If you do a general Google search on consultants, you’ll find more how-to’s on becoming a consultant than how-to’s on hiring the right fit. Why is that? This gap in information is what brings us here, now. Our primary goal as consultants is ensuring our work is sustainable, which includes ensuring our clients know what to expect and how to set expectations. (We found a decent guide on how to hire consultants, which we’ll share.)
As with anything, there are pros and cons of hiring a consultant. Before we get into that, what do consultants do? How can you tell if your consultant is effectively working for you? What are the pros and cons of hiring externally and how can you maximize its benefits?
Consultants provide a knowledgeable and/or innovative third-party perspective on problem-solving and directly or indirectly solve a particular problem for you. Essentially, consultants do what you ask; which is why it is important that you identify what your end goal is with a consultant before the work starts. Hiring a consultant is not a totally hands-off process. In fact, if you only hear from your consultant at the beginning of a project and at the end to receive a check, your consultant was not working for you.
How can you tell if your consultant is effectively working for you? Communicate. This may sound like an obvious answer, considering how FordMomentum! is an actual communications consulting firm. Even if we weren’t, communication is key in hiring a consultant for a couple reasons; it allows the client to clearly express ideal end goals and understand limitations and allows the consultant to know they are on the right track to get the job done for you.
In our work, we clarify steps in the process, what each stage looks like, and ask questions along the way. These questions are internal, to your organization and external to your audience through market research or interfacing. Your consultant should ask questions of all components of your project beyond the obvious questions of budget, scale, time, and measurement including internal and external usage, end users, and user experience.
What are the pros and cons of hiring a consultant?
The con is consultants should be screened, which can be time-consuming initially, and if you are expecting the consultant to become a steadfast part of your company, it won’t happen. If it does happen, that consultant is no longer a consultant, they’re an employee. If you do not need a consultant, don’t hire one. I know, I’m shocked I said it too! (Want to know how to hire a consultant? Check out this article.)
The pro is if you need extra manpower to navigate a dilemma or transition, strategize a new workable perspective, share expertise as a subject matter expert, employ a new and/or sustainable solution, or manage a rehaul of your existing infrastructure, consultants provide products and services to address those needs comprehensively. (You can find more explanations for these reasons to hire consultants here.)
To maximize the benefit of your consultant, there are various structures that ease the process beyond clear communication. I’ll list my top four:
Designate a point of contact or internal project manager for your consultant. This person will act as a gatekeeper to your organization to ensure your consultant is on time and on budget and they will help your consultant provide the best outcomes for you.
Know what went wrong. Often our clients come to us because they tried to solve something in-house or mistakenly hired a “cookie cutter” consultant that gave the client-generic, inapplicable suggestions. Sharing what hasn’t worked in the past saves time and allows your consultant to best cater to your where your organization is now and where you want it to be.
Recognize when/if there is more work for your consultant to do. In one case, we identified that our client needed an entire communications team if they were to sustain and meet all the needs of the organization. For that client, we made recommendations for the team including measurement tools to ensure each hire could meet the organizations’ evolving demands. These suggestions were not in the initial scope of work but helped that client achieve their long-term goals.
Be sure to check your consultant before they leave. Ask your consultant for actionable and sustainable advice and a pathway for knowledge transfer capabilities. Can the work continue when the consultant leaves? If so, how? These are questions your consultant needs to answer before moving on and will allow you to know what to do with the results of their work.
Although hiring a consultant is not a hands-off activity, your engagement matters. The more information your consultant has about your particular pain points, successes, and ideals, the best they can find and implement solutions that address the root cause and a pathway to actualizing visions.
Remember, if your consultant isn’t asking, they aren’t working!