Hiring a consultant can be a risky venture, but it also can have huge benefits. The trick is knowing when is the right time, how to utilize their services and who you should hire in the first place.
Most of what I sell is my knowledge, insights and expertise. With the exception of a few years where I was employed in IT management, the bulk of my whole career could technically be described as consulting (even the speaking and teaching aspects). So it might seem obvious why I would be pro-consultant. But I don’t always believe that hiring a consultant is a good idea. Instead, I have an understanding of when hiring a consultant is a good investment and when it is not.
In the business world, we speak of consultants as a person or group of people that we hire to perform a specific task, solve a “huge” problem, or work on a one-time activity. But truly a more generalized and accurate definition would be any person(s) who are hired for a “short-term” task because of their unique abilities, skills or knowledge. For example, I consider the woman who cleans my house to be a consultant of sorts. If you have doubts about her “uniqueness,” you would have only needed to view my bathroom after her first visit to remove all questions.
As volunteer leaders, it is tempting to try and do it all ourselves – after all, we were put into these positions to do the work, right? But the investment in any type of consultant, when done properly and without unrealistic expectations, can actually save or make your organization money in the end. The key to success is answering five simple (but often overlooked) questions before making the plunge.
Understanding your goal for hiring a consultant is the key to all the other questions. “Because someone tells you that you should” is never a good enough reason in and of itself.
- Do you understand that your organization needs to make some changes, but you don’t know how to make it happen?
- Do the members of your leadership board need extra help in coming together to work as a team?
- Will the financial investment in hiring a consult be the additional motivation you need to make positive change for your organization?
Once you know why you are hiring a consultant, be sure you understand exactly what you need to have done. If you don’t really understand what you are looking for, how will you know if they have the right skills to do the job? When the definition of “what” is not clearly stated, there is almost always disappointment in the end result and/or the price of the transaction.
The person who can provide a broad perspective is rarely the same person who can work through the details of a very specific problem. Just because an individual has skills in a particular area does not mean their skills translate to related areas. The person who can do a great leadership training and an awesome counseling session may or may not be the same person.
As you define the “what” you begin to define the “who,” whether it be one person or multiple people. Working with one person is always easier, but sometimes a team of specialized individuals is what the circumstance requires.
Whenever possible, start with personal recommendations. Although not every outstanding recommendation will be a good match, it is a much easier place to start. When recommendations are not available, make sure to check references. But most importantly, go with your instincts. Conduct an initial pre-contract interview. If the person doesn’t “feel right,” there is a high probability that something will go astray down the road.
Make sure you are comfortable with their pricing and billing structure. Just because someone is expensive doesn’t mean they are good or that because their fees are low they lack knowledge. However, in most circumstances, there is a relationship between rates and abilities. The more unique their knowledge or skill, the higher their fees.
Once you have determined who you will be working with, take time to understand how you will need to participate in the success of the endeavor. Different situations and consultants will result in different answers. Regardless, the key is to communicate early on this point so as to maximize your time and investment.
Make sure that all of the leaders in your organization have regular contact with the consultant as needed, and that everyone has a seat at the table to discuss changes and goals for moving forward. Including everyone is more difficult, time-wise, but it will help you avoid hurt feelings in the end.
Once the other questions are answered, determining the timing of the project is usually the easiest. But don’t just let the question go unanswered. Depending upon requirements of equipment or internal sources of knowledge, certain times may be more or less effective than others. By working through an estimated timeline, it is less likely the project will get off track and/or over budget.
What challenges have you faced in the past when working with consultants?
If you’re interested in working with someone to get through a period of change or turmoil in YOUR organization, I’d love to help you! You can read about my consulting services here, or sign up for my e-mail list (below) to stay informed of openings in my schedule.