4 Qualities to look for when Hiring a Consultant

by Taