In the current economic climate, it’s more important than ever for businesses to find ways to stand out, streamline their operations, and rethink their approaches. Yet as many struggle to stay ahead of the competition, or even stay viable, the day-to-day activities are more than enough to grapple with – especially for small businesses where managers tend to wear several hats.

Perhaps that’s why some are turning to Management Consultants to support them as they look to revamp their business model. But what benefits can you expect from this type of arrangement – and how do you avoid the pitfalls?

Choosing the right consultant to work with you on specific issues can yield numerous benefits. Those frequently cited include:

  • Objectivity and independence – bringing a fresh pair of eyes and creative ideas.
  • Experience in solving similar problems – helping you to arrive at possible solutions, and the associated business benefits, more quickly.
  • Access to tried and tested approaches and tools that assist in the process.
  • A dedicated resource – not distracted by trying to run the business.
  • An expert who can be both a ‘sounding board’ and a ‘critical friend’.

Sounds great doesn’t it – but what’s the catch? One common reason why people think using consultants isn’t for them is the impression that doing so will cost ‘an arm and a leg’. Indeed, you’ve probably already guessed how many Management Consultants it takes to change a lightbulb. The rather cynical (yet still amusing) response is usually – ‘It depends. What’s your budget?’ While there are companies that command eye-watering daily rates, many consultancies are actually SMEs themselves offering other small businesses very good value for money.

So how can you help ensure that engaging a consultant is a successful experience? Our ‘ten top tips’ are:

  • Be very clear about what you want from the project and the outcomes and timescales you expect. A detailed project brief is key to keeping things on track.
  • Ask around your network for personal recommendations – not just for the company but for particular consultants too.
  • Interviewing at least two or three organisations before appointing really helps you to focus on the skills, approaches and ‘cultural fit’ you require.
  • Ensure that you pin down the financial arrangements at the outset. Some consultants are prepared to negotiate over their daily rate.
  • Establish clear milestones and reporting arrangements so that everyone involved knows what to expect. Providing a designated contact point from the company is vital.
  • Ring-fence time with the consultant at key milestones, to ensure your expectations are being met and to provide feedback and direction.
  • Be open about the issues the consultant might face, whether defensive managers or systems that are difficult to access. An honest and open relationship is likely to be more productive in achieving your aims.
  • Expect challenge from the consultancy – this is one of the key benefits of buying in this type of support – so listen to feedback and see it as constructive.
  • Look at the consulting relationship as potentially a long term one. If particular consultants really add value to your business, this can be a productive on-going partnership.

The astute among you will have noticed there are actually only 9 top-tips here. Make sure your consultant doesn’t over-promise and under-deliver!

Before considering a consultant, why not take a look at our latest skills programme, Better Business Skills, this could give you confidence to ensure your knowledge and understanding is appropriate before you start seeking out a consultant to help you – you don’t know what you don’t know and we could help you frame an appropriate brief for your consultant as part of your 1-2-1 session.

Small – even micro businesses – use consultants for a variety of aspects including Financial, Information Technology, Human Resources, Marketing and Training and Development to name but a few.  Many also mention the benefits of Coaching and Mentoring and support with Strategic Planning.

So why not give consultancy some careful thought? It might just be the ‘lightbulb moment’ your company needs in these particularly challenging times.