Even if you’ve been running your business as a one-person show, there comes a time when you need help. Maybe you don’t need to hire a full-time employee, but you definitely need assistance to help you grow your business. That’s when having an outside consultant can be helpful. You can hire a consultant to help you get your business strategy in gear, design an effective marketing strategy, or get your finances in order.
But, how can you find the right person for the job, and what skills and experience do you need to look for?
Know What You Need
Before you can look for the right consultant for your business, you need to clearly define your needs. Are you looking for a little advice that you can execute on your own, do you want coaching so you can learn how to do something, or are you looking for someone to take over a set of tasks for you? Each comes with its own price tag, so factor your budget in as well.
It can be helpful to make a list of the tasks you need help with. Which are beyond your own skillset (or time availability)? How long do you need help with each? You may need one or two sessions with a consultant, or you may need ongoing assistance.
Ask for Referrals
If you have business contacts, start there to see if any of them know a consultant that fits the bill. Referrals are typically known by your contact; they may have even worked with the individual they refer, so you can get insight into how capable that person is at what you need to get done.
Start by asking people you know IRL (in real life), but if that doesn’t net results, don’t be shy about pinging your social networks online. Even if you don’t know a person well on, say, Twitter, that recommendation beats out having to hunt for someone on your own with zero background on them.
Spend Some Time Doing Research
Whether you’ve got referral leads or not, you’ll need to do some investigation and thoroughly read the websites of a few potential consultants. First and foremost, you want to see if they have experience in your industry, as well as with the specific tasks you need help with. A marketing consultant may specialize in content, so if you need website design, she may not be a good fit for this project.
Looking at potential candidates’ websites should give you confidence that they’re capable of handling the work you have for them. Look for examples of past projects, links to clients, and plenty of explanation about their approach.
Line Up Interviews
Just like if you were hiring full-time employees, you’ll need to interview potential consultants to determine which is the best fit for you. Start by outlining what you’re looking for, then ask them to tell you about what they do.
You’re looking for a consultant to think on her feet quickly. If you present Thing A as the problem you’re trying to solve, ideally she’ll be able to rapidly sketch out how she would help you with it.
Ask about pricing during the call so you don’t get taken by surprise later. Even if the consultant doesn’t want to give you pricing before she’s thought out the specifics of what your project would require, she can email a quote to you after the call.
You should end the call feeling like this person has the solution you need to move your business forward. Not only should she check all the boxes on your list, but she should also click with you. Do you enjoy talking to her? Is she at ease with you? Trust your gut as part of the process because you want to feel good about the person you’re investing money in.
Once the Project Begins
It would be nice if you could hand the keys over and let the consultant you choose manage the project, but you’ll need to be involved, at least initially. It may take some time for her to ramp up and fully understand your business, so provide whatever she needs to get there: company documents, problems you’ve had, access to anyone else who works with you, even access to your customer relationship management tool.
Be available for questions, and plan to meet for the first few weeks if necessary. Yes, you hired someone to help you, but you have to help that person help you by getting them as close to your business as possible, and that means you must give them access to you and your brain.
Work together to establish goals for the project, as well as milestone dates to accomplish them. That way, you can easily measure how well the consultant is doing. If she’s hitting her marks along the way, wonderful. If not, how can you foster her success? What roadblocks are getting in her way?
Once the Project Ends
If you’ve given your consultant a finite project to work on, once that work is complete, assess results. Do you feel your investment paid off by retaining this person’s services? Were you able to make more money as a result of freeing yourself up from that aspect of your business? If so, consider whether you can use her services in another facet of your business, or to help take over tasks in her area of expertise. Doing so, with a proven solution provider, can help you grow your business faster than you could have if you did it all on your own.
If you don’t feel you got your money’s worth, don’t give up on outside help completely. Sometimes it’s not a good fit, and you can’t know that from the outset. Find another consultant for the next project you have, and give it another try. You will find the perfect fit to exponentially expand your business.