“Consultants are those people who borrow your watch and tell you the time.”
This is a statement I used to hear frequently by some business owners who felt they had all the answers and didn’t need any help. But if you look closely at the most successful leaders today, you’ll find that they commonly make use of business consultants and surround themselves with trusted advisors. It can be difficult to know in business when, or why you would need to consider hiring a business consultant.
What Is A Business Consultant and How Can They Help Your Business?
Consulting is a somewhat unregulated industry with low entry barriers. Anyone can call themselves a consultant or one of several synonymous titles – advisor, coach, counselor, facilitator, implementer, and so on. And likewise, we often see an adjective preceding these words as in “marketing consultant”, “leadership counselor”, “conflict facilitator” or “social media implementer.”
A consultant, therefore, is a person or organization that provides unique expertise and advice to businesses and their leaders or employees.
Why Hire A Business Consultant?
Consultants can fill important gaps in knowledge and experience in your organization. The pace of change we are experiencing today is unprecedented, and the amount of information and knowledge available in the world now doubles every 12 months. It’s impossible for any business leader to stay on top of it all.
A second compelling reason is what is sometimes referred to as ‘fresh eyes’, the value of having someone look at a situation or assess your business without all the mental and emotional baggage of being involved in day-to-day operations. As human beings, we sometimes don’t see our own circumstances clearly when they are too familiar.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, consultants can be less biased. We’ve often seen in our work people being reluctant to speak out or name the elephant-in-the-room for fear of retribution or consequences. An experienced consultant with many clients will not feel this same pressure since expressing something that is unpopular is less risky for them.
When Is It Time To Hire A Business Consultant?
There is no simple answer to this question, but there are often some common triggers:
1. When External Advice Is Required by Field Experts
As noted above, there is a lot of knowledge and information in the world that can be unknown to the leadership team. When important questions are posed that can’t be addressed by the current players, that may be a good time to seek external advice.
This often occurs when a change in the business is proposed. “How do we start exporting to Europe?” or “What if we started providing post-sale service online instead of face-to-face?” These and questions like this are often triggers for outside help.
2. To Provide Analysis and Market Research
Competitive pressures can trigger the need for external advice. If a new competitor arrives in your industry with a new process, offering, or better pricing, it can be a wake-up call and force leaders to look for ways to respond just to keep pace. Of course, it’s often better to be that player in your market that is leading the changes in efficiency or product enhancements which could also have been triggered through external information or advice.
3. To Gather An Outside Opinion or Perspective
Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. There is usually untapped potential in businesses that aren’t visible or obvious to the leadership team. This is where an audit or assessment of some kind can surface areas for improvement that were previously unknown. A good external consultant should always begin with this step.
What Services Can A Business Consultant Bring?
There is no end to this list, but these are some of the services we are most familiar with:
Strategic and Business Planning
Leadership teams are tasked with providing vision, direction and strategic plans for their companies. To be fully engaged in these discussions and the creation of these plans, it can be invaluable to have a planning consultant or facilitator guide the process. This ensures that the best tools and processes are followed, but also allows all members of the team to be fully engaged in the content of the discussions and not have to worry about guiding the process and participation.
Change management within an organization, especially for larger changes or projects, can be complex and multi-faceted: people, processes, systems, culture and attitudes can be influenced. If not executed properly these initiatives can have costly consequences.
Training across all levels
Learning is a vast domain of knowledge as evidenced by the prevalence of higher learning degrees in education, psychology and learning. How people learn, and how they implement the newly learned behaviours, requires expertise generally not found in leaders and managers within companies.
Providing mentorship and coaching
Specifically for current and future leaders, mentorship and coaching can be invaluable. Great leaders have high self-awareness, humility and a focus on continually improving themselves. This is where a coach can provide objective observations, suggestions for change, and most importantly accountability for making the changes.
Execution Processes and Best Practices
There are many well-documented business processes and systems that are called ‘best practices’. These are methods and approaches that have proven to help other organizations improve performance. Adapting these for your business is where a consultant that understands you and your organization intimately can ensure the correct best-practices are selected, adapted, and implemented efficiently.
Key Indicators of An Ideal Business Consultant
An ideal business consultant, first and foremost, must be someone you can trust. We’ve written previously about some of the key factors in trust, and knowing if someone is trustworthy requires a review of their background and experiences, talking to references and other people like you they have worked with, and just spending the time getting to the person. A lot can be gleaned by basic, human interaction.
A second factor is credibility and experience. Have they ‘been in your shoes’ or worked with people or organizations that are like you? Is their experience relevant to your situation?
Finally, what results have they achieved? It’s easy to tell a good tale or make a strong pitch, but before making any long term commitment to an outside consultant be sure to check their references and speak to their current clients.
Engaging with a consultant or trusted advisor can be a powerful event in the evolution of your firm. Supplementing skills and knowledge, following best practices, managing change effectively, and developing your people can all drive sustainable business success
We would be pleased to help you see where the opportunities are within your organization through our Business Execution Assessment process that will identify the most important areas for growth and improvement.
Consider joining us for one of our upcoming online or live events all designed to help people and organizations unleash their potential.