SmartCompany blogger Eve Ash made many excellent points about hiring and working with consultants in her blog last week, ‘Working brilliantly with consultants’.
As Ash said, consultants are a special breed and, undoubtedly like in any walk of life, there are good, bad and indifferent consultants.
As one of those people myself, I thought I could go some way towards demystifying the consultant in the small business end of the market.
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Here are a few pointers that might help you choose the right consultant for your business.
Qualifications and experience matter
Try and find one aligned to a national brand or professional network, preferably with some formal business qualifications. Ideally one with some real experience in small business themselves. And when you meet them, make sure there’s some level of common sense in their approach. Don’t let them baffle you with things you don’t understand, and make sure they’re someone you think you can work with. I like the BBQ test; would you invite them to your house for a BBQ?
Be very clear about what you want from them
Smaller businesses are often run by “the promoted technician”. A good cook buys a café, or someone who loves socialising and organising dinner parties becomes an events co-ordinator. The examples are endless, but at the end of the day, no matter how good a technician you are, this does not equate to running a profitable business. So what are the gaps in your skill set, and who is best placed to provide this kind of support for a reasonable fee to you? A business mentor, coach or consultant may be the right approach for your situation. Sometimes it even helps just to get the advice of an impartial third party with no agenda other than your business success.
How much help do you need to get where you need to go?
Studies have shown that close to half of small businesses shut down within two years of start-up in Australia. Do you have a business plan? Have you introduced metrics to gauge your progress towards your business goals? Do you have a five-year strategic plan? In any business, cash flow is king and if you can’t plan for the financial ups and downs of your business there’s a pretty good chance you’ll become another one of these statistics – someone who tried and failed.
So speak with friends, relatives, other small business owners, and check your local chamber of commerce to find someone reputable who can identify and fill these knowledge gaps in your business, and hopefully pass the expertise on.
You definitely need to do your vetting and paperwork properly
Once you agree to terms and the level of support and advice they’ll provide, do not sign a contract. Have an in-principle arrangement where either party can walk away with 14 days’ notice if it’s not working out. Be very clear about goals and expectations, but understand also that if you have been running a business poorly for any length of time, it might take a while to sort things out. They’re a business adviser, not a magician! So work with them and see where it might take your business, it could well be the roadmap to success you were looking for. And at the end of the day, paying for this kind of business support could just be the difference between viability and becoming another ugly statistic.
Mark Hudson is a senior business consultant with 3V Consulting Group.