Hiring a consulting firm, freelancer, contractor, or advisor for your business is hard.
In this essay I explore why hiring a consulting firm is challenging and the areas focus to effectively recruit, onboard, and collaborate with a consultant to achieve your desired outcome, or objective.
There is a misconception for Founders and executives who hire consultants and I'll clear that up right now: The best consultants have a deep desire to improve your condition.
At RevPipes, our objective for you is to achieve your highest potential with the least amount of friction as possible. Unfortunately hiring someone - anyone - is hard and often doesn’t achieve the full potential for you, the client.
In this essay I plan to cover the following topics related to the challenge of bringing on a consulting firm:
- Why does this problem exist?
- Your need and the decision tree
- Type of professional to hire
- Finding help
- The importance of rapport
- Good signs if a consultant does this
- Ownership of the relationship
Why does this problem exist?
Why do consultants make it so hard to hire them? It has to do with one of two reasons being true.
- You don't know what success looks like and they can't help you better clarify this
- The consultant doesn’t have their methods buttoned up
While it must be to be one of the two, often times both are true. Let’s tackle these two reasons before I explain.
You don't know what success looks like
You are looking for help to achieve a desired outcome. You need to be clear on your outcome and have the ability to communicate this vision clearly, OR you know both the outcome and can explain how to do it.
You have to have some level of clarity around what you want, or what you need, the problem you face, or the opportunity in front of you? There has to be ownership that a problem or opportunity exists.
I've observed that in most cases this vision is super clear in your head, but when communicated to others doesn't come out that way.
Even if you are clear on your vision, you may still end up hiring the wrong person. This is all but guaranteed if you struggle to connect key results to objective (if you use an OKR framework), or connect tasks/action to vision.
There are times when you have the luxury of experimentation and desire and will to figure it out. Yet, there are times where you do not have the time. Either way, in my 20 years of working with large corporates and small businesses, every great manager or leader always prefers the cheat codes to a problem and love to collaborate with great thought partners.
If you don't know what success looks like your best bet is to hire an consultant (as opposed to a freelancer, contractor, or advisor).
Two things you can do immediately:
- Make your vision clear up front to the professional. He/she has to understand what the company's North Star is in order to be effective.
- Consultants can come in with their own biases and ways of working that don't align with the company.
But, what should you look for in a consulting firm? Read on.
The consultant doesn’t have their methods buttoned up
Most experts are great athletes. They can do the function, they can achieve the objective. It’s why the W-2 roles and freelancers exist. You only have to know how to run the ball. Very very few W-2 employees or freelancers have codified how they work (in reality they don't think to do it; with competing priorities they don't have the time to do it). One of the reasons we share insights like this is mostly to showcase the clarity of our thinking to entrepreneurs interested in working with us.
While they may know the “how”, there is a second part that consultants must be great at: coaching. Most consultants do not have their methods buttoned up. They may not select clients well, or know how to conduct an amazing kick-off, seek for areas of opportunity for growth during the engagement, and know when they can no longer provide the value the client needs.
Your desire as the client is to find a consultant who is a great athlete and coach.
I encourage you to:
- get clear on your objective, problems, and the opportunity
- get help communicating what you need and wnat
- get referrals to any consultants (the best people will help you get connected to the best ones that can best help you) - ask your lawyer, finance partner, investor, co-founders, and fellow entrepreneurs
I encourage consultants to:
- help your client get clear on their objective, problems, and opportunity
- ask powerful questions that help the client get to clarity fast
- be honest if you can, or cannot help
The remainder of this essay is for those looking to hire consultants.
Your need and the decision tree
Before you go hiring anyone be clear on the need. Either you have a clear pain point, or a clear opportunity. You are either clearly trying to avoid something, or working toward something.
Going into a conversation with anyone you are looking to hire without a clear idea of what you need is only poor form if you don’t plan to be honest about what’s going on. How can someone help if they don’t know what's going on?
Some questions for you to think about:
- If I could wave a magic wand what would I ideally accomplish?
- What’s keeping me up at night?
- What metrics am I tracking? Where do I want to see improvement?
- Where am I looking to free up my time? What goals do I have for someone who would take this over for me?
- What do I wish were already working by now, but isn’t?
Armed with your need, the decision tree becomes very simple for you
- Do you have a problem? (If yes, proceed)
- Do you want to solve this problem on your own, or do you want help? (If you want help, proceed)
- Do you want the help of the consultant you’re talking to, or someone else?
Type of professional to hire
There are four options that you have:
If you are clear on the problem, the strategy, and are looking for executional help then go contractor, freelancer, or W-2. At RevPipes we do a lot of tactical execution through our Partner Network once we are clear on what needs to be done. Ideally these two groups will represent people that have specific skills, are strong self-managers, can take clear direction, are proactive, and deliver on the specific task or project you want complete.
If you are need of wisdom and connections, or once in a while coaching, hire an advisor.
If you’re clear or unclear on the outcome, but want the cheat codes to getting there faster, hire a consultant.
However, if you are in any way vague on communicating your vision, or could be wrong about the task, or project connecting to your objective then you will not get what you desire (and will likely end up blaming the person or people your hire for the poor outcome).
Let me explain by analogy. You want to build a house. You hire an architect (contractor) to design your house. You tell them exactly how the design should be. They complete the design and the house is built. You move in and are unhappy with it. Why? Because you directed the architect with the exact “things you thought were right”, but didn’t consider your outcome, or end result. I share this analogy from observing friends do this very thing.
When looking for a consultant where do you start? Start the same place the best consultants start to look for business: your network.
Armed with your outcome, put your ask out and get connected to the best people. (If you are looking for some templates on how to best ask for a referral, feel free to drop us a note and we'll share a couple templates).
The importance of rapport
We’ll talk about what you should look for in a consultant, but liking who you hire is absolutely important. Trust, likability, and how you’ll collaborate matter a lot.
Let your intuition be your guide on this one after all you'll be spending valuable resources to collaborate with them.
Good signs if a consultant does this
Observe how the consultant engages with you.
Do they make scheduling easy? Are they prepared for the initial calls? Do they show up to your first call able to match your energy? Are they honest about where they can help and can’t? Are they flexible when the agenda changes?
I tell my clients there are two ways of doing things: the easy way, or the hard way. Being open and honest is the easy way.
But, I realize that is not always possible, for a number of reasons.
Here are some questions you should want a consultant to ask you:
- What would you ideally like to accomplish?
- If you achieve your outcome how will this better serve you?
- What’s keeping you up at night?
- What key metrics do you track?
For your part, be sure there is equal time for you to ask questions of them.
This may be more important than anything I’ll write on this topic: you want a consultant who makes it easy for you to not proceed. As a buyer, you don’t want to be sold. So don’t be.
Let’s now turn our attention to the engagement and investment.
I have only been a fan of a long engagement when it benefits both consultant and the client. I recommend an engagement where you agree to a phase one, with an option to proceed to subsequent phases. I always suggest a way for both parties to easily exit the partnership.
I suggest you agree on a retainer structure with the consultant with a clear focus on the key initiatives.
Ownership of the relationship
The majority of projects that haven’t worked out in my experience tend to be either hiring a jack of all trades when you needed a specialist, or hiring someone who isn’t THE BEST at the thing you need most.
Whichever way you go the best scenario is where both parties take ownership of the relationship. I realize, however, as the client, you have competing prioritize so test to see if the consultant can take ownership and control.
After all, like I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, the best consultants improve the condition of the client.
If you found this essay helpful please pass it along to someone you think it could serve.