Running a small business can be a lot of work. Many small business owners have not trained specifically to run a business, and for many it is also the first business that they’ve owned. Without past experience running a business, even the smallest details like creating your business cards can become sticking points and threaten to trip you up and disrupt the flow of your business.
That’s where consultants come in: consultants can allow a small and inexperienced business owner to make strategic and prudent decisions. However, hiring the wrong consultant can be an expensive and time consuming mistake. We’ve outlined the steps that you need to consider before you hire that business consultant in order to minimize the chances of losses and mistakes.
Step one: do your research
Yes, this might be an obvious one, but it’s the most important. Do your research. This might be as simple as Googling your prospective consultant’s name to see what comes up! Look for horror stories. Request some examples or case studies of work they have done in the past, it’s possible that they might be required to omit certain information or details because of non-disclosure agreements, but they should be able to provide you with some references and other information to prove that they’re a great consultant.
Step two: define the job
It’s important to have clearly defined deliverables—there’s nothing more frustrating than a misunderstanding about tasks. This is as true with consultants as it is with marketers. It’s best to risk being overly specific and detailed when defining deliverables in order to minimize the risk of ambiguity. This is not the same as micromanaging your consultant, rather, this is about ensuring that you both are on the same page about the tasks at hand before work begins.
Step three: Understand Payment
Consultants are all different. Some offer standardized packages, some offer customized treatments for each client, some even like to informally wing it. Make sure that you understand exactly what services you’re going to be charged for, and have an idea of how much that is going to be. Some business consultants charge a flat fee for debt brokerage, others charge a percentage of total debt they’re able to broker—do you know which payment model yours uses?
Step four: Manage Expectations
It’s important to remember that consulting is not a magic pill for a failing business. For every small business success story, there are ten slightly less motivating stories to be told. Remember that your consultant is not the be-all end-all of small business entrepreneurship, but rather just a tool at your disposal. You can make use of it, but don’t expect it to fix everything. Be realistic in your goals and expectations of your consultant and you’re likely to be much more pleased with the outcome.
Step five: Stay alert
Remember that your business is your life. Your stake in this is much higher than theirs, and you need to keep this in mind at all times. Make sure that all of your calculations consider the position of your business first. Your business is yours to protect, so don’t be shy. If something isn’t clear, make sure you ask about it, even if you’re afraid of sounding stupid. Remember that your consultant is your employee: they are reporting to you, and you need to expect them to be service-oriented and conscientious to your needs as their work provider.