Many companies, particularly privately held ones, sometimes have trouble seeking outside help in the form of a consultant. Company leaders might feel it reflects poorly on their leadership or worry about losing control over a project.
Actually, most companies reach a point where they need outside help to take their business to the next level. Usually the company is growing and has reached a stage where it needs help deciding which way to go next or the best way to grow profitably. For example, the Butler Business Accelerator works with mid-market companies, many of whom are trying to balance growing the company and keeping up with the day-to-day demands of the business.
Whatever the size of your company, consultants can be valuable for these five reasons:
Skills and methodology. If you don’t have in-house expertise in, say, sales process or strategy development, it’s much easier and more efficient to bring in an outside expert. If your consultant is the right kind of partner, you will learn those skills and be able to continue using those tools after he or she is gone.
An objective third-person viewpoint. Privately held companies may have family members that have worked together 20-plus years, with their business and family relationships intertwined. A consultant can come in and address the white elephant in the room without risking harm to the relationships. While methodology will differ, a good consultant comes in to listen, has no agenda, becomes a partner in the project and always understands the project is ultimately the company’s, not the consulting firm’s.
The ability to articulate opinions that others might be afraid to say. Some consultants have another term for this: “Call the baby ugly.” It’s the ability to question longstanding traditions and assumptions in a company without repercussions.
For example, a company might have the wrong people in certain roles—their skill sets don’t complement company needs—but other employees are reluctant to point this out because they will have to continue working with these people. A consultant can say this without worrying about facing the person on the job the next day.
Also, companies often have long-held assumptions that prove incorrect once the consultant gathers data from employees, customers, prospects and competitors. For example, a company might assume there is only one good way to communicate with customers, but a consultant’s research might suggest otherwise.
A climb up the resource mountain. As companies grow, there may be roles that you need, but not full time. For example, you may not need a full-time marketing officer, but you need someone to put the marketing strategy in place that your team can then enact.
Having a consultant allows you to bring in the skills you need on an “as needed” basis, a variable cost versus a fixed one.
Effective implementation. Without a consultant, you can make great plans—but do your employees have the time and inclination to implement? Aren’t they best at doing the job they were hired for? A consulting partner can help implement a new strategy and move things forward.
So how do you choose the right consultant for your company?
First, talk to other companies a prospective consultant has worked with. Ask questions about what projects involved the consultant, how the consultant worked and how he or she delivered and met expectations. This will give you insights into the consultant’s expertise and methodology.
Find a consultant you can trust. This will be the key to a productive relationship.
Make sure the consultant understands the sensitivities and uncertainties of your employees about an outsider. Because the recession has made employees more nervous about keeping their jobs, you should explain why you’re bringing in the consultant and that the person can be a good filter for employees’ thoughts and feedback.
Finally, look for a consultant who is truly interested in your business and seeing it succeed.
Chuck Williams is dean of the College of Business at Butler University. Katie J. Abernathy, business development manager of the Butler Business Accelerator, contributed to this article. For more information on the College and its “real life, real business” approach to business education, visit www.ButlerRealBusiness.com or e-mail Chuck at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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