Approximately 543,000 new businesses open in the U.S. per month. At some point, these companies will, in all likelihood, reach out to a consulting firm to help them get started, move to the next level or maneuver through crisis.
One would think that once a business owner seeks help, things would get better. But if you have ever been involved in a small business, how many times did you not find this to be true?
Here is some advice for choosing the right consultant for you and for collaborating successfully:
- Good consultants/consulting firms are like good lovers: They will give you the feeling that everything is about you! If a firm acts as if they couldn't care less, they probably really don’t. If you invest your hard-earned money and all your hopes in them, the least you can expect is that they pay attention to you, your needs and aspirations.
- If what the consultant proposes is over the top expensive, it's not the right fit. Of course their proposal will claim that the collaboration will increase your business, but don't get caught up in a “the services will practically pay for themselves” thinking. Don't try to pay for the initiative with money that you expect to make once the initiative has been successful. The consulting hasn't proven its worth until there are new deals in sight and there is extra money in your account.
- That said, don't expect to find expertise and hard work for practically no money. If the services offered are way below the going market rate, that might be a measure of the level of expertise being offered. Remember any money that you lose doing something that proves to be ineffective, is still a loss. Better to not save at the wrong end.
- Set a clear target, timeline and road map. It's important to know at all times what exactly you are working on and whether you are still on track with your timeline. Let's say you want to work on your strategy; how many more phases still lie ahead of you? If you feel lost – which can be a normal and even healthy part of the process – just say so and ask for clarification on how what you are currently doing fits into the bigger scope of things.
- Don't allow anyone to talk you into something that is just not your style. While good consulting usually pushes the envelope and stretches your business view a little bit, make sure that at the end of a consulting engagement, you are still you.
- Don't accept any “you just need to trust us on this one” processes. Small business consulting requires close collaboration, with your participation every step of the way. Expect seamless reporting as well as an empowering process that leaves you with the ability to repeat the process and create your own successes in the future.
- Trust your intuition. The consultant you are working with as well as the entire consulting firm should just feel right for you. It should be the right mix of someone you connect with and trust on the one hand, and someone who brings an entirely different perspective and skillset to the table on the other.
- Monitor the results. Make sure you cover everything outlined in the proposal and, most of all, that you achieve the promised results. Don't take a “we are uncertain why this is not working for you. It has worked for all of our other clients” excuse. Business consulting is about making your business more successful. If this is not happening, the consulting has simple not delivered the promised results.
When working with a great small business consultant or consulting firm you should feel good and that you are making progress along the way. You should gain a clearer perspective, feel empowered to plan the next steps and energized to carry them out. In short, your business should become more successful and flourish as a result of the consulting process.
Remember, a successful consultant is someone you would hire again without even thinking twice, but also someone you probably will not need to hire again, now that you have the tools to be more successful on your own.