At various points in its development, your business may benefit from the expertise and insight that only an external consultant can provide. But without the right selection process and procedures in place, bringing in an outside consultant can be a waste of time and money.
Here are some tips for selecting and effectively utilizing outside consultants:
Define exactly what you need. When your company needs help with a specific project, identifying the reasons why a consultant’s services are required is not difficult. But what if the needs of your organization are less obvious? Bringing in a consultant to “improve efficiency” is far too broad an objective. Before seeking a consultant, identify the specific areas in your organization that need to be addressed and the precise goals you wish to achieve.
Ask around. If you are unsure of how to find a consultant who will meet your needs, contact professional associations or other businesses for their recommendations. Take advantage of opportunities to speak with others about their experiences with consultants or consulting firms. Such individuals may also offer advice on negotiating consulting fees. Avoid selecting a consultant simply because he or she is a friend or family member of an employee or manager.
Prepare an RFP and collect proposals and bids. Once you have determined the goals you hope to accomplish by hiring a consultant, include this information in a “request for proposal” (RFP) to be distributed to candidates. Ask each candidate to submit a proposal that includes information on fees and reimbursable expenses. Examine each proposal carefully, asking questions or interviewing candidates where appropriate. Eliminate any proposals that are not professionally presented or that fail to include the requested information.
Draw up a contract. After a candidate has been chosen, prepare a legal agreement that outlines the services that the consultant is expected to deliver, dates for completion, and a schedule of payment. Have the consultant sign the contract before beginning the work.
Collaborate with the consultant. Keep in mind that even the most qualified consultant cannot be of assistance without input and cooperation from your company. Before the consultant arrives, make sure that the appropriate managers and employees have made time in their schedules to meet with the consultant and provide him or her with the necessary information. Also, prepare any background information on your business that the consultant might find useful prior to his or her arrival.
Remember that consultants are not responsible for doing the work of management or regular employees. Instead, consultants are a source of expert advice on how staff can perform their duties more effectively, even after the consultant’s work is finished.
Put the consultant’s proposals into practice. After spending considerable amounts of money to have a consultant address an issue or solve a problem, many businesses fail to take the consultant’s advice or to translate his or her recommendations into action. Carefully consider each of the consultant’s recommendations and decide how the business will put them into practice.
Evaluate performance. After the consultant’s ideas have been implemented and enough time has passed for the results to become apparent, analyze the impact of the actions taken and ask employees to assess the usefulness of the consultant’s contribution. This can help you determine whether your original goals in hiring the consultant were met and provide insight into how your business can make effective use of consultant services in the future.
Outside consultants can provide valuable insight and advice for your business. To get the most from this experience, be sure you have reasonable and well-defined expectations at the outset, that you communicate these expectations clearly to the consultant, and implement his or her suggestions thereafter.