Consultants are a special breed. Who are they and why do they consult? Many are enterprising types who’ve boldly chosen high stakes over security, risk/reward over predictability.
Of course, as in any walk of life, some are excellent at what they do, while some leave much to be desired. It is incumbent on the hirer to take a good hard look at who they’re dealing with, while being similarly mindful of their own corporate processes and idiosyncrasies.
Here are some important points to remember.
Be clear about the parameters of a given task
You shouldn’t be paying consultants to spend time working out your brief! Common problems are vague briefs or “brief creep”. You are better off scoping a job thoroughly at the outset, letting the consultant ask his/her questions before determining whether you can work together.
Do your vetting and paperwork properly
Ask people who’ve worked with them previously about their approach to given tasks. Agree also to a termination clause for both parties. Once you’ve agreed to the task, timeline, invoicing and deliverables at hand and exchanged undertakings and a written agreement – let the consultant/s at it. Don’t be changeable about your budget or timelines, and don’t suddenly introduce new people to the equation who have different expectations or who have more carriage over a project than you. Either you’re where the buck stops, or someone else needs to be in charge of the task.
If there must be committees for a project, appoint just one person to whom the consultant reports. Dealing with committees invariably causes problems. Some clients revel in verbal and written jousts and prancing all over a person’s work, but often shred the consultant in the process. Many a style guide or website build or revamp has died a slow death at the hands of a committee, and engendered considerably more sweat for the consultant than the job was actually worth. Even lawyers will not indefinitely have the luxury of billing per minute in our economic climate (unless something remarkable occurs in global finance). The majority of consultants never have that luxury, so be mindful that paying a few thousand dollars frequently equals MANY more hours of a consultant’s time than what they invoice you.
Agree to deliverables and a staged series of signoffs
This will smooth many misunderstandings and diffuse the likelihood of resentment (on both sides). If you’ve scoped the job properly and allowed for contingencies at the outset, much conflict will be avoided.
Be communicative and responsive
Consultants may have questions for you; deal with these as they come up. Don’t just spit out a terse reaction to work they’ve submitted; discuss it over a coffee and be prepared to be flexible where need be. A consultant must work within your parameters, but many have a great deal of worldly experience and could in fact be in an excellent position to shift your perspective. Be open to the possibilities.
Pay promptly at agreed milestones and/or upon delivery
Consultants do not necessarily have secure incomes and have families and responsibilities of their own. Whether you’re a government department or medium-sized corporate or small business, factor payment into your budget and just pay the consultant as quickly and regularly as you can. Be clear at the outset that you will, or else agree to a different arrangement. Tie payment to performance/deliverables and both parties will be satisfied.
Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.