A good consultant is a good problem solver – so says a recent article in the New York Times . With a pragmatic eye and a substantial amount of ‘been there – done that’ experience, a skilled consultant adds to the bench strength of an organization. After working in internal positions for over a decade, I started my consulting practice as a way to offer my expertise to those who needed it.
Hiring me allowed my clients to avoid adding head count. They could leverage my skills and knowledge to their advantage. With some, over several years, I became a go-to resource because I knew the culture and the players, and also had my finger on the pulse what was happening in management training and development circles, in their industry, or around the area.
The person who starts consulting right out of school or after holding an internal position or two is often learning on company time, not to mention the company dollar. These folks might know a lot but they haven’t had to be responsible for the success of failure of their strategies. They may not be around to pick up the pieces down the road.
If you don’t have the expertise yourself, or the staff (AKA bench strength) needed accomplish your goal, whether it’s technical or non-technical – a good consultant will save you time, money, and headaches. A mistake can hurt your organization and damage you reputation.
Whether it’s me or someone else – be smarter than average and take some time to do it right:
Get it in Writing – Have a document or contract (I use a Letter Agreement) that spells out the parameters of the relationship, the timeframe 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.
Check Them Out – Ask to see a client list, talk with references, or review samples of their work. Do some homework to make sure you know if the way they present their experience is honest.
Know the Rates in the Your Current Market – Don’t assume you know the market for what services cost or base your budget on what you want/hope to spend. Many people hope to hire a consultant based on what they can afford, not on what good expertise and experience actually costs in today’s market. Ask around to see if the fees you are being quoted are too high or if your budget is ridiculously low.
Love is a Two Way Street – Make sure they have time to give you the attention you want and need. You can’t expect to be the only client. You do, however, expect responsiveness when you are a client. Ask about their availability, the number of clients they currently or usually serve at the same time, and how they define responsiveness. Ask about potential conflicts and deadlines.
Discuss 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. It’s difficult to predict the future but it’s wise to ask a lot of questions and give as much information as it takes for you to both understand all of the implications of working together. Worst case scenarios rarely happen, but ask about them anyway.
Be a Good Host/Hostess – Make the time to introduce them to anyone they will be interacting with. People should understand why someone has been brought in, the role they will play, and your expectations about how people will be interacting with one another.
It can be exciting to work with a consultant. A good one can help you see things differently and solve problems. Don’t skip the critical steps at the beginning of such a pivotal relationship. Sometimes the eagerness for attaining improvement means a tendency to jump in before doing a thorough job of preparation. Take the time to bring a consultant in well and you’ll find that it will make a big difference for a successful outcome (and your reputation) later on.