There are so many things to consider when you look for a go-to expert. Sometimes we get lucky and meet the perfect person by accident or through a referral. Usually it’s not so easy, especially when you might not be sure what you need, like when it’s a business consultant.
Here’s a super-easy seven-step guide to help you find the right person for your business.
Tip: Start broad. Some people will rule themselves out.
1. Choose a person who has experience in small business and as a consultant.
If you go by the 10,000 hour rule of mastery, it takes 7 to 8 years to become an expert. The right person will have their own small business experience, and will have experience working with other small businesses too (in a variety of industries) – the wider their experience, the more easily they’ll be able to draw from what they’ve learned to understand and help you. In addition, to be a consultant in business these days requires strong analytical skills, the ability to track and analyze data, and strategic thinking and planning.
Only two of my employers was a large business, and those were temp jobs. The rest have all been small businesses, from an indie movie theater I worked at in high school to a staffing agency. Even the law firm I worked for had less than 100 people at it. My first clients represented different ends on a spectrum: a video game store and a church! It’s been slightly more normal since then, like a local plumbing shop, a parenting instructor, and even a mobile dog groomer.
As far as my consulting skills: I’ve been using this skill set for my doctoral work for five years. But let me also refer you to the About Me page – I didn’t choose this line of work and then develop the skills. These things have been part of my life since I was a kid, and I was lucky to find a career that lets me use them.
2. Choose someone who specializes in your size business, if possible.
Some “small business” consultants are most comfortable with the SBA’s definition of small, which includes up to 500 people. Some only work with self-employed solo entrepreneurs. Someone who truly understands your business will bring a more helpful view and probably better rates.
With a few exceptions (above), my employment experience has been with micro businesses of up to 10 people. 25 is about my upper limit. My heart is with the self-employed and micros, though. And yes, I completely understand your budgets!
Seriously, people, I’m a micro business too! I’ve had too many marketers approach me with offers that are completely out of the ballpark. You know the kinds of people I’m talking about, offering you the perfect logo for only $2500, or handling your social media for $499 a month. And yet, the average micro business only spends about $1000 on marketing for an entire year. Those people have no idea who we are.
3. Choose a person with relevant coaching and/or consulting skills, experience, and credentials.
Anyone with money can go through a coaching program. The trouble is, since coaching isn’t regulated, you have no way to know what the person is truly capable of. On the other hand, a combination of years of related experience and education (and possibly certification) will give you more confidence. In addition, a good coach or consultant will continue to learn new skills and theories.
I’ve been in this business since 2009, when I got my master’s degree in psychology. Before that, I was in a professional counseling master’s program learning how to be a coach and counselor. Since 2009, I’ve been bound by the Ethics Code of the American Psychological Association – and this code includes the obligation to provide the best and most current techniques. Every day, part of my morning routine includes coffee and a webinar or reading articles about the latest research and projections in HR, marketing, management, revenue, or whatever!
4. Choose a consultant who can flex between coaching and consulting.
They are different. Coaching is about holding you accountable for your actions and helping you create and set your own goals. Consulting is about sharing information or providing guidance about things you aren’t as likely to already know. They use very different skill sets and you get very different benefits. But as a small business owner, both types of help might come in handy from time to time.
My ideal client is a smart business owner who wants to learn how to use psychological strategy to do cool stuff for their business – stuff that no competitor knows how to do. I’m happy to teach that! That’s the consultant part. But once you know it, you don’t need me to keep teaching. You might need me to be available in case you get stuck, or help you get back on track, and that’s when the coaching aspect begins.
Of course, you might not want to do everything yourself. I mean, you have a tax person or an IT person because it saves you time! (Sheesh, who has time to become an expert in everything?) So if you’d rather that I just do my thing, get a system up and running, and let it go, that’s fine too. Although I will check in from time to time to be sure it’s still working well.
5. Choose a consultant (or coach) who can support their methods and techniques.
You don’t want someone who can’t explain why they’re doing what they’re doing. This means they don’t understand it themselves! Instead, you want a person who can tell you how their plan ties into your goals, how they know it will work, and how you’ll know!
Part of my approach is teaching you the specific concepts I use, so you can apply them yourself. If you’d rather not, it’s fine, but I still want you to be comfortable with the approach. And ideally, I can show you the data. This just happened with a client – within a couple minutes, she could see exactly how my proposed changes would increase her revenue. Sometimes it won’t be so clear, but I still like to be able to show you before-and-after.
6. Be sure you and the consultant can work together.
This often happens during a free consultation, but it’s your responsibility to check out the person you’re considering, before you do anything else. Take time to explore their website, Twitter, or Facebook page to get a feel for their professional personality and to get an idea of the depth and width of their knowledge. You could even comment or ask a question to see how they respond. You might be spending some time together, and you don’t want to waste it with someone you absolutely can’t stand…or understand!
A “free consultation” phrase suggests I’m doing normal work for free for a half hour. Maybe I can, but it’s not smart to assume it will always happen, because every business is different. So before we get into work-mode, it’s probably better if we get to know each other a little bit first. You need to know you can trust me. I need know you’ll communicate with me. And of course, I need to know about your business. We don’t have to be best friends, but we definitely need to be able to work together toward a common goal! So it’s still smart for us to spend time just talking (or emailing)!
7. Before you pay anything, know what you’re buying.
You should know what your consultant is going to do before you pay, as well as what information or tools you’re getting, how to use everything after the consultant is gone, and what results are most likely.
Whether it’s coaching or consulting, you tend to get out of it what you put in it. Which means it’s impossible for any consultant to absolutely guarantee results!
When I’m consulting and I give you a strategy or a tool, it’s my job to be sure you know how to use it, how it works, and what to expect if you implement it properly. If you want me to handle it instead, I’ll actually do an efficacy study after a few weeks so you can see for yourself that it’s working.
This isn’t an exhaustive checklist! I mean, if you have severe allergies, you might not want to work in-person with a heavy smoker or pet owner, right? There are legitimate criteria you might want to add that wouldn’t apply to everyone, and that’s fine.
One last thing: I can’t speak for other consultants, but I’m usually half booked. That means if you’re interested, you don’t want to wait to contact me until you absolutely need help, like, tomorrow! My busiest months are November through January and June through September.
Comments? Questions? Leave them here, or go over to my my Facebook page and leave me a message. Talk to ya soon!