Two small business owners who are friends of mine recently approached me on separate occasions seeking my advice. They asked a common question, “Do I need to hire a consultant?” I answered their question with another question, “Why do you think you need to hire a consultant?” They went through their left-brain reasons. I quipped back, “Tell me why from the bottom of your heart.” Then, the real reasons came out.
“My original partner is not equipped to bring my company to the next level.”
“My employees lack the skill and leadership.”
“My wife is my business partner.” Okay. ‘Nuff said on that because we both smiled.
“I can’t afford to hire a very experienced person.”
And so went the list of real reasons with all the feelings and emotions of frustrations and disappointments. It was already obvious to me what my answer would be.
“Then, yes, you need to hire a consultant.” Of course, their next questions were obvious: “Who? How?”
I wanted to be biased by jumping into the passionate conversation and say, “Hire me!” But that would have been anti-climactic and too darn dishonest of me. I would have lost my reputation in front of them and the trust and respect they’ve had with me all these years. You see, never ever hard sell yourself. I’ve seen people doing that and many turned their back from them because of that. Patience is a virtue, in life and your chosen profession, and I always believe that if you build it, they will come. So, build it. I had more to lose being a consultant for my two friends. I knew deep down there were other things we could do business together and consulting for them was not the one.
Going back to the conversation of my meetings, I summarized my advise into five points to consider when hiring a consultant for their small business.
1. You need professional help.
Managing a growing business is not a solo performance. Having relatives and best friends whose call to action to join your start up was because of blood lines or school ties isn’t anymore the reason to depend on them for growth. Lucky you if you partnered early on with people who had awesome experiences running organizations in their previous jobs; but not all small business owners have partners, associates or employees like that. A consultant with at least 10 to 15 years experience is good; more is great. A consultant that has failed and succeeded a few times is awesome. Remember, failure teaches someone not only to learn from their mistakes and not repeat those failures, but it also eliminates ego and develops perseverance. As my favorite U.S. general once said, “Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.” That was Gen. Colin Powell.
2. Consultants have the time and experience to teach you a lot of new things.
New things like social media, online marketing, competing in an overcrowded market, finding new markets, transforming or entering a new sales channel, and many more business strategies that you have not encountered nor may have the time to learn and experience it. If a consultant has a blog, check it out. The words that come out of a consultant’s head is already a surefire hint of how he (or she) will perform for you because you’re already in his head. A LinkedIn account may give you his experience and knowhow, but a blog gets you in his brain.
3. Get a consultant for business strategies.
If you need strategic planning, a business plan, soft skills training, and general management advise, to name a few, get a consultant outside your industry. Many industry-specific consultant have ingrained habits when it comes to their specific line of work. Only if you need help with a hard skill that no one outside your industry can help you, do you get a consultant from within your industry. If a consultant has had experience in a good number of industries, including yours, combining all those together can do wonders for your need. Seriously consider that person right away. Bringing new ideas and strategies from other industries and fields is always one item that brings value to your business.
4. Consultants need not be paid like a King.
There are many ways to compensate a consultant but one thing is for sure, it is not going to be expensive. Going for cheap might get you someone who delivers cheap as well. So, don’t even think of cheap. Be fair and be honest with your offer and counteroffers, and the right consultant would gladly do the same. A consultant for small businesses with 15 years of work experience should charge you about $50 per hour. Too high? Nope. Mind you, a consultant for large enterprises go for about $100-$500 per hour. But we’re talking about small businesses. And remember, you’re not hiring for a full-time job but rather a temporary yet very skilled one, someone that might cost you $10,000 a month or more if hired on a full-time basis. If it’s strategic planning, the actual man-hours he or she delivers are the planning session itself plus the time it took him or her to put up the content for the activity, a few more hours talking to your staff, and the time it will take your consultant to come up with a new business plan including presentation and approval. Implementing the new business plan is another contract. Having written that, I’d say four hours for the planning session, 12 hours to prepare all the content and materials, eight hours for one-on-one sessions, and about five days or 40 hours to come up with the business plan which includes the presentation proper. So, that’s 60 hours or $3,000. You can negotiate it down to $2,500 or even $2,200 if you tell him he’ll be the one to lead implementation. What’s it going to cost you to recover $3,000? Probably very little. Don’t judge the one-time figure – put it in a spreadsheet and forecast it. Actually, amortize the expense like a fixed asset. If you can’t do that, ask his help to show you in plain simple terms that he’s worth $3,000.
5. Always use the 80/20 rule.
For any business expectations, be conservative enough to think and know that delivery will always be 80 percent and prepare to manage the remaining 20 percent. As for contracting the consultant, you should think that way, too. If the project is to deliver 100 customers over a period of three months, then expect 80 customers which will make you satisfied; not ecstatic but satisfied. So, if your real, actual and practical target is 100 customers, make it 125 customers for the consultant. Any over-quota and you risk the possibility of a conflict between you and your consultant that may affect both operations and the staff that deals with your consultant. Be fair, be honest and be practical. Just give your consultant a bonus for exceeding targets.
I will not go to other things like image, reputation, search engine results of your name, what people in social media are saying about you, and so on. That’s another chapter or another long coffee shop meeting with my two friends. For now, they were very content with the advise I gave them and I’m pretty sure they’re on their way to hiring the right consultant for their small business.
Small businesses need not shy away from hiring consultants.Whether it’s small, medium or large, every organization needs professional help that doesn’t have to be a full-time employee. And if you financially analyze the cost of the consultant and the return on your investment, I’m pretty sure the return will always outweigh the initial cost, whether it’s a short-term win or a long-term success.
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