When to Hire a Consultant

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In my experience, most organizations are fairly wary of consultants. We don't have the best reputation. My own personal experiences with consultants as an executive weren't all that impressive either.

Here's how it generally goes: 

1. We have a problem/opportunity, but we lack the expertise and manpower to act on it.

2. We can't stand consultants on the whole, so we either:

(A) do absolutely nothing beyond talking about the problem/opportunity; or

(B) we hire an "affordable" and inexperienced employee to tackle it.

More often than not the situation is a problem, not an opportunity: compliance issues, lack of funding, poor sales, a fried server, etc.

In the nonprofit industry where I focus my attention, executives often recognize the problem, talk about it a great deal, and then succumb to option A: do nothing.

Within the larger organizations I've spent time with, the route starts the same, but leads to authorizing a new part-time or full-time employee as the fix.

Why the fear of consultants? 

Consultants are a dime a dozen. Anyone can flunk out of their career and change their title to consultant.

Many consultants make the mistake of taking any work that comes their way rather than exclusively offering services where they have genuine expertise, which leads to poor results for the client.

Plus, most consultants work in the arena of "soft skills" (ie. leadership development, retreats, communication skills, sales, etc). It's next to impossible to measure the immediate and long-term impact of these types of investments, so executives will often dismiss them outright.

When should you hire a consultant despite all this? 

A great consultant will provide value that is 10x their expense. These are specialists with substantial talent within a specific niche. They have the ability to quickly observe your situation and efficiently implement action based on diverse experiences with a variety of organizations like your own.

Doing nothing is not a viable option. I recently watched a small organization lose nearly everything because they refused to invest in an "expensive" IT professional to set-up a secure internal network or at least a cloud-based back-up. All it took was for one laptop to get stolen.

Conversely, I've also seen a small nonprofit triple their budget by investing in an experienced fundraiser to craft a strategy and develop grant templates to serve as the model for all future proposals. They raised more than $150,000 in the next 6 months and the consultant charged a measly $3,000 (a scary price tag at first).

Hiring an employee to fill the gap can be smart for ongoing needs, but for temporary challenges or opportunities that are outside of your expertise, a new employee will likely cost much more than a consultant while taking much longer to respond to the issue successfully, if they succeed at all.

The bottom line is that the resources that will be consumed by new hire activities, socializing with colleagues, supervision, lunch breaks, research, and failed attempts will rack up to an expensive missed opportunity and increased overhead.

Rather than reinventing the wheel each time you're confronted with a sticky problem or an opportunity, at least consider bringing a consultant into the mix. Their expertise can pay for itself right out of the gate while keeping your organization agile.

Not sure how to find a great consultant?

Get in touch with your industry hub for referrals.

For businesses, this is often your local chamber of commerce or small business development center. For nonprofits, you're local community foundation or United Way probably have a short list of experts they would be happy to share.