This week I was reminded of a lesson I thought I had learned a few years ago. Funny thing about lessons learned – we often re-learn them over and over again. They can be our ‘fatal flaw’ the blind spot we never seem to quite eliminate from our life. I was once told that the reason we learn the same lesson over and over is because it comes to us in different forms – so we don’t recognize it right away.
Not everyone understands how to find, hire, and leverage a consultant. Some prospective clients are simply shopping. Some are price driven rather than service or outcome driven. Some only know what they want when they see it in front of them, but until then they are eager to search for their fantasy. Some make decisions about exactly what they want from the comfort of their office and then go out to see if it exists. A few fall in love with whoever they are talking to at the time.
My clients are often tasked with the responsibility of bringing in outside expertise. Assuming that they don’t have the internal resources to accomplish their objective, they find themselves 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; a success can save time money and headaches and a mistake can hurt the organization and damage the reputation of the person who hires the consultant.
I offer you some ideas to think about if you want to hire a professional consultant –
Get a Contract – Have a document 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, and payment plan, and confidentiality issues. Make sure the document is signed by both parties.
Check Them Out – Ask for a client list, ask for references, or review samples of their work. Do some homework to make sure you know if how they present their experience is honest. Don’t hire based on one glowing recommendation or a ‘gut’ feeling.
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.
Make Sure They Have Time for You and You Have Time for Them – You probably don’t expect to be their only client, but you do want o make sure that when you need them, you can get them. Ask about availability, the number of clients they are serving when you want to secure their services, and potential conflicts or deadlines. Additionally, don’t assume that all of their time is yours to use as you choose. Most busy consultants are turning away work for the time you have requested. Your last minute cancellation or change of plans is their lost income.
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 implication of going into business together.
Introduce Them Around – Make sure you take the time to introduce them to staff and anyone they be interacting with. People should understand why someone has been brought in, the role they will play in your firm and your expectations about how people will be interacting with one another.
Success in hiring a consultant means you’ve done the work and taken the time to get it right – every time.