As you grow your business, you’ll inevitably consider the possibility of hiring a consultant to help you overcome specific obstacles or meet specific goals.

A skilled, effective consultant can be worth every penny, but it’s tricky to know when you’re talking to the right person for the job.

It’s also challenging to bring in help at the optimal time. All too often, consultants, like lawyers, are brought aboard too late in the game. Instead of crafting proactive contributions, they’re forced to do damage control as they confront problems that have escalated and become systemic. Bringing them in earlier often enables them to do a better job in a shorter time.

Lastly, engage in some frank self-evaluation before starting a conversation with a potential consultant. This vital step will enable you to be more transparent with your consultant, so he or she will grasp your situation better and offer more effective solutions. Self-evaluation also makes it easier to handle the inevitable critique which the consultant will offer.

Evaluate your organization and yourself with these questions:

  1. To what degree have I achieved my business and personal goals at this point? What goals are outstanding?
  2. Do I still believe in my business?
  3. Can I define the competitive advantage of my business?
  4. Do I have specific three and five year goals, and a written plan to achieve them?
  5. Do I have defined strategies?
  6. What is my personal strength? (sales, marketing, engineering, production, accounting,  finance, etc.)
  7. What are the weakest points of my organization?
  8. Why do I think that I need help?
  9. Am I willing to delegate?
  10. Is there someone in my organization who I can trust to take over important responsibilities?
  11. Am I confident in my current financial analysis of the business?
  12. In which areas of my business do I need professional help?
  13. Will I listen to an adviser and implement suggested changes?
  14. Am I committed to the success of my business?
  15. If I hire a consultant, how will I define a successful outcome?

Take your time and consider these questions honestly. Expect some surprises: you’ll probably see some aspects of your business in a whole new light. That is to your credit, and to your advantage. Make notes on the most important revelations from your self-evaluation, and rely on these insights to inform questions as you interview potential consultants.

What are common obstacles to deciding to hire a consultant, or to a successful outcome once a consultant is engaged?

  • Owners/managers tend to think they’re the ultimate authority on the business, and that they’ve got all the right answers.
  • Owners/managers make excuses for internal inefficiencies and failures.
  • Owners/managers make excuses to reject new strategies.
  • Owners/managers aren’t ready to make changes, but hire consultants in reaction to pressure from employees or family members.

Some people may have had a negative experience with a consultant, and dismiss consulting services as categorically problematic. While consulting in general does not deserve the bad reputation some ascribe to it, avoid consultants who engage in these behaviors:

  • pushy, hard-sell tactics
  • vague and unsatisfying responses to your questions
  • dismissive and negative talk about your business, ownership and employees
  • dismissive and negative talk about previous clients

Now that you’ve evaluated whether you’re ready to hire a consultant, watch for our next blog post about how to evaluate prospective consulting firms.