Having sat at both sides of the desk, I’ve sought consultants for my businesses and for my clients over the years. I’ve also, of course, served as a consultant to scores of businesses during my career. In my role as consultant, I most often draw from my experience hiring consultants; I am constantly aware of what type of consultant I am because I so well understand the type of consultants that I have sought or encountered accidentally for my businesses or those of my clients.
Like many others, I have learned hard lessons about finding and hiring consultants over the years, often surprised by the low relative value provided by most consultants. I have been fortunate enough to encounter a plethora of intelligent, caring, knowledgeable consultants that genuinely add value to companies. I draw often from that network of proven consultants and am proud to refer them to clients…and vice versa. Finding quality consultants is rare enough, in fact, that I fold them in whenever I can find them.
Unfortunately, I’ve also been frustrated by the disproportionate number of fly-by-night “consultants” out there in the modern business world. Whether they are attempting to capitalize on the knowledge gap in digital marketing by promising unrealistic search ranking positions or they are just currently unemployed/unemployable and hoping to fool you, there is no shortage of malevolent actors in the business consulting world. At this point, I may have seen them all.
In the same way that hiring a highly capable consultant can improve your business greatly, hiring a bad consultant can destroy it. Knowing how to decipher between the different types of consultants, and the benefits and risks each type brings, is the first step toward ensuring that you hire the right consultant, “the great consultant” that you’ve heard exists but can’t seem to find for yourself.
Let’s have a quick look at the three general types of consultants that you are bound to unearth as you seek growth and efficiency for your company.
The Mediocre Consultant
The mediocre consultant is probably more common in the business world than any other. It’s not that they are so much malevolent as they are under-experienced and over-confident. They typically know all of the buzzwords and can capably present a compelling pitch, but they often lack the actual nuts and bolts experience of running large companies. Simply, their knowledge is more conceptual than practical and too often relies on what’s currently popular instead of what is most applicable or useful.
The mediocre consultant more often than not lacks client testimonials, often despite an otherwise impressive client list. If your consultant has an impressive list of clients, there should be an impressive list of client testimonials to match. Landing clients is not the impressive part. Providing clients wins, and servicing their accounts well enough to have them eager to recommend their consultants, that’s the impressive part. Make sure your potential consultant isn’t confusing the two.
The mediocre consultant doesn’t answer the phone or doesn’t return phone calls in a timely manner, at least after the contract is signed. The mediocre consultant doesn’t provide detailed reporting on a regular schedule. The mediocre consultant doesn’t have a contingency plan, hasn’t foreseen the possible need to adapt strategy. Simply, the mediocre consultant celebrates the signing of the consultant contract and then hopes things go well after that.
The Nightmare Consultant
This consultant is less widespread but, by far, the most potentially damaging. Digging out from the rubble that this type of consultant leaves is an arduous, expensive, often terminal process for a business.
Unfortunately, the company most prone to hiring this type of consultant is usually the company most desperately in need of help. In my career, I have witnessed this to often be a fatal combination. Rather simply, a desperate company, often approaching an unforeseen development or, worse, a burn date, can easily latch on to a consultant making big promises at discount prices. Thus, the nightmare begins for the already desperate company.
The nightmare consultant almost never has direct and specific experience, only general and vague experience in a company or industry you’ve sometimes never heard of. The nightmare consultant has no testimonials to provide, but the desperate company usually forgets to value those. The nightmare consultant doesn’t have resume experience beyond “consultant,” but the desperate company is only in need of a consultant.
The nightmare consultant always charges less than market value but the desperate company needs a discount. The nightmare consultant has no case studies or examples of wins but the desperate company understands that “the plumber always has the leaky sink.” The nightmare consultant is always unemployed or underemployed, with a resume to match, but the desperate company isn’t looking for an employee, they’re looking for a consultant. The nightmare consultant has no recommendations from previous employers but the desperate company is never worried about company culture.
The nightmare consultant is nothing more than an opportunist, eagerly pitching services that are long on promises and short on delivery. The nightmare consultant cares far more about the current billing cycle than they care about your company or their own sustainable/non-sustainable future. The nightmare consultant is the reason that consultants get a bad name, but the desperate company isn’t ready to think like that yet.
As you may have guessed by now, the key to avoiding the nightmare consultant is to avoid becoming the desperate company. Let me help you with that.
The Great Consultant
The rarest type of consultant is the most capable and attentive…”the great consultant” of business lore.
A great consultant, let’s be clear, can only be great when they are exactly where they are supposed to be. In other words, if you hire a finance and operations consultant as your digital marketing consultant, you’re bound to fail. A great consultant is only a great consultant when they are working in their “wheelhouse(s).” A great consultant, then, is matched specifically to their strengths, not hired simply because they have wins in their past.
So a great consultant brings a specific knowledge and expertise. Mine are finance and operations, for example, and I wouldn’t pretend to consult for you outside of those domains. Great consultants know to stay within their expertise.
Great consultants are clear about the services they provide, the timeline on which they will provide them, and clear cost of their services. Too often, consulting arrangements start too broadly; it is the job of the consultant to understand a business, and its industry, well enough to strategize specifically, to put together a detailed road map that includes clearly stated goals, defined paths to reaching those goals, and adaptive options for refining and/or changing tactics.
A great consultant has clear and defined experience in both your industry and with companies of equal size and scope. Great consultants are not vague about their past wins, they have specific timelines, specific case studies, and specific testimonials from clients who have retained their services. Great consultants have experience for which others will enthusiastically vouch…and do.
Great consultants also have a rich and diverse network. They understand intrinsically that successful businesses have broad needs and that an equally broad network allows them to better match companies with prospective clients, human resource needs, other consultants and, importantly, bankers and financiers. A great consultant, then, becomes a trusted and valuable asset to your business, capable of solving problems not only within their proven expertise but also, through their network, by way of like-minded consultants from other industries and sectors.
A great consultant is on-time, on-point, and on-call. Don’t settle for anything less.