Hiring a Consultant

From the Business Owners POV…

By nature, entrepreneurs and executives tend to be do-it-yourself types. But, there are times when the needs of your organization are beyond the scope of your existing skill set or resources. That’s when most businesses turn to contractors or consultants. By hiring a consultant, you get the benefit of adding a highly experienced subject-matter expert to your team, focused on a particular set of business objectives, without the added expense of training, benefits, or long-term commitments. So how can you make this new business relationship a profitable one and avoid some of the common pitfalls that can arise when hiring a consultant?

1. The Big Picture to Specifics
Dedicate some focused time to outlining specific outcomes desired both from the tasks you need outsourced, and from the relationship as well. This will not only help you conceptualize the scope of the project, it will help ensure you hire the right ‘fit’ with your workplace values and working styles as well.

2. The Source
Ask your staff, colleagues and/or professional association for a great referral, keeping in mind the project you need done, as well as the kind of person you and your staff would work well with. Keep in mind that your best referrals will come from someone that is similar to your organization’s size and structure. Even better is a referral from someone whose organization had the same needs that you have and they can tell you who was able to move them forward.

3. The Choice
Research your choices and set up an initial appointment to discuss your mutual expectations. Discuss in detail, and take notes on:
Their previous experience with organizations like yours. Remember, this is a job interview, so dig deep into their work history. One of the most important things you want to find out is whether they have done for anyone else what you’re asking them to do for you…and did it work;
Their personality and demeanor. Ask yourself if the chemistry is right between you and if they’re a good fit for your corporate culture. Important because the consultant will become a large part of your organization during the term of the project, you need to be able to work with this person in close quarters.
The objective and scope of the assignment; What the consultant will do, what the client should do, and what they will do jointly during and following the project’s completion to assure success; (include specific time frames for achieving milestones or benchmarks, as well as final summary reports of action);
What constitutes a completed task or project, and what the exact deliverable will be;
The anticipated charges, documentation, viable expenses, and payment terms;
Conditions under which the client or the consultant may cancel the agreement. Discuss confidentiality terms and conflicts of interest. Mutually sign off on a written proposal only when you full understand and agree with its terms, and do not engage a consultant without one!

4. The Integration
Set everyone up for success. If the consultant is going to work with company staffers, be sure your team members understand the desired outcome from the consultant, the term of service and your expectations of their involvement. Be clear on whom the primary liaison will be, and be prepared to help them both achieve the desired outcome.

5. The Post-Mortem
At project’s end, evaluate the results of the consultant’s work. Write a brief memo to the file addressing what your team contributed to the relationship, the accomplishments that came out of the collaboration, situations that could be handled better the next time around to eliminate issues, and finally, if the consultancy resulted in meeting or moving closer to the goal. This analysis will help you, your staff and board troubleshoot future contracting projects more quickly and with greater ease.

Deanna A. Mims, Owner