By Carmela DeNicola
You have a critical issue that needs to be addressed or an important project that has to be done. You and your staff are inundated with other work, client engagements, or a special set of skills is needed. This could be developing a Business Expansion Strategy, Web Site Redesign or Refresh, or Cash Flow Management Plan. The potential is endless.
Hiring a Business Consultant may be your most cost effective solution. They are there when you need them. They aren’t added to your payroll and their cost goes away when the project is complete. Your Business Consultant should have a broad and diverse skill set so they don’t have to be trained as an employee would.
The Business Consultant’s role is that of an independent and unbiased advisor. The ultimate decision making and approval remains with you. Their job is to identify problems and recommend strategies to improve your business offering you a fresh view of your organization. A Business consultant should provide an independent perspective, knowledge and judgement developed from work across many organizations.
The Steps For Selecting a Business Consultant
~ Define the Project – all parties must understand the objectives and the desired outcome.
~ Selection of the Business Consultant should be against the project criteria.
~ A professional Business Consultant will provide you with a written agreement that describes how the project will be conducted and the terms and conditions.
Start by writing a detailed description of your objectives and requirements. What results do you expect? How do you want the information presented at the end of the project? What is your timeline and required completion date?
The Steps For Selecting a Business Consultant
The selection process really becomes a process of elimination. Start by developing a rating sheet on the attributes that you want in your Business Consultant. Based on the complexity and nature of the project, list the top 5-10 criteria that is most important to you. Apply a factor to each criterion that weights the items most important to you with the highest value. Those consultants with the lowest scores are eliminated and the final choice is usually made from between the two top scores.
Locate candidate Business Consultants:
Look at past consultants that you have used where the experience has been favorable. The next option would be to choose referrals from other business managers or owners. The last option is to choose from an Internet search or yellow pages.
Conduct an initial screening to get the number of Business Consultants being interviewed down to a manageable number, typically 3 or less. The size of the firm, background, experience, ability to meet your time frame, and costs are common pre-qualifying criteria.
- Size of Firm: Big firms generally offer a pre-packaged standardized consulting approach. Smaller firms tend to focus on custom work where more flexibility and innovation is required.
- Background: It is common for top management consultants to have 15+ years experience as a vice president, general manager or plant manager prior to becoming a Business Consultant. Many senior management consultants will have had 10+ years consulting in their field and / or an advanced degree such as a Master in Business Administration (MBA).
- Experience: Do they have the required experience for your project? What does the firm specialize in? Who are the principals, what do they specialize in? What is their track record at doing this type of project? Who will be assigned to your project? Review their web page, advertising literature and samples of their work.
- Capacity: Do they have the resources and the available capacity to meet your completion date? What is their past track record at meeting deadlines?
- Costs: How do they charge: by the hour, day or project or cost not to exceed. Some will charge a contingency fee based on results. Will their fees be within your budget?
You will want to check references on the top candidate firms. This should include both current clients and past clients of the Business Consultant who would be working on your project. Would they use them again? Did they get the desired results? Was the work performed capably and professionally? Did they demonstrate good leadership qualities?
Interview / Presentation:
Prior to the interview meeting, contact the final candidates and give them the full details of your project. They should come to the meeting with a written proposal, presentation and pricing. Develop a list of questions. Discuss their proposed method on this project. Is their industry experience sufficient? Did they demonstrate sound knowledge? Do you like and trust them? Was there good rapport? Did they clearly recognize your needs?
Some Business Consultants may request a debriefing about why they were not selected. They want to know how to improve their presentation and sell their services. Be brutally honest and let the know where they were lacking. Keep good notes through the evaluation process. Keep the conversation concise and to the point. Time invested here will keep good Business Consultants coming back to make proposals on other projects.
Get A Written Agreement:
It is important to set up a meeting with the selected Business Consultant in order to formalize your agreements. The agreement should include elements such as:
- Project description
- Timeline with a completion date
- List of deliverables
- Fees: by the project or hourly, how much and how payments will be made
- Which expenses are reimbursable?
- Who owns the copyright and reproduction rights?
- Cancellation clause.
The Business Consultant should then provide you with a written contract or agreement. It may be a good idea to have your attorney review and approve the agreement. Both parties need to sign the final written agreement.
Depending on the size of the project and how formal your company is, you may decide to follow all the steps, streamline the process or make it more comprehensive.