There comes a point in every business when the owner realizes they need advice and wonders, “Should I hire a consultant?”
And, as with most things in life, the answer is, “It depends.”
Whether you’re starting a new company or growing an existing business, hiring the right consultant can be a cost-effective way for your small business to leverage specialized knowledge. Conversely, hiring the wrong consultant can cost you more than money—it can cost you a lot of wasted time and energy.
So, the challenge for a small business owner is to understand the role of a consultant in their business, and to learn how and when it is cost-effective to hire one.
What does a small business consultant do?
A business consultant is simply an outside expert you hire to solve an internal business problem. A good consultant is a great source of specialized knowledge. A great consultant brings knowledge, skills, experience, and process to improve the client’s condition.
Unlike in-house employees, consultants have independent schedules, may have multiple clients, and are hired on a contract/project basis. Depending on the consulting firm, consultants may work alone or may bring their own team, which typically includes one project manager and two analysts.
TIP: It is always important to clarify who the primary contact person will be in order to prevent miscommunications.
A consultant can help with marketing and sales development, business expansion and improvements, and even execution of their ideas and recommendations.
The following is a quick snapshot of the consulting process:
- Pre-consulting: Prior to beginning work, you and your expert set out the terms, parameters, and agree on the “consulting agreement”.
- Consulting period: The consulting period typically includes a discover, research, and final presentation of recommendations that completes the project.
- Post-consulting: You and the consultant may choose to extend your agreement or move towards implementation on your own.
Why do people hire small business consultants?
Small business owners hire consultants as a cost-effective way to bridge a gap in knowledge and skills within their company, or a as a way to bring a fresh, objective, and professional perspective to the company.
Here are the three most common reasons why our clients turn to consultants for help:
- To find the problem(s): In many cases, a business may be exhibiting problematic “symptoms”, such as a decrease in sales, or cash-flow issues, and internal management in unable to pinpoint the source of the problem. In this case, a consultant can come in observe the symptoms within your operations, conduct some tests and research, and determine the root of the problem.
- To create the solution(s): In some cases, you may have a goal that you can’t achieve internally either because there is a skills gap or because it is simply not within your company’s core competency. Hiring a good consultant can save time and money, and ultimately achieve a better result.
- Optimization: In some cases, your company may have grown very quickly and know there are lots of things you could be doing better, but you don’t even know where to start. A consultant can come in and bring in some fresh perspective, evaluate any or all areas of your business, and determine the processes and procedures to increase productivity levels.