would be cliché to say consultants are a dime a
dozen … but in reality, they are! Why? Several reasons,
most of which focus on company failures and layoffs.
Finding a job is tough in a recession-oriented economy,
so rationalizing the idea of going into business
by becoming a “consultant” – or a hybrid of a consultant
and perhaps another title – is getting easier and
easier. People seem to understand the motivation
behind working for themselves, admire the entrepreneurial
aspects of the consulting lifestyle, and certainly
comprehend the cost savings associated with hiring
talent when you need it versus always having
it around when you possibly can’t use it.
while there are many options in the consulting
continuum, finding and choosing the one that most
matches your needs is another story altogether.
These days it seems you almost need a consultant
to help you hire one!
What can you do
to locate and find the consultant that will do
the best job? Consider these 10 questions you
should ask when hiring a consultant. Some of these
are questions to ask yourself, and your company
or organization, while others are intended specifically
for the consultant.
Have I done my homework?
do your homework by understanding your needs so
that you know how to set engagement expectations.
Ask questions to assess your situation. What areas
are not running as efficiently as possible? Have
you carefully written out your business plan for
the next three to five years? What is it going
to take to realize your goals? Where do you see
yourself in the future, and what will you specialize
in at that time? This helps focus the discussion
with your prospective consulting firm.
#2: What kind of consultant do I need?
you’ve assessed the situation, you next must ask
what kind of help you need. Often a problem is
actually a symptom of a larger issue. Make sure
you are being honest with yourself. Consulting
engagements only work when companies and people
are ready to make necessary changes.
#3: Can’t I educate someone internally to handle
learning is great, but is it really viable to
think you can train someone within the organization
to handle additional matters that fall outside
the realm of his or her current knowledge? Will
the resources spent on training be more than it
would have been just to hire a consultant?
#4: Should I hire a “firm” or “individual?”
so you’ve made the commitment to hire a consultant,
and are faced with two choices – firm or individual.
What are the pros and cons of each? A firm brings
you several options and schools of thought, while
an individual brings learned knowledge from years
of experience. Which is better? The answer probably
lies in how consistent the consulting firm is
in its approach to use the same staff each time
you need help. With an individual, you always
get the same person, but with a firm, changes
in staff may occur. If this is important to you,
and you think the consulting engagement will be
long-term talk to a prospective firm about their
#5: Do I need a specialist?
Working with a
consultant that is certified in a particular technology,
holds a specialty designation, or is committed
to a particular consulting field will reveal many
benefits that a general consultant won’t. These
professionals commit many hours and several thousand
dollars every year to ensure their skills are
up to snuff. If you’re uncertain what a particular
specialty is, ask the consultant to explain it
and its significance to his or her work.
#6: Who will be the liaison to the consultant?
Even the freest
spirit enjoys some order, and in the case
of working with a consultant, someone within your
organization must be appointed as the person responsible
for working directly with the consultant or consulting
firm. While the reasons may be obvious, consider
the chaos that might ensue if several firm personnel
were to ask the consultant questions or assign
work without anyone prioritizing the list. You’ll
end up with confusion and unproductive time.
#7: How much should I pay the consultant?
is your own time worth? Consultants are in the
business to make money just as you are with your
firm or business, and to a consultant, any moment
not spent conducting business is considered
a loss. Ask the consultant about his or her rates,
and be prepared to pay top dollar for the best
talent. Network with peers in similar size companies
to find out what they pay their consultants. If
a return on investment (ROI) is critical, consider
asking the consultant to work out a contingency
deal based on results. This is becoming more commonplace
in today’s competitive market.
#8: Does the consultant have to be local?
necessarily. Many companies enjoy a tremendous
relationship working with consultants who are
located across the country, and much of the business
may be handled online or through conference calls
with personal visits scheduled sporadically. Just
because a consultant may be local doesn’t give
he or she an edge, unless you’re looking for consultants
who can “drop names” or assert influence in your
#9: Should I interview several consultants?
not? Unless you are strapped for time, interviewing
another firm can do nothing more than let you
know you are making the right choice. Of course,
if you have an established relationship with a
firm that has just begun to offer specialty services,
you are probably safe in presuming that their
high customer service standards apply to their
#10: Should I check the consultant’s references
The best way to obtain a reference is to ask the
consultant for a name of a client with whom the
consultant did a similar engagement as the one
you’re doing. If you’re hiring a consultant to
update your technologies, you wouldn’t ask for
a reference in human resource systems to offer
These are just 10
questions for consideration; the rest is up to you.
Be smart and savvy, and understand that even though
consultants may indeed be a dime a dozen, their
actual net worth is based on how well the consultants
helped you make solid, informed decisions and incremental
changes that positively impacted your bottom line.
If you have questions about any of these questions,
give us a call.