When December comes around, many of us look back at the previous year and plan for the New Year that will be here before you know it. No matter the size of your firm, the sector of business you work in or with, or even the department you work in – everyone should be involved in creating a plan that will work.
Most folks can’t do it all, don’t have the skills or expertise to do it all, or many don’t have an interest in putting more on their plate than they already have. There are some times when bringing in some outside expertise to keep you focused and manage the communication process can be a critical step in having a successful meeting. program, or project.
If you don’t have access to an internal Human Resources or Organizational Development professional (and sometimes even if you do have an HR or OD person to help out), you might find yourself in the position of needing the experience and knowledge of an external consultant. It won’t matter if their expertise is technical or non-technical; the best fit can save you time, money, and headaches. A mistake can hurt your organization and can damage your reputation. To develop a reputation for being a person with great business acumen when it comes to hiring an outside consultant, here are a few critical tips:
Ask colleagues, mentors and professional resources who they have used for external expertise. Get first hand input about what they like, what they expect, and what to watch out for.
Check Them Out
Ask to see a client list, ask for references, or review samples of their work. Do your homework to make sure you know if how they present their experience to you is honest and accurate. Anyone can build a great website but websites are not what you are hiring! It’s worth the time to make some calls and talk to professionals who can tell you firsthand about their experience when using the consultant you are considering.
Get it in Writing
Have a document, contract, or letter that spells out the parameters of the relationship, the time frame for services, what will happen in the event of a problem (illness, company change of direction, staff or budget), the fee structure, expenses, payment plan, and confidentiality issues. Make sure the document is signed by both parties. No matter how much you like them, a handshake won’t help you very much if there is a complication.
Know the Going Rate
Don’t assume you know the market for services. Many people hire based on their budget but not based on what good expertise and experience actually cost. Ask around to see if the fees you are being quoted are absurdly high or ridiculously low. Do a reality check against your budget parameters.
Make Sure They Have Time for You
You probably don’t expect to be their only client, but you do want to make sure that when you need them, you can get them. Ask about availability, the number of clients they are serving during the time you want to secure their services, if and how they use associates, and potential conflicts or deadlines. Consultants sell their expertise but there are a finite number of hours in a day. The sooner you secure the time you want, the better for everyone.
Make Sure They Understand the Scope of the Project
Take time to be clear about how you see the entire scope of the project, what it might entail, what and whom it impacts, and what it could lead to or result in. Ask a lot of questions and give as much information as it takes for you to both understand all of the implications of doing business together.
If you can get someone else to meet them, that can help you vet their qualifications. Another pair of eyes and ears is another perspective about how good the fit is. Someone else may see something you don’t see. Better to catch something before than after the fact.
Success in hiring a consultant means you’ve done the work to get it right. Take the time that’s needed to insure a successful collaboration for everyone.