Maximizing Opportunity: How to Make the Most of Your Consultants

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It’s that time of year again—when Forbes puts out its annual list of America’s Best Management Consulting Firms.

Many of the consultants in these firms hold graduate degrees, and can expect to garner top dollar when it comes to earning the type of salary.

Business owners who are hiring those consultants would like to do the same—and want to make sure they’re getting their money’s worth when it comes to bringing a consultant on board.

Here, we’ll take a look at some tips from expert insiders to help you make the most of your consulting dollars.  

Beware the Pitfalls

Some experts warn that when a company is struggling and eager for outside help, it’s critical to take a deep breath and proceed with caution to make sure a consulting firm doesn’t do more harm than good. According to Michael Schein, CEO of Microfame Media—a marketing agency for consultants—finding the right balance can be a tedious task.

“There’s no doubt that finding the right consultant can make the difference between whether or not a company achieves its goals,” he wrote in an article for Inc. “Unfortunately, far too many consulting firms harm the companies they’re being paid a whole lot of money to serve.”

Schein outlined what he considers “the five most common damaging behaviors” you should watch out for:

  1. They substitute perception for reality: Making things appear more complicated than they really are as a means of masking what they can actually deliver.
  2. They sidestep tactics: Failing to deliver actionable steps that can actually be implemented. 
  3. They put their brand before yours and focus more on marketing their own products than taking care of the client’s needs.
  4. They rely on the tried-and-true instead of coming up with new solutions that are targeted for current needs.
  5. They present themselves as experts, on everything as the size of the firm grows and they attempt to extend expertise beyond a specific area.

Create a Strategy

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Although this expert is specifically referring to getting help with new software implementations, the principles she outlines can be applied to any type of consultant. In an article for CIO, Jill Barson Gilbert, president and CEO of Lexicon Systems, says that extended projects require a team effort—with both internal and external players.

In order to find the best consultant to fit the bill, she recommends six specific steps:

  1. Create a small selection team made up of a small group of business and subject matter experts who can accurately represent stakeholders, remain objective, and work together in an agile manner to make decisions and keep the process moving.
  2. Establish objective selection criteria and stick to them, allowing you to confirm intentions without emotion.
  3. Know your consultants and the extended stakeholders who influence them.
  4. Be specific about your needs which will make proposals easier to evaluate. Create a very detailed RFP that includes items like the scope of work, the firm’s role, the type of expertise that’s needed, the expected level of experience, a summary of time-critical milestones and any other expectations of the firm.
  5. Time is valuable—don’t waste it. If you find a firm that meets your needs, then move forward accordingly.
  6. Do due diligence and conduct your own research instead of relying on the consulting firm’s sales pitch.

Vet Thoroughly              

One of the most important things to remember is that not all consultants are created equal—especially if they’re working independently and haven’t been vetted by one of the larger firms. As Rob Biederman, co-founder and CEO of HourlyNerd noted in an article for Entrepreneur, you should apply the same level of scrutiny to consultants as you would to those you hire as employees. Here are the six areas he recommends digging in to:

  1. Experience. The consultant should have worked on projects in the past that are similar to what you need.
  2. Work samples. A thorough portfolio provides hard evidence of the consultant’s abilities.
  3. References. Going off-list will likely get you the most credible feedback, since provided names have likely been vetted themselves.
  4. Work habits. Understanding what to expect will help you work better together and achieve greater success.
  5. Flexibility. There will undoubtedly be changes along the course of the project, so the consultant needs to be able to adapt as needed.
  6. Price. Remember that you usually get what you pay for, and bargain basement prices will probably create the need to hire a second consultant to clean up the mess.

If your company is looking for a little outside help, then hiring a consultant may be the answer you need. However, before you ink that big contract, consider following some of these insider tips to help make the most of your consulting dollar.

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