Consulting arrangements can do wonders for a business. They can provide a boost to your business by utilizing a consultant’s focused expertise and their years of experience in similar venues, and they can give a business a good old-fashioned shot-in-the-arm.
Consultants are distanced from the daily politics of your business. They can provide you with unbiased opinions and fresh perspectives. The thing is, they can only do this if you allow them to do it.
I’ve done the consulting gig for years. In the process, I observed and experienced clients using my services well and not using my services well. I have listened to associates’ stories of how clients work with them, too. Sometimes the clients get great value for their money, and sometimes they get less than that.
How to Make the Most of Your Consultant Dollar
Isn’t the most important thing about working with a consultant that you get valuable results for your money and build a meaningful business relationship at the same time?
In order to do this, you must go into a relationship with your consultant with ‘collaboration’ in mind. The two of you must work together in order for the consulting relationship to work. As the client, you must be a willing participant in the business relationship with your consultant.
In order to get value for your consulting dollar, you must allow your consultant to learn and know about many aspects of your business.
If you go to a doctor with a pain in your side, but then refuse to let the doctor look at it and test it because you’re too modest or afraid of what he will tell you, the doctor won’t be able to help you.
Several years ago I consulted at a company to help them use software to create reports they needed. They did not want to show me their existing reports, however. How could I help them create the new reports if they refused to show me the existing reports? Like a patient who was afraid to show the doctor the pain in his side, this client was afraid to show me their reports. Two people at this client actually clutched the reports to themselves like patients holding their hospital robes closely.
After some explanations and coaxing from me, they finally let me see their pain and allowed me to help them. (Just for fun, I’ll tell you that this company is an underwear manufacturer, and leave it at that!)
A consultant’s role is to give you business information that you need in order to make informed decisions. They do not have the responsibility to make your business decisions, nor do they have the control. The responsibility and control (which go hand-in-hand) are yours.
Before You Decide to Work with a Consultant
First of all, know what you want. Define it before the consultant agrees to work with you. Write it down. List quantifiable and/or tangible objectives. Write out what you think you want the consultant to do.
- What goals do you want to accomplish?
- What is the scope of work?
- What results do you want the consultant (and your business) to achieve?
- What do you think is the timeframe?
- What is your budget for this project?
As You and the Consultant Agree to Work Together
Discuss how the consultant works. For example, what methodology does she use to gather information, process it, draw conclusions, and make recommendations? There is no magic answer to this question. Most consultants, over time, will develop their own methodology to perform their work. Just make certain they have a plan that is the basis for their methods.
State the scope of work: what the consultant will deliver, when they will deliver it, and how they will deliver it.
State who will do the work (if there is a team of consultants). Also state where the consultant(s) will perform the work.
Agree on the timeframe, money, and invoicing.
List points of time at which you and the consultant will touch base to discuss where the project is at, how it is coming along, and if adjustments need to be made. It’s a good idea to schedule regular meetings or conference calls so that issues do not become surprises.
What Else to Look For?
“The worst consultants believe their companies are smarter than their clients, instead of recognizing that they’re extensions of their clients’ resources. Junior consultants in several well-known firms especially show this trait; it’s part of their firms’ core cultures,” writes Peter Keen of Computerworld. He continues, “Arrogant cultures make lousy partners and are in the rip-off business without realizing it. Because they believe they’re so much smarter, they make many mistakes that the more collaborative and respectful consulting firms don’t make.”
Look for consultants who want to form a collaborative effort with you and your business. Likewise, you must collaborate with the consultant in order to get the most bang for your buck.
Two More Do’s and Don’ts
Treat consultants as consultants, not as employees.
If you treat consultants as insiders rather than as outsiders, you will not receive the benefits of having them work with you. This is more of a mind process for you as the client. If you think of your consultants as an extension of your employee base, you may not be able to hear them when they tell you important information. Remember, as outsiders they are able to skip most of the politics and inefficiencies of your company in order to unearth diamonds in the rough. These are the hidden diamonds you are paying them to find. If you treat them as if they are employees, you will hinder that creative process for which you are paying them.
Treat consultants as adults.
Believe it or not, sometimes clients treat consultants as if they were children. This happens most often when consultants are told to not contact certain people for information, even though the contact and the information is important for the consultant’s work. I’ve also heard about consultants being scolded as if they were children.
On the surface, the reason that consultants should not be treated like children is obvious; no one wants to be treated like that. It’s humiliating. The deeper reasons are the same as for not treating consultants like employees: clients who treat their consultants like children will not get the benefits out of the consultant that they are paying for.
Working with a consultant can be rewarding for your business. It’s up to you to define your goals, how you want a consultant to help achieve those goals, participate in a collaborative relationship, and let the consultant do their work in order to give you value for your consultant dollar.