The choice to hire a consultant for business or personal projects is often more difficult then determining the steps for the project itself, but there are several things you can do to help make deciding to hire, choosing and hiring a consultant easier.
Do you need a consultant?
If you are asking the question, the likely answer is yes. Perhaps a better question may be “at what point do you need a consultant?” The beginning is a good answer. Of course, consultants are available to help you get out of a bind, but if you hire a consultant early on, chances are you will avoid most major pitfalls. Even if you feel you are experienced in the area of your project, a consultant may be able to provide advise, you may have not realized would be useful or take some of the work or pressure off of your hands A consultant can even be used to help you focus your goals to determine what it is you are really trying to accomplish. Think of it this way, often consultants have agreements with vendors that may get you discounts on goods or services for your business or relationships with others which may get your project further than it would have had you worked on your own. Sometimes these connections by themselves can pay for the consultants services. The real benefit of hiring a consultant though is their experience. A good consultant can keep you and your business from making costly mistakes. They also advise you as to how best to run your business with the knowledge of your competitors business operations in mind.
So you need a consultant, but who will you hire?
Independent and consultant companies are available for every niche whether it be for business consulting or personal projects. Finding the right consultant is as important as deciding to hire one in the first place. Ask friends, business colleagues, and your competition (secretly of course) who they used. For niche consulting, or for those of you who do not know anyone who has used a consultant, use the resources of the internet to find consultants who specialize in your area. Once you have a list of at least three, give them a call to get a feel of how they operate. Some consultants are very hands-on while others do most of the work giving you only a finished project. If you can, ask to speak to the consultant that would be the lead on the project. This is important as many consulting firms, especially the larger corporations, often have separate account acquisition personnel who are there to sell you on their services and may not know exactly what the consultant may be able to do for you. Feel free to ask questions, including the experience of the consultant with the specific issues you have and the time they think they may need to complete the project. The most important goal in our first conversation with the consultant is to determine whether you fell comfortable enough with them to speak more specifically about your project.
How much does a consultant cost?
With so many consultants to choose from, you may be tempted to pick the consultant that costs the least or that costs most. While the consultants charge should be considered, it should be far down on the list when weighing your options. Consultants derive their charges based on their overhead costs, the time they will need to devote, the complexity of the problem, and the client. The highest quote you get may not mean the consultant is the best for the job. Be sure to determine what additional expenses the consultant foresees as they can often add significant amounts to your overall bill. Payment terms also differ widely for consultants. Some require a retainer, bill weekly or monthly, or charge a flat fee.
Hiring a consultant will often involve signing a contract which specifies the agreement between your business and the consultant. Remember that all contracts can be evaluated by an attorney if you so chose. Be wary of any consultant that discourages you from getting outside advise on the contract. Not all consultants will use contracts for all projects but many will at the very least write a letter which outlines fees and goals. Look over this carefully and make sure you are comfortable with the terms before giving your consultant the go-ahead to get started as this letter is often treated as a contract by the courts.
Your agreement with your consultant should include the following things, if possible:
obegin and end date;
ospecifics of the project;
ospecifics of the consultants job and/or goals; and
othe method the consultant will use to reach contracted goals
Various projects have differing requirements. An end date may not be determinable or the contract may be written so that the service continues for a time until one or both parties wishes to terminate. It is very important for the contract to include the specifics of the problem. This is especially true of the consultant did not provide a separate written proposal. To be sure both parties have properly identified the issues and the consultant is clear on your perceived needs, include a breakdown of the issues. The consultants method may or may not be included in the contract. Some consultants regard their methodology as trade secret while some will specify who they will be speaking to on your behalf, which companies will be hired and how they will do their job. If you have gotten to the point of comfort with your choice in consultant then you will be able to decide your level of trust and how many specifics you want in your contract.
Taking the time to consider the basics outlined above will go a long way in helping you to determine whether to hire a consultant and what to expect. Remember, it’s your business, your project, and your name on the line. A good consultant will understand your values, goals, and project and regard your project with the same importance you do.