Working with Outside Consultants

At various points in its development, your business may benefit from the expertise and insight that only an external consultant can provide. But without the right selection process and procedures in place for working with a consultant, bringing in an outside advisor can prove a waste of time and money.

Here are some tips for hiring and making the most of outside consultants:

Define exactly what advice and/or services you require. When your company needs help with a specific project, identifying the reasons why a consultant’s services are required is not difficult. But what if the needs of your organization are less clearly defined? Bringing in a consultant to “improve efficiency” is far too broad an objective. Before beginning the recruitment process, attempt to identify the weaknesses in your organization that should be addressed and the specific goals you want assistance in achieving.

Ask around. If you are uncertain about how to find a consultant who meets your company’s needs, contact professional associations or even other businesses for recommendations. Take advantage of opportunities to interview representatives of these groups about their experiences with individual consultants or with consulting firms. These contacts may also be able to offer advice on consulting fees. You should, however, avoid selecting a consultant simply because he or she is a friend or family member of an employee or manager.

Prepare an RFP and collect proposals and bids. Once your business has determined what it hopes to accomplish by hiring a consultant, include these requirements in a “request for proposal” (RFP) to be distributed to potential candidates. Ask each interested party to submit a proposal and to bid on the fees and reimbursable expenses. Examine each proposal carefully, asking additional questions or interviewing candidates where appropriate. Eliminate any proposals that are not presented professionally or that fail to include the information you have requested.

Draw up a contract. After a candidate has been selected, prepare a legal agreement that outlines the services that the consultant is expected to deliver, dates for completion, and a schedule of payment. Have the consultant sign the contract before beginning the work.

Cooperate as fully as possible with the consultant. Keep in mind that even the most qualified consultant cannot be of assistance without input and cooperation from your company. Before the consultant arrives to do the job, make sure that the appropriate managers and employees have made time in their schedules to meet with the consultant and provide him or her with the necessary information. Also, prepare in advance any background materials on your business the consultant might find useful.

Remember, too, that consultants should not be made responsible for doing the work of management or of regular employees. Instead, consultants should be seen as a source of expert advice on how staff members can perform their duties more effectively, even after the consultant’s work is finished.

Put the consultant’s proposals into practice. Even after spending considerable amounts of money to have a consultant address an issue or solve a problem, many businesses fail to take seriously the consultant’s advice, or to translate his or her recommendations into action. Your company should weigh carefully each of the consultant’s findings and make clear decisions about whether and how the business will put these suggestions into practice.

Evaluate the consultant’s performance. After the consultant’s ideas have been implemented and enough time has passed for the results to become apparent, analyze the impact of the actions taken and ask employees to assess the usefulness of the consultant’s work. This can help you determine whether your company’s original goals in hiring the consultant were met and provide you with insight into how your business can make effective use of consultancy services moving forward. 

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