In the early growth phase of a small business, the services of a good consultant are undoubtedly important. A hard-working bookkeeper will do a great job of keeping records, but to navigate the maze of tax laws and provide the financial advice you need to manage and grow your business you need a financial consultant.
While we tend to associate consultant with taxes or legal affairs, keeping you abreast of tax changes and doing your taxes are not the only services a good consultant provides. Dealing with personnel-related or technical-related issues is often difficult and time-consuming and many small businesses cannot afford the expense of a dedicated human resources (HR) or Information Technology (IT) department. In this case, an external consultant turns out to be an ideal option for you.
If you don’t have a consultant working for your business, you need one. But it’s more than crucial to take the time to find the consultant who is best suited for you and your specific situation.
Here are the top five traits of an excellent consultant you are looking for:
1. A Coaching Mentality
Small entrepreneurs often bring in advisors to examine a business’s current operations and make some recommendations and then, they leave. But a successful small business consultant will approach the job from a coaching standpoint, with the end goal of ensuring the small business owner obtains the skills necessary to thrive long after the consultant is gone.
A consultant who has a coaching mentality is the one who can partner with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. Coaching requires a high degree of emotional intelligence. It takes astute observation and patience to help individuals explore their strengths and weaknesses and then, let them be more effective in their roles.
Rather than just providing the solutions, a prominent consultant will encourage you to challenge old assumptions and transform your ways of thinking. If you’re considering a consultant ‘s background, look for work descriptions that address leadership coaching. A consultant should demonstrate a trustworthy history of coaching entrepreneurs to success, as well as a personal history of running and growing a business. When a consultant knows what an entrepreneur is going through from personal experience, that empathy translates to a great consultant-entrepreneur partnership.
2. Long-term Vision & Strategic Mind
To be truly successful, a small business owner should have a long-term mentality, with a clear idea of where they want to be in a few years. A good small business consultant will understand that and strive to help business owners not only identify high goals but also set smaller goals to keep the business on track by aiming a gradual growth.
However, it is too easy to lose sight of the long term as you focus on delivering short-term results. Too much of a short-term focus can lead to a toxic environment in which employees become less motivated and more cynical. More than that, many small businesses struggle with a lack of direction; the long-term vision gets swamped by the concerns and crises of the moment. Management changes, for instance, possibly result in a lack of vision and a lack of coherent forward progress. An outstanding consultant is the one who can foresee and manage these situations. At the very beginning, they should go through the endless information about the firm before formulating a high-end solution for any possible circumstance. They must have organized thinking to render the best solutions within a specified time. They should organize a proper framework of ideas for the betterment of the business, which could be implemented directly and stay for years to come.
Search for small business consultants who have successfully helped small business owners create business plans, land investment dollars, and plot out their long-term plans. As you speak with potential consultants, ask how they will help you set future goals and listen for indications that they emphasize on long-term planning. Since you’ll often have a consultant for a short time, it’s important to create a base that you can build on as you try to plan on your own in the upcoming years.
3. Small Business Background
Several business consultants primarily work with larger businesses. As valuable as their knowledge can be, it’s more than essential to find a consultant who knows the huge challenges that small business owners face, especially if they’re working alone. Make sure that you find a consultant who understands the unique dynamics of marketing, recruiting, and competing with larger businesses and can translate that knowledge to the products or services your business provides.
Even better than a consultant who has worked with small business owners is one who has personally experienced running their own small business. A fellow small business owner will not only understand how difficult it can be to operate with very little funding and nonexistent internal support, but they also have gained invaluable hands-on experience to tackle with problems that business of such scale is likely to face.
4. Shared Values & Unique Ethos
Perhaps the most important quality of all in a small business consultant is a shared value system. If you prioritize integrity over “winning at all costs,” a consultant who doesn’t agree with that principle will be a bad fit for you. If you value “people before profits”, it’s important to find a consultant who embraces that way of thinking and helps you build up a business that emphasizes on human development, with profits naturally following.
That’s not to say that an entrepreneur can’t benefit from a different perspective. A consultant may think of directions for your business that never occurred to you, which makes her or him indispensable to your business success.
The secret of excellent consultants is that they have a great ability to adapt themselves – to let your culture and corporate structures naturally become their own. Besides, as independent professionals, they have a developed sense of identity with established ethos and approach.
5. Communication Skills
It is fair to say that consultants are paid to communicate. To share their insights, present their technical knowledge or deliver their strategic plans, all the consultants must be able to communicate in an effective manner.
To take an example, consulting often involves describing complicated topics to people who may not have a background in those topics. Consultants must have excellent communication skills to break down complex, technical ideas in a way that is useful to the layman. They should understand the backgrounds and knowledge of their “audience” to provide the most meaningful advice possible. They can’t let their message be incomprehensible, nor can they allow their delivery to seem patronizing.
