A checklist for hiring a consultant

Consulting is one of the most diverse and accessible entrepreneurial professions in the world – something which is both a blessing and a curse. Almost anyone can set up a business at minimal cost and use the job title “consultant” to sell their services, meaning that the market has a huge amount of talent and experience organisations can source from virtually any walk of life they can think of.

At the same time, as there is no legally required charter to become a consultant, there is no standardisation of the service. Herein lies a challenge for businesses buying consultancy services, and arguably the reason the consulting industry has received a bad press in the past – as certain opportunists have used this to charge large amounts of money for limited or sub-standard services.

So, how can an organisation looking to hire a consultant ensure that it avoids getting its fingers burnt, and gets real value for its money?

1. Clear business case

Having a clear idea whether consultancy support is truly required, or whether an organisation’s need is for a different resource, is the first step to avoid being taken for a ride. Having double-checked this, every aspect of the project should also be planned meticulously, with expected outcomes determined before going to a consultant for help. Ensure expectations are set and the brief is defined fully.

2. Shop selectively

Inviting quotes, tenders or formal proposals from a number of consultants to get a clear understanding of who is out there is a good way of figuring out how much an organisation should be spending on a consultant – but this can seem daunting to the uninitiated.

Fortunately, there are a growing range of matchmaking platforms which clients can engage with. These usually have a level of quality control built in – meaning inexperienced or unskilled ‘consultants’ will have been filtered out – while they will also have a series of measures to link the most relevant members of their network to the project in question.

3. Interview criteria

Before handing a consultant a contract, organisations should ensure the individual or firm in question has professional qualifications, specific experience or a track record in the industry.

Would-be-clients should also check the consultant demonstrates a full understanding of the business issues based on the brief and can deliver to meet the deadlines – and avoiding any potential for ‘surprises costs’ in the process. Organisations should be clear from the start what the consultant will charge and what they will deliver for this money, including whether or not their fee includes expenses.

4. Cultural fit

As with any other appointment within a business or department, if an organisation introduces a new individual into its operations without ensuring a cultural fit, then there can be dire consequences. Clients should check the consultant understands the organisation’s culture, and ensure the consultant can communicate well with permanent employees and business managers – if they do not, then the project will suffer for it.

A good consultant will be adept at building relationships quickly with all employees, so introducing possible consultants to the people they will be working with to get their feedback can greatly inform a hiring decision.

5. Ownership

Like a permanent employee, a consultant will need support from a management figure to get to grips with any company, before working to improve and enrich it. A sponsoring executive or senior manager, or a project manager, is therefore an essential component of a successful consultant project; working with the consultant to ensure they have the materials they need, and that project stays on track.

At the same time, this means the consultant is accountable to someone – motivating them to push forward and have something to tell them in time for their next progress report.