Employing Consultants in your Business

Bringing consultants into your organization should hold no more fear than employing a plumber or an electrician to maintain or update your house.  They are specialists in different areas of expertise and they work for a negotiated fee.  Like plumbers and electricians the bill can sometimes be steep but if you work on a specification with them and manage the consultants professionally you should get what you pay for with no nasty surprises.

Why employ consultants? 
Consultancy work sometimes attracts unfair criticism in the business world.  They are occasionally seen as fly-by-night operators who deliver the minimum, charge the maximum and are reluctant to fix their errors.  As in all human endeavors there will be a small proportion of consultants for whom this is true but the vast majority tend to be professional and efficient operations, proud of their capabilities and the quality of their work.

So, why would you ever want to employ a consultant?  From time-to-time your business will need to make a step change in its capabilities:

  • Your old computer system will not cope with next year's sales

  • Your staff need to improve their customer service in line with the competition

  • Your stock control system is never up-to-date

  • You need to employ a hundred people and induct them into your business in the space of a month

  • You must build a new production facility and be running in 9 months 

All of these projects and many more could probably be tackled by your existing staff if they were not already busy with their day-to-day jobs and you are unlikely to want to employ more skilled people on a full-time basis just for the short period of the project.

Consultancies exist to provide a flexible and qualified solution to these problems.  Their employees are acclimatized to the temporary working environment and will generally hit the ground running, once employed.  They will not need a three to six months learning curve and are motivated to deliver a successful solution.

Selecting consultants
Once you have decided that consultants can deliver the changes you need, get your management team together to decide, in some detail, what your business needs from them. Use your business network to obtain recommendations about different consultancy firms, delve into the web and consultancy trade magazines to draw up a long list of potential candidate consultancies.  Send them your detailed specification and ask for a proposal.

Once the proposals are in, you can make your first cut by comparing what they say they will provide against your original specification.  You will find that pulling together a shortlist of three or four companies will not be a difficult task. Invite the short-listed candidates to pitch for the business and, where possible, ask to meet the actual people who will deliver the project.  Sometimes the sales team can be blindingly professional but the delivery team is distinctly third-division.

Be tough on the facts; ask probing questions about disaster recovery situations, contingencies where the changes do not work and test the resilience and interpersonal skills of the project team.  They will need to work alongside your own people for a significant period of time and in a harmonious way.

Once you have decided on the prime candidate, draw up a detailed contract that spells out the project phases and payment terms.  If you feel that penalty clauses are necessary, make sure they are totally unambiguous otherwise you may be letting yourself in for months of litigation. Now put all of the potential negatives to one side, ask your own people to learn from their time with these experts and enjoy what should be an exciting growth surge for your business.

Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.