What to look for in a business consultant

Alan_KaplanTNIn his latest blog, Alan Kaplan shows how a business consultant can help you optimise performance within your business and explains the three main stages of selecting the right business consultant.

In his latest blog, Alan Kaplan shows how a business consultant can help you optimise performance within your business and explains the three main stages of selecting the right business consultant.

A significant issue with many SMEs is that they lack the internal resources to optimise performance. This could be due to time constraints or a lack of skills or experience in specific areas. In these instances a professional business consultant can add significant value in many ways, providing that key criteria are met.

The role of consultants is advisory. They should have the capacity to identify and address business challenges in an optimal manner as well as recommending and implementing exemplary strategies and tactics. Ultimately, though, the decision to undertake any of the recommendations is at the discretion of the business owner.

Business consultants should have appropriate skills and experience precisely suited to the areas for which they are hired. Their recommendations should be insightful, objective and fresh and they should be able to provide supporting rationale for recommended courses of action.

Business consultants should view situations holistically, be proactive and be prepared to acquire an in-depth knowledge of all essential areas pertaining to the challenges concerned before commencing projects. This involves researching the situation as best possible.

Alan_KaplanLGFurthermore, they should always be prepared to go the extra mile. Consultants should respect the experience and input of key management and staff, be prepared to listen and make provision to meet with them as necessary throughout the duration of the project.

Consultants should be able to think both in and out of the square as well as possess the capacity to mentor. In addition, they should have excellent communication skills and the ability to simplify even the most complex of issues, such that they are easily understood. It is important for business consultants to be results orientated and to recommend relevant KPIs in order to assess outcomes. Those who possess these qualities often retain clients for extended periods of time. From my personal experience this can be for periods of 10 to 15 years or longer.

Fees, expenses, the basis of charging, and the terms of payment should be mutually agreed from both a budgetary and contractual perspective. A highly skilled business consultant can be utilised most effectively by SMEs on an affordable retainer basis for a set duration each month.

The process of selecting a business consultant comprises three main stages:

  • Project definition: Such that all parties understand the objectives and outcomes required. For example, if subcontracting is required, who will be responsible for the management and what protocol will be followed? If this is within the jurisdiction of the consultant, does he/she have the capacity, experience and skills to undertake all aspects?
  • Selecting the consultant or consulting group against these criteria: Large consulting groups are often more expensive and rely on packaged consulting approaches, whereas smaller consulting companies are often more flexible. Many large consulting groups focus on larger corporations with substantial budgets and are therefore not feasible for smaller companies.
  • Formulating a mutually agreed written agreement: Setting out project scope, timelines and expected outcomes as well as supporting arguments.

There is little doubt that business consultants with the right skills and qualities can add considerable value to SMEs from many perspectives.

Alan Kaplan, PhD, is an Executive Director of Optivance 360, a multi-disciplinary consultancy that helps SMEs flourish. Alan’s international experience spans more than 25 years across academic, media, agency, client and consulting areas.

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