While they may not view themselves as such, consultants are their own kind of entrepreneurs.
Consultants bring fresh ideas, new perspectives, and successes and failures of their own to your business. They can listen, study and make recommendations that no one in your company may have considered. And because they don’t require your benefits, office space or vacation time, consultants generally save you money.
Unfortunately, however, consultants often get a bad rap for being too theory-driven. They’re known for offering only cryptic, big-sky advice rather than practical tips.
As the business owner, it requires an effort on your part to get tangible takeaways and tactical solutions from your consultants. When you manage your expectations against their offerings and foster an open dialogue, you’ll be surprised by the ways they can open your eyes to issues and opportunities you hadn’t considered.
The Value of a Second Opinion
Hiring the right consultant can be a cost-effective way to leverage specialized knowledge—or get a second opinion on important business decisions.
I recently worked with a longtime client who was up for renegotiation after working with us for 18 years. The client felt like her company was “coming out of a marriage and wanted to see what was out there.” She wanted to take time to look around and see whether she could find a company with better prices or new technology.
As the vendor, it would have been inappropriate for our company to convince the client of our competitive prices or state-of-the-art solutions. So we recommended the client hire a consultant to help think through the evaluation process.
After three months of working with the consultant and looking at other solutions, the client ended up renegotiating with us—and even added four new products. In this case, the consultant provided the client with the needed due diligence and reassurance to make the decision.
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Consultants can also serve as effective client relationship mediators. I was involved with a client a few months ago who was extremely unhappy and complaining about service and billing issues. Our relationship had become so strained that it was hard to take the emotion out of conversations. We recommended that the client hire a consultant as a mediation guru to help resolve the issues.
The consultant enabled us to open a dialogue about the real heart of the matter rather than deal with the negative energy. As a result, we were able to deliver on our work much more easily and efficiently rather than get bogged down by an inflated emotional situation.
Consultants are invaluable for those types of soft-skill solutions, but they’re also key in saving your company money. However, it’s up to you to manage the consultant relationship to ensure you’re maximizing the savings.
Get the Most Bang for Your Buck
As a business owner, you’re constantly concerned about ROI and exactly what you have to show for every penny spent. The same should go for your consultants’ performance. When working with consultants, keep these strategies in mind to choose the best consultants for your needs, get the most out of their work, and ensure it serves your long-term goals.
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1. Kiss Your Ego Goodbye
Many clients I work with feel “forced” to hire consultants by their board or regulators. This is often the quickest path to doom—both for the client and the consultant. Instead, realize that while many entrepreneurs see initial success (spurred by their headstrong nature and healthy ego), long-term success comes from a reliable, trustworthy team.
In many cases, this requires admitting you don’t know everything and hiring consultants to fill in the gaps in your knowledge and experience.
2. Grow a Thick Skin
It takes a certain level of self-confidence to work with consultants. They can be brutally honest (which you want) and incredibly critical of the existing infrastructure, processes and people.
In addition to keeping your ego in check, be honest about your blind spots and personal areas of growth. This allows you to actually collaborate with consultants to execute a foolproof plan to prosper. If your business were already running perfectly, you would have no need for consultants in the first place.
3. Call Them in Early
If you are planning on running a marathon, you don’t just wake up the morning of the race and try to run. It takes months of planning, running, eating righ, and resting. You may even hire a trainer or nutritionist to help you throughout the process.
Hiring consultants takes a similar approach. It shouldn’t be a last-ditch effort when your own internal ones have failed. Instead, stay ahead of challenges by keeping consultants top of mind for a variety of solutions.
Maybe you’re launching a new product, working through a strategy for a new market, renegotiating your vendor contracts, or evaluating your technology infrastructure. There are talented consultants who can bring that fresh perspective and industry expertise to help you succeed.
4. Learn From the Masters
The U.S. consultancy market is booming, generating $191.4 billion in 2014, up from $180 billion in 2013. Accounting-related services generated an additional $152 billion (up from $136.5 billion the previous year). With the ubiquity of consulting firms in the marketplace, you have every reason to be picky—and it’s important to ensure you’re surrounding yourself with the right people.
The right consultants should be qualified and complement your areas of expertise. As Deepak Chopra said, “A vision isn’t about achieving a goal. It’s about expansion, evolution and inner fulfillment. You can’t reach fulfillment if each step is discouraging, difficult, or a struggle.”
When you have the proper consultants in your corner, every roadblock becomes part of the challenge. Rather than appear daunting or stressful, these external difficulties serve as proof that progress is being made. The more open and honest you are with consultants about your challenges, plans and concerns, the more likely it is that they can help you succeed.
It takes discipline and trust, but complete transparency will impact success and how you feel at the end of the engagement.