Consultants are the ideal solution when you need expert help for a temporary project. Often, the right consultant becomes a lifelong business partner, contributing years of work and effort into the business he’s hired to assist temporarily. But the wrong consultant can trash a project, and cost far more to a company than they bargained for. How can you choose the right fit? Consider these five things.
1. Can He Provide Recent, Real Life Examples of His Success?
Most consultants come to the office armed with a resume and references, but it’s amazing how many people hire a consultant without taking the time to call those references. You’ll want to call at least three recent clients, and get assurance that the consultant has worked on projects like the one you’re hiring him to undertake. Can he present you with case studies of how he solved other similar client problems? Is he used to dealing with projects of the same size and scope as yours? How much does he know about your industry? It doesn’t hurt to check out his educational references as well.
Sadly, not every consultant who comes to your office, charms you, and wows you with his apparent knowledge, skills, and confidence is what he claims to be. Though many consultants are exactly what they claim to be, charlatans do exist. People who don’t thrive in a typical office environment due to personality problems, work quality issues, or other issues often gravitate toward consulting. Do your due diligence in research before making your decision, and interview at least three candidates to give yourself a good selection. Interviewing more than five, however, can make the decision more difficult, so three to five candidates is usually a good pool from which to select your consultant.
2. Does She Offer the Most Current Services and Technology?
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Tech consultants should have a well designed, up to date website. Their presentation should be good-looking and current with statistics and facts. These consultants should also have the capability to remotely monitor your system, update it, and service it. If your contractor doesn’t have these capabilities, he’s way behind the times. Remote service means you don’t have to wait for the consultant to commute to your office if a problem comes up, and you don’t have to have someone physically in the office to get the work done.
Consultants who aren’t up to date on their technology and services aren’t going to be able to put your company at a cutting edge competitive advantage. Investing the time and effort to update their services, stay abreast of the latest trends, and keeping their website and promotional materials updated is the sign of a true professional you can depend on. If she doesn’t spend the time and energy to keep her own website and materials current, chances are she won’t put much time and energy into your work, either.
3. How Long Has He Been With the Firm?
Consulting firms with high turnover rates are a warning sign. Find a consultant who has been in the business for years, with the case studies and references to back it up. Some small firms change upper management frequently because they’re not profitable or they don’t serve their clients well. A decade of experience or more is optimal. If possible, check the firm’s financial records to make sure they’re lucrative.
Hiring an insolvent consultant can lead to disaster. What if the company went under during your project? You’d be left with a useless, unenforceable contract, a big chunk out of your profits, and an unfinished project. A solid consulting firm is one assurance that the contractor will be around to finish your job, and afterward for customer support and updates or upgrades.
4. Does He Put His Guarantees in Writing?
Handshake deals died with black and white TV shows and home delivery milkmen. Today’s businesses use written contracts, outlining all guarantees promised by the consultant. If he makes additional promises during your meetings, insist that these go into the written, signed guarantee as well. An established contractor should already have this paperwork ready for the client.
Don’t be worried if the consultant wants time to draw up these contracts and guarantees. Since consulting work is rarely a carbon copy of any other job, specifics for each client vary somewhat. He should, however, be able to produce these documents within a week of your agreement. Proposals aren’t the same as a written guarantee, so don’t think your proposal is a written guarantee of services, prices, or warranties.
5. Does Her Personality Mesh With Yours?
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It may not seem professional to judge a consultant by his personality, but you’ll be working closely with this person for a long time. Contractors who don’t blend well with you or the company’s corporate personality aren’t going to make the project duration an easy process. Spend enough time with her to get to build a rapport. Also, give her time with others whom she’ll be working with so they can make sure it’s someone they’re also comfortable with.
A word of caution: harassment charges against the company don’t have to involve employees. If employees are subjected to consultants or contractors who engage in harassing behavior, the company can be held legally responsible for allowing the situation. Contractors who show disrespect for women, minorities, handicapped people, or any particular group of people are too big a risk, no matter what their skills or experience. Find a contractor who works well with your employees and treats everyone with dignity and respect.
Wise companies are methodical about choosing consultants. Take time to get to know the candidates, check their references and claims, and find out if the firm is on solid legal and financial ground. This requires more than simply hiring the first warm body that walks in wagging a proposal and list of references, but in the long run it can lead to a partnership that brings your company success. A little research at the beginning means a long, rewarding road to the future.