Before you even consider hiring a consultant for your small business, make sure you’ve read my article on The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Business Consultant. If you’ve read it and determined you do need some kind of outside help for your business, read on to find out how to hire a consultant for your small business.
Now that you’ve established you need help, you need to figure out what sort of consultant your business needs. Are you in need of a specialist to help you increase your profitability through decreased cost or increased efficiencies? Someone to design a compensation plan for your sales team? Perhaps you’re looking for someone to run your social media marketing. As we’ve discussed, some consultants serve as advisors and other consultants come in and fix a particular issue within your business. Determining ahead of time your needs and goals will save you and your business valuable time and money. Your needs and goals may change over time and after talking with your consultant, but you have to start somewhere.
How do you find potential consultants? Ask your friends or peers who they might know and recommend. If you don’t know anyone (I didn’t when I first started looking), call the local Chamber of Commerce or visit a networking group and ask around. If you still can’t find anyone, consider visiting a local Rotary meeting. In many communities, Rotary is the service organization where movers and shakers congregate. There’s a good chance that someone there will be able to help you in your search for a consultant.
You can also Google “small business consultant” + your city or a large city near where you live. For example, I might Google “small business consultant Denton, Texas” and, if I don’t find anyone that seems like they might be a good candidate, I would Google “small business consultant Dallas, Texas.” If you are looking for someone to help with a task that is limited in scope, you could be even more specific. Try Googling “small business social media consultant, Dallas, TX.” Depending on the nature of the work, you might not even need to put a specific location. It’s relatively easy to communicate via Skype, email, etc. with people from all over the world, so don’t be afraid to try. On the other hand, if the scope of the project is relatively broad or will require more face to face contact and hands on work from your consultant, don’t be afraid to make their location/accessibility a “must have.”
After you’ve found at least 5 consultants you think might be able to provide you with the results you need to achieve, you need to vet them as you would a potential employee. Ask to see the consultant’s resume, portfolio and any previous work samples they have. That’s a start, but it’s not sufficient to make a hiring decision. TRAP: Don’t be swayed by their education and resume. They may have graduated from Harvard Business School and been Secretary of the Treasury. The real question is: can they help businesses like yours fix the problems or reach the goals you want to achieve?
Check up on the consultant’s references and ask those companies why they chose this particular consultant over another one. Look for specific, detailed recommendations from references. You must get details and find out what sort of results were achieved. A reference without specific details is a red flag. Some people are afraid to say anything negative so they will say things like, “He is a hard worker. She is very punctual. They really know their stuff.” Honestly, are you hiring a consultant because you want a hard-working, punctual person who knows their stuff? Of course not. You’re hiring for results. If the job requires certain certifications, make sure they are up-to-date. Does the consultant have a website or a newsletter? If so, check them out to make sure they don’t handle problems with a one-size-fits-all type mentality. Also, don’t be afraid to perform a background check of the consultant. After all, a consultant will be handling an important part of your business and ensuring they are quality material is crucial. When you are looking for a consultant, you should be thinking about 1) results and 2) value. Are they going to deliver the results you need for a reasonable investment?
Chemistry is important when working with anyone and is no different when selecting and introducing a business consultant to your team. Do you feel at ease with this person handling this part of your business? If not, they probably aren’t a good match. Do they listen to you and your company’s needs? If they aren’t really listening, they can’t help you tackle the problem at hand. Do you like being around them? This may seem petty, but the truth is you will probably be around them a lot. If you don’t like being around them but hire them anyway, you are dooming your project from the start. The consultant should be asking you questions as well to better understand your business needs. Can they be assertive when needed or provide encouragement and positive feedback when appropriate? During the interview you should ask specific questions based on what they have actually done in the past. This will help you get a feel for how the client would work with you and address your business needs. Don’t ask, “You don’t have any trouble getting along with people, do you?” Instead ask, “Give me an example or two of a time when you were working with a company like mine and you had a significant disagreement with someone at that company. How did you handle that situation? What was the outcome? What would you do differently if you had it to over again?” Those kinds of questions will give you much more insight into whether this consultant might be a good fit for you and your team.
Finally, once you have chosen the consultant, it’s time to get specific and get things in writing. Make sure the consultant is available for the duration required as some consultants take on multiple clients simultaneously. Be sure to write an agreement outlining what your business needs and the scope of the work required. Deadlines and goals are important tools for gauging success and should be included this agreement. Writing down who is responsible for what is also important. Within this agreement, you should outline the pay schedule as well as any types of reimbursements and how they will be paid. Furthermore, it should detail the working relationship between the consultant and you and your business. Don’t leave anything unspoken, even if the matter seems obvious and even if (or especially if) the topics are uncomfortable to talk about. Don’t assume anything. Assumptions can cost you time, money, energy and the will to see the project through to completion. Both parties should sign this agreement as means of protection for you and your business.
Finding a consultant can be scary but it doesn’t have to be hard. The biggest challenge is finding an appropriate pool of potential consultants, then wading through the candidates and finding the right match for your business. While you may not find the perfect consultant that fits all of your requirements, using these tips you should find someone who matches most of them. At the same time, if you go through this process and don’t find a consultant you are excited about hiring, DON’T HIRE ONE! Take a step back, review the process, then try again. You know what’s worse than not finding the right consultant? Settling for the wrong one because you’re tired of looking or because you believe “something is better than nothing.” That’s not true. A good friend of mine told me he’d rather be married to the right girl for 10 years than the wrong girl for 20. The same can and should be said when it comes to hiring a small business consultant.
If you have questions or comments, please email me or leave a comment below.