Tips to avoid costly mistakes.

Many small businesses are experts in their field and know their own business inside and out.  However lots of small business owners lack the time or expertise required to implement certain projects.  That’s where a small business consultants can step in and help.

In order to achieve a successful project it’s important to be clear about what you want your consultant to be able to do for you.  Just as important is selecting a consultant with the right skills for the job, but how do you make sure you don’t get off on the wrong foot?

Here are some things to consider:

1. Are you looking for a research/diagnostic approach or do you need help with implementation?
Firstly are you looking for someone to take a diagnostic approach to a business problem you are facing?  For instance, which market segment should you enter?  Or what product line should you sell? Or is your business need about implementation?  For instance you’ve identified that you need to be on Linked In and need a marketing consultant with the expertise to make this happen.

The two needs are different and some consultants are better in one area than the other.  To find out whether your prospective consultant prefers to work on implementation projects or research projects ask them.  Don’t be afraid to ask them for specific examples of projects they have worked on and how they have tackled projects similar to yours in the past.

2. Ask prospective consultants how their clients are better off after they leave.
What sort of outcomes were they able to achieve for their clients?  Look out for wishy-washy answers.  Look for specific examples and outcomes.  Does this fit with the sorts of outcomes that you would like for your business? Where they able to increase website traffic by a certain percentage, reduce staff turnover by a certain amount or generate more business for the client?

Picking the wrong person for the job might end up feeling like you are pushing water up a hill with a rake.  Not only will the results be less than optimal but it may end up being a costly and stressful experience also.

3. Be careful of wanting champagne on a beer budget.
Do you want fast, cheap or talented? (Pick two). There is a triangle trade off here.  You can get premium talent, faster results or a lower cost but Jamie Oliver wont teach your team how to cook tomorrow for free if you see what I mean.

Often a small business owner will set a budget and then begin the search for the best talent and/or fastest result within that budget. From my experience a budget-driven approach can often compromise results.  Your best approach is to establish your desired outcome, then judge each potential candidate by how likely they are to be able to achieve that outcome.

4. Look for a solid “About Us” page.
Ask consultants about their qualifications and their approach.  With so many so-called ‘experts’ out there it’s really important to identify who is qualified and able to do the job for you.  I’ve had clients complain to me in the past about SEO companies they have engaged who claim to be experts.  On one occasion I looked at their SEO providers website and noticed that their Account Manager had little or no qualifications in business or marketing.  I’m not suggesting that people can’t move into different careers or learn new skills and become proficient or effective in an area, but ask questions about their skills and experience to determine whether they are fit for the job.  Are they methodical in their approach? Do have a history of achieving quality results for clients?  This will help you to avoid being mislead by organisations with few processes, a glossy website and no real qualifications or experience.

5. Ask yourself whether you feel comfortable working with the consultant.
Do you think they are going to be the right fit for your business?  Can you see yourself and your team working well with them?  Sometimes it’s less about the exact industry experience they have had and more about their ability to get results.

6. Think about goals and outcomes first.
Don’t pick a technical specialist to do a job when you really need someone who can deliver a sales outcome.   Think about your goal first, what are you trying to achieve? For instance, if it’s conversions and leads from your website then perhaps what you really need is a marketing consultant to advise on the layout of the website rather than just a technical person to do the build.  A technical person can definitely build the website for you, it will function beautifully, but will it achieve your goal of converting traffic to sales?

7. Be wary of small business consultants who are all things to all people.
A good consultant will be honest about what their speciality is and will not simply be a ‘yes’ man or woman.  They will push back on projects, ideas and suggestions that they don’t think are right for your business or are beyond their area of expertise.  Look for a consultant with backbone not someone who lets you steer the project without alerting you to the danger that lies ahead because they are too afraid to question your judgement or afraid they will upset you.  I’d rather have an expert question me and make suggestions than sit back and watch me sink the ship!

So whether it is a marketing consultant or a small business consultant you are looking for, many of the same rules apply.   Identify what you need and look at it from an outcomes perspective, work out who has the expertise to help you achieve your goals and whether or not you are comfortable working with them.  Look for someone who is genuinely interested in working with you and passionate about what they do.