare them apples-to-apples, with the same information listed for each candidate.
- Recommendations. It’s also worth talking to other business owners in your industry to see if they have any recommendations from their past. Any consultant you find online will claim to be the best, but a real-life example of a success story is hard to deny.
- Networking. You could also look for consultants by networking, either through in-person events, or online through platforms like LinkedIn.
However you choose to find your consultant candidates, don’t stop at just making a list. Follow up by looking at reviews and case studies, and if you can, call up one or two of their previous clients to see what the working experience was like.
The Interview Phase
At this point, you should have narrowed your field down to a handful of candidates. It’s time to start the interview phase.
In this phase, you know that each of your prospective candidates has a strong working history, a favorable reputation, and a price range that suits your budget, so your main goal should be to discover what the working relationship will be like. Find out what processes each consultant will take (including initial audits, daily interactions, and post-contract analyses), and get a feel for how they communicate with you and your staff. Ultimately, you’ll want to go with the candidate that gives you the most confidence, and has the strongest rapport with the people they’ll be working with.
The Working Relationship
After that, you can begin working with your consultant of choice. Of course, if anything goes wrong, you may be able to terminate the contract prematurely. Give feedback regularly to let your candidate know how they’re performing, and don’t be afraid to keep a few other candidates in your back pocket in case things don’t work out. At the end of your contract, you’ll have the opportunity to review your consultant, and evaluate whether it was worth the investment.
These phases should help you understand the process for finding, evaluating, and eventually retaining the best possible consultant for your company. Every business is different, so don’t base your criteria solely on what another business has done. Instead, rely on you own goals and research to choose a candidate who fits your needs (and your budget) effectively.