Choosing the right business consultant is vital to your organization, as they can have a significant impact on both your effectiveness and your bottom line.
The good news is that modern business technology and a growing number of specialist information services mean that finding a competent business consultant is easier than ever before.
The good news is that it’s much easier to find a good small business consultants than to find a good one because some consultants are so good that they don’t want to work for the wrong clients or work for very little money.
Fortunately, it’s also easier to tell a good consultant from a bad one. For that reason, in this article, I’ll take you on a tour of the business consultant landscape, highlighting the key concerns and pitfalls of potential customers and consultants, and guiding you through an evaluation of your particular needs.
So, let’s get started.
What’s a business consultant?
First, I should clarify what a business consultant is not: they’re not accountants, marketers or operations managers. They’re not speakers, either. Although business consultants are often involved in the process of providing presentations and workshops to an audience, they aren’t necessarily the ones who talk to the audience. In fact, many business consultants don’t actually do any of the physical work associated with a consultancy. They perform a role that transcends mere thinking. They’re the people you turn to when you need assistance with the nuts and bolts of making your business successful – or, in some cases, just getting started.
How do you find a reliable business consultant?
There are a number of ways to do this, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll concentrate on traditional methods. It’s important to understand that, in many cases, a third party – like an accountant or a marketing specialist – will be much better suited to helping you choose a business consultant. I’ll also steer clear of the project management skills contracting world, where you have to find somebody with specific, key skills like coding, marketing, etc. That’s not the world of business consultants.
If you don’t want to use traditional methods, then it’s absolutely fine to look for more specialist sources. For example, I often recommend that people go to specialist business forums for advice on how to do their own due diligence before selecting a business consultant.
However, the way to find the most reliable business consultants is to narrow down your search.
Step 1. Research the business consultant marketplace
A great place to start is with a directory of business consultants. They’re not always in-depth and they’ll often require you to log in with your email address. However, searching for a particular consultant often yields results that are more comprehensive, well-written and much easier to digest than typical business related websites. If you find a particular type of consultant or sector, you may also want to check a consultant referral service like Degreed or LinkedIn Recruiter.
Step 2. Examine their website and read the reviews
Next, it’s important to read the following section from the small print:
“The material presented on this site is intended to highlight the experiences, qualifications and areas of expertise of the authors and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the Authors. Should you have any questions, comments or concerns about the content of the material on this site, you may contact the author directly for clarification or to provide feedback. All submissions are strictly confidential. Errors, omissions and delays in any communication with the authors may result in immediate deletion of the submission and/or application of a private claim against the authors.”
This basically means that anyone can write a website and there are no guarantees that it will be good quality. This means that if you’re unhappy with the content of their site, you may want to visit their competitor, if available.
But you’ve got to move on to the reviews. Some consultants will offer to provide free evaluations and in this case, reviews can be extremely valuable. It’s important to remember that in such cases, the evaluation is not necessarily a good benchmark. Your consultant can be perfectly honest.
You should also read their testimonials. These are written by actual clients, and should provide a credible benchmark against which to gauge your consultant’s performance.
Step 3. Look for special features and pricing
A business consultant’s website should also have a contact form where you can get in touch with your business consultant directly. Some consultants will list the company phone number prominently on their site. I also prefer to see a detailed schedule of fees, and some consultants also list their monthly retainer. Your schedule will need to incorporate some unforeseen circumstances, but I always recommend booking the initial consultation, then devising your budget based on the initial consultation. Some business consultants will only allow you to pay once the first meeting is over, while others will require a full 60-day retainer for certain services.
Finally, it’s a good idea to look for a business consultant that provides a minimum guarantee. These will often mean that if the client is unhappy with the work that was done, they’ll refund the client immediately.
Step 4. Use the best resources
To be clear, we’re not saying to give your consultant’s money to a competitor. Although this does happen. What we’re suggesting is that the best course of action is to conduct a thorough investigation and find the best consultants for your needs.
If you’re a CPA, you can use the Certified Public Accountant directory. As well as other financial services directories. If you’re a dentist, you can check out the Dental Business Directory. If you’re a doctor. You can check out the Physician Directory or the Clinical Medical Directory. You can even look for a business consultant that specializes in a particular area of expertise and get referrals from the community.
When it comes to professionals, you can expect to pay at least a minimum of $25 per hour for what can be a complex or unusual task, but you can also expect to pay much more than that. It’s important to price your services properly.
Here’s another tip for using the Best Price Finder: It is usually on the top right hand corner of a company website. Click it, and you’ll be directed to the price finder. It will tell you what that company’s hourly rate is, which has a built in automatic response feature that will give you a quote based on your services and area of expertise. It is, by far, the most comprehensive tool I’ve found for comparing prices between companies.
Step 5. Never pay by check or money order, ever
It’s tempting to want to buy your consultant’s services with a check. You like to write checks. You like the feel of them. But please do not ever give them your money in the form of a check or money order.
There are a few reasons for this.
Check or money orders are mailed. Sometimes you can’t get an e-transfer payment because the company you’re paying doesn’t yet have a secure, electronic way to transfer money over the internet. So when you ask for your money to be sent via check or money order, you could be inadvertently leaving your financial information vulnerable to hackers.
I’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars because of this one reason alone. It’s very easy to forget you’ve attached your debit card to the e-transfer system. And if there’s a system glitch, a check can bounce. I have an entire folder of refunded checks and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few dozen bounced.
Dollar banks are not a good choice. Think about it: you need to spend $100 in order to make a $50 payment, which means you’ve spent $75 in order to make a $25 payment. It just doesn’t make sense.
Check or money orders take time to deposit. I get a check in the mail every single day. If I’m paying for an hourly service, I should be able to make a one-time payment. I should not have to wait for a check to clear.
You don’t need a specific itemized receipt, because you don’t have a specific itemized receipt. For example, you may only want to pay an hourly fee, but you don’t really need to specify the exact items you’re paying for. You could just say, “I’ll be using SharePoint to write content for the training course I’m giving.” The problem is that you’re giving the vendor a lot more information than you would want them to know, and that information could be used to exploit you or cause a financial hardship if you ever get in trouble.
If you ever have to pay for services over the phone, always say the word “transaction” when you make the payment. That way the caller is prompted to ask for an itemized receipt. The caller will most likely say, “Oh, but we have to charge you” and the conversation will end right there.
Step 6. Keep your receipts
Most people who are looking for professional assistance are actually pretty self-sufficient. And, I believe, so are they. But that doesn’t mean they’re totally honest, especially when it comes to the way they pay their bills.
That being said, I would suggest always keeping the receipts of all of your purchasing activities. Don’t put your receipts in your wallet. Put them in a waterproof waterproof wallet. Make sure the bank has on file all of the companies you’ve done business with. Keep them in a secure place. Don’t leave the documents in a pile on the kitchen counter, in the mail basket, or on your coffee table for the dogs to get into. Make sure your document management system can access these documents and keep them available to you, whenever you need them.
Step 7. Be picky about who you allow doing work for you
There are lots of questions you should ask when hiring a professional to do work for you:
Does the company have a legitimate, physical office, if they don’t you may want to reconsider hiring them.
Does the company have a physical address? Check to see if they’re registered with the government.
Ask if they have a driver’s license.
Ask if they are the sole owner of the company.
If a company has less than 5 employees, ask if they require references.
When selecting a professional service provider or builder, make sure they have a physical office or at least have a building number (remember, houses and businesses are insured with other companies) and a way to contact them to schedule an appointment.