If you are an entrepreneur with a fast-growing business, finding the right consultant is no easy task.
Whether you need help with finance, accounting, business planning, IT, marketing, PR or something else, an experienced consultant can be very helpful.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes when hiring consultants. I’ve rushed into hiring while foolishly believing the glib, salesman-like patter of the consultant without checking his or her background or skill set.
What I’ve learned from these experiences is that before hiring a consultant, make sure the individual you’re considering has had some verifiable prior successes in eliminating the specific issues you’re struggling with. It could make all the difference between whether you get your problem solved or make a massive investment only to end up with a bigger mess than before.
These days, my company asks these questions before even considering hiring a consultant:
1. What knowledge, skills and attitude do you have?
2. Have you ever helped a company such as ours before?
3. Will you provide us with the names of the companies and contact person who hired you for your last three consulting contracts?
4. What do you bring to the table that will help us with our particular problem or issue?
5. Can you let us know if you’ve read books, white papers and reports that we may have not seen nor had time to read?
6. Do you belong to any networks, institutes and/or associations that provide access to connections and resources we don’t have?
7. What experience do you really have?
8. Can you give us proof of a successful consulting history?
9. Are you ready to provide personal and business references that we can phone and fact check?
10. Will you be talking about real tactical advice or fancy-sounding fluff?
11. Can you demonstrate an effective strategy at solving the problems we need help with?
12. Why should we believe in you? Can we trust you?
Remember, if you sign a consulting contract and the relationship breaks down because the consultant didn’t do his/her job and/or information is later discovered that the consultant was less than truthful about his/her credentials or background, the buck will stop with you. Remember how the old proverb goes: forewarned is forearmed.
My advice: hire a business lawyer to help you draft the consulting contract.
Ask the lawyer if his or her firm is able to carry out a comprehensive background check on the consultant. If not, take a look at the website of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners who have a search feature to find firms that carry out background checks.
Of course, there’s nothing quite like getting outside expertise to find the best solution to a particularly tricky problem. There will be times when the answer to a business problem is complicated. For entrepreneurs, consultants can bridge the gap taking on specific tasks in a hurry.
It’s the desire for this sort of perspective that has turned consulting into a multi-trillion dollar industry.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad apples out there and far too many consultants harm the companies they’re being paid a whole lot of money to serve. A few years ago, Jeff Haden wrote a good article for CBS ‘Moneywatch’, describing some of these problems.
I‘d thought I had seen it all with consultants. But it seems to me the individual or two-person consultant firms who prey on a small companies are a different breed than the larger consulting organizations. When it comes to measuring the true success of the steps the consultant promised, I have had a very poor experience.
So, if you find yourself in a situation whereby the consultant isn’t performing or you find some bad information in the consultants background, do not hesitate to find a lawyer who can help you terminate the agreement immediately.
If you did not have a competent lawyer help draft or at least review the consulting agreement before you signed it, then it’s more than likely you are going to be stuck with paying the consultant whatever you promised. So please, do your homework and consult with a lawyer before you get into a difficult situation.
But before you start thinking about contracts and lawyers, you’ll need to ask the consultant all the questions I’ve described above. I’m not saying that satisfactory answers to those questions will keep you from hiring the wrong consultant, but at the very least you can try and find out everything possible before making a hiring decision.
Always remember, some consultants stretch the truth. Some consultants are outright deceivers.
So before hiring, always do your due diligence including background checks, especially with Federal and State Agencies (criminal, civil, securities issues etc).
There are some very good consultants out there who can be very helpful to an Entrepreneur. Doing extensive due diligence and spending a few hundred dollars today might save you a lot of money and grief in the future, should things not work out.