There are millions of consultants available online, with experience, price ranges, and realms of expertise that differ significantly between them. Depending on the size of your business, your industry, and your specific needs, you could end up
#1. Your referral source
How did you hear about this person? Your referral source should immediately give you a clue about the person’s validity. If you discovered this person through a pay-per-click (PPC) ad, there may not be much to go on, but if you’ve been recommended this person through a close personal friend or a business partner you respect, you’ll have some background information for how this person is going to perform.
Similarly, if you’ve used an online service with a good reputation, like Consultants 500, which allows you to research consultants from all over the web, you can bet they’ll perform at least better than average.
#2. Previous ratings and reviews
If you found this person through a network like Upwork or a similar online service, you can look at the person’s past ratings and reviews to see what kind of work they’ve done for other people. Most consultants who underperform end up falling off the radar, but you may find specific compliments or complaints that increase or decrease your confidence in this potential hire.
If you don’t have a service to go off, look to the person’s website. They’ll likely have a page detailing some of their former clients, along with reviews, testimonials, and maybe even case studies of their work. Review this information thoroughly, and form your own conclusions.
Consultants usually define themselves as generalists or specialists. Generalists are knowledgeable in many different areas, and have sufficient capabilities in multiple kinds of strategies and clients. Specialists, on the other hand, focus on niche problems or niche customers, and deliver highly targeted services. There’s some debate as to which is better, but your specific needs should guide you toward one or the other.
Are you looking to build an area of your business from scratch or start a new business? A generalist will be better. Are you looking to solve a specific problem? Look for a specialist. Make sure your consultant fits in with these guidelines.
#4. Your own research
How much research have you really done on the subject? Have you looked at several different consultants similar in price and specialization to your main candidate? Do you know approximately how much you should be paying for this service versus how much you actually would be paying? If you’ve honestly done a lot of research on the subject and you still feel good about your candidate, you should trust your own confidence. If you haven’t done any research, you might want to take a step back and look at some other options.
#5. Communication history
Have you tried to get in contact with this person yet? The style and effectiveness of your communication will portend the nature of your future relationship. For example, did this person pick up the phone immediately and have a clear, concise, and warm conversation with you? Or did it take a few days for them to return your phone call in a hurried, distant manner? Communication is key in managing an effective relationship with a consultant, so use this information wisely.
How much accountability does this consultant have in getting you results? Is there some kind of guarantee in the contract, or is their reputation on the line? Is there an entire firm available to back up this person’s work? You’ll want some kind of safety net to protect you, even if you’re reasonably sure of this person’s ability to deliver. Think of it as an insurance policy against the worst-case scenario.
#7. Your own gut feelings
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of your own gut instincts — especially if you’ve been in business a long time. You should be able to “feel” how authoritative someone is on a given subject, and if you’ve heard enough sales pitches, you should be able to identify when someone’s trying to sell you something that’s worth less than what they claim. If this consultant has met your other business partners and coworkers, do they share your gut instincts?
Second Guessing Yourself
If you’re relatively confident that this is the right consultant for your business, but you aren’t quite sold, there are a few things you can do to ease your worries and/or hedge your bets:
- Negotiate the deal. If you aren’t sure that the service your consultant will provide is going to be worth the money, get something in writing that entitles you to a refund, partial refund, or discount if you fail to see the results you expected. You could also work to negotiate a lower price on the contract to protect yourself.
- Interview previous clients. If you aren’t sold on the ratings and reviews, talk to some of your consultant’s former (or current) clients in person. In person conversations are less formal and more natural than written testimonials, so you’ll likely get a better feel for what type of consultant this person or business is.
- Hire part-time, and hire multiple consultants. Rather than investing all your resources into one strong client, split your money and time between two or more different candidates. This will allow you to hedge your bets, and keep whichever consultant performs best to continue serving your organization.
No matter what, you know there’s no such thing as a “perfect” consultant, and the time may come for you to switch. Don’t worry about finding a perfect fit that will last forever; instead, go with the person or firm you feel suits your present needs best. Pay close attention to how they perform, and make changes as necessary from there.