When to Hire a Consultant

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When to Hire a Consultant

Marketplace conditions can change quickly, calling business leaders to action, but what action do they need to take, and how? And when? While there are situations in which business leaders are able to overcome obstacles with the resources they have on staff, at other times they need help.

When Does It Make Sense to Hire a Consultant?

There are many circumstances in which hiring a consultant makes sense. Some of the primary reasons are included in this list:

To garner support of organizational change

An outside consultant can provide independent research-based support for a course of action, thus offering legitimacy to management’s plan. When consultants are permitted to engage with staff at all levels of an organization over a period of time, the relationships that are built, and the buy-in that is garnered will allow staff to feel a sense of ownership in the change.

Accelerates Information Gathering and Analysis

Since a performance review doesn’t hang in the balance, employees can be more open and honest with external consultants than with their manager. Accordingly, consultants can expedite the information gathering process without worrying about being caught up in office politics.

Consultants are accustomed to asking powerful questions, conducting interviews with staff, obtaining data, and considering industry reports. They can do so efficiently, while also offering sound reasoning and analysis behind their final recommendation - they are not making a recommendation on ‘a hunch’.

You Need In-Depth Problem Solving

The marketplace may throw your business a curveball that your team is ill-equipped to catch. Consultants have a breadth of knowledge and expertise, gained from being exposed to a variety of businesses, business models, and industries, not to mention organizational structures and personalities. What’s more, they don’t have to be pulled off their day-to-day duties to tackle the latest crisis.

Undeterred by problems that can immobilize leadership, consultants provide forward momentum on solving their clients most pressing problems.

You Need Specific Expertise

Market circumstances may dictate that your team learns a new technology immediately in order to compete. However, you do not have the necessary expertise on staff, nor do you have time to hire a new employee, retrain an existing one, or learn the new technology yourself. This feeling of vulnerability is exceedingly stressful to leadership.

Hiring a consultant brings their expertise to the equation, and provides a welcome sense of relief. Consultants are accustomed to training staff on new processes or technology. The success of their engagement (and referrals for new clients), is oftentimes an outcome of how the company performs after the project wraps up; thorough training is an important component of this.

During Periods of Growth

Effectively managing growth is a struggle that companies of every size face. Should they invest in resources up front to stimulate growth, or wait for marketplace demand to signal the need to broaden their workforce? For small businesses, the latter choice is often made and, consequently, things can get a little chaotic.

When this happens, everyone wears every hat. It’s difficult to know how sustainable the growth will be over the long-term - i.e., when does it make sense to make a permanent hire?

Hiring a consultant to bridge the gap in resources can provide life-saving energy to an already taxed full-time team.

You Need Help Executing One-off Projects

Your management team has advised you as to what tool they need to take your business to the next level, and you agree with their recommendation. The only problem is, each manager is mission-critical to running your business day-to-day, so freeing them up to onboard the new tool, train staff, update the policy or procedure manual and so on, is unrealistic. You need help.

A consultant can lift the burden off the management team by executing on your project plan without taxing your already fully-leveraged staff. What’s more, a consultant’s experience with past projects means they can anticipate roadblocks, accurately gauge time requirements, and add valuable insights to your project planning process.

Hiring More Full-Time Employees is Costly and Stressful

Hiring full-time employees is stressful. Beyond the time required to make a job posting, evaluate/update/create a job description, review resumes, schedule and conduct first and second-round interviews, there’s also the long-term financial sustainability concerns to consider. Will this employee complement the current team’s skills and culture? The list goes on.

Hiring a consultant can be a relief valve that is offered to an overloaded work force; that also helps gauge how best to right-size the team. It allows management to test the operational needs of the business without making a full-time commitment.

Lack of Growth

The life cycle of a business will undoubtedly include periods of stasis from time to time; however, it’s the periods of prolonged stagnancy that can paralyze leadership. An outside consultant provides the expertise and experience necessary to see opportunities and weaknesses that the leadership has turned a blind eye to.

Moreover, their track record of helping other companies navigate similar stages in the business life cycle offers stressed leaders a measure of comfort and confidence.

How To Hire a Consultant

You may have a handful of consultants in your network, but that doesn’t mean that hiring one is as easy as making a phone call. Consultants have varied background and specializations in terms of industry or functional expertise.

Doing due diligence at the outset can save you time and money down the line. Here are some things to have on your radar when hiring a consultant:

Gauge the Consultant’s Abilities and Experience

The qualities of a good consultant include both soft skills and industry or functional expertise. They need to have demonstrable expertise, a client-first mindset, and be reliable, proficient communicators, to name a few. One way in which to gauge “fit” with a consultant is to participate in a strategy session prior to signing off on a proposal. Open Eye has found that offering strategy sessions with prospective clients eliminates issues down the road while delivering instant value to the client - a win-win.

Establish Clear Expectations

Be clear with yourself and your team, and then clear with the consultant, exactly: a) what you need done, and b) how you foresee that work being completed. Do you need a partner to collaborate with on determining the company’s strategy for the future? Or, are you looking for a traditional consultancy model, whereby an expert brings their knowledge and experience to the table to tell you what to do? Or, you may be simply looking for another set of hands to execute a project.

Gut-check Your Willingness to Change

Before you sign off on the consultant’s proposal, gut-check your willingness (and your senior management’s willingness), to be open to the consultant’s recommendations. Changing processes and systems can be grueling; if the management is not willing to stand behind the consultant’s work, the engagement is set up to fail.

Be an Active Participant in Relationship Management

To ensure that the engagement provides meaningful results, establish an expectation up front for the frequency of communication between the business owner/leader and consultant. A relationship that is not nurtured by both parties is destined to fail, so communicate clearly from the outset. The consultant will raise questions and offer insights throughout their process, so it is important for decision-makers to be accessible to provide necessary information and steer the project should it begin to veer off track.

Consultants Can Be Beneficial Long-term Partners

While hiring a consultant is oftentimes a limited engagement, there are instances where a long-term need is being met and a long-term relationship established. The relationship may be a business relationship whereby the consultant is engaged for a certain number of hours per week, or projects per year. Alternatively, the relationship may be informal, whereby the client and consultant are now in each other’s networks and support one another’s business through referrals.

It’s important to know when to hire a consultant to ensure that business objectives are met responsibly and cost-efficiently. The insights offered in this article are one way to gauge whether ‘now’ is the time for you; alternatively, you may wish to speak with a consultant about your unique business situation.

Anne Shoemaker
  • Strategy and Consulting

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