In fact, communication is required in every single as of consulting work from conducting research interviews with the client’s employees, to managing the team and stakeholders, writing business proposals and delivering presentations. So often does a project break down or stagnate because of a lack of effective communication. Thus, a good communicator is definitely who all small businesses are longing for.
Small Business Consultants – How To Hire Them?
Now you have figured out the top five qualities of a consultant who are likely to optimize your business’s potential performance. The problem here is to find them. Below are some tips to fill out your consulting needs:
Identify your needs as thoroughly as possible:
Every consultant is trained to deliver various consulting services. A business generalist will not have the depth of a domain expert, as an example. So, before you start searching for a consultant for your business, be very clear on exactly what is needed for your specific pain point and company size. For instance, will you need regular monthly accounting and/or bookkeeping assistance or only at tax time? Or will you need on-call emergency assistance for IT-related issues?
Once you have determined your consulting requirements, remember to focus on them during your consultant interview process.
Decide the length, depth, and location of your engagement:
Now, you will need to decide whether the work is required to be done on-site, in your office, or it can be done virtually from the consultant’s office. There exist some pros and cons on both options that you should carefully weigh up before making up your mind. The advantage of virtual consultants: it opens up the world of potential talent to you, instead of simply finding someone willing to work in your home market. However, some tasks simply need to be done in the office working hand-in-hand with your team, for efficiency sake.
You also need to decide how long you think this consultant will be with you, and whether it is a full-time problem or a part-time problem. Some consultants prefer bigger, longer, full-time assignments. Other consultants prefer smaller, shorter, part-time assignments. Your business need will dictate what type of consultant you will need, and more importantly, where to look for them.
Leverage your networks:
Word of mouth referrals is one of the most common ways to find good consulting help. Just like when the employee recruiting process, it is always best to start with someone you know and trust. Maybe send an email to your fellow business colleagues or fellow CEO’s, kindly asking if they have run into the same problem in the past, and if they are aware of any experts on that particular topic. Having that “stamp of approval” from your trustworthy friends that have worked with the consultant in the past, the odds of a successful outcome from your project are likely to increase.
Besides friends’ referrals, there are several websites out there that have built marketplaces to find consultants by topic, budget, and location. Those include companies like Catalant (US focus), SpareHire (US focus), Talmix (EU focus) and Expert 360 (AU focus) where you can post your exact needs, and experts will bid their expertise and costs for you to choose from.
Additionally, LinkedIn has a solution called Pro Finder. Whereas it is not as big as the other sites listed here, LinkedIn ProFinder taps into the growing service networking niche, connecting business owners with consulting freelancers to open projects in various categories. So, consider posting your needs on these sites and see how it goes.
Social media is also a good place to look. Most people on LinkedIn have been recommended by their peers as experts on specific topics. Search for people with the keyword topics you need to solve your pain point and ask them to point you in the right direction. Someone with 99+ recommendations around the key term “fundraising”, is probably a pretty good fundraiser.
Twitter provides you with quite the same services. Many people on Twitter add hashtags to their profile description with skills that they want to be known for, #BusinessCoach for example, so search for those Twitter users. The problem with Twitter vs. LinkedIn, in Twitter’s case, people are attaching tags to themselves, so you don’t really know whether they are knowledgeable on these specific topics. Whereas on LinkedIn, the tags have been made by third party individuals, which adds materially more credibility to their expertise.
As you are looking for very specific point solutions, the freelancer websites could be the way to go. For example, if you are searching for an expert on the cloud ERP technology Odoo, then Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr or Guru, are going to be among your favorite sites.
Whereas there are many other freelancer communities based on what specific skills you need, these above-mentioned websites are the big one-stop portal sites that have a little bit of everything. The most distinct advantage of freelancer websites is that you can see how busy/engaged these freelance consultants have been to date, and what their past client reviews have been. So, again, third party validation speaks volume.
Consider consulting firms and individuals:
These above channels can help you to find specific individuals that satisfy your consulting needs. But if not? You could also consider engaging consulting firms that specialize in your particular pain point.
Big firms, typically McKinsey, Bain or BCG, don’t seem to be good options for you as they mainly work on huge budget projects for large enterprise companies. Some boutique consulting companies, whose expertise is around business innovation and are willing to work with early-stage businesses in their target industries, are going to be a perfect match for you. Do a little digging on Google and somehow you will get amazing results. It’s highly advisable that you take close consideration of the targeted consulting firm before arriving at your final hiring decision.
The bottom line:
As you’re thinking about finding a small business consultant, the first step is to outline the qualities you expect from a trusted helper. Then begin your search, narrowing your options until you find the perfect match for your small business.
As an established outsourcing consulting company, EnvZone is always here to share your concerns and offer active support with our devoted teams. Should you need to ignite your online presence and optimize your success, don’t hesitate to check out our subscription plans for small business owners and get a dedicated site manager.
You Might Also Like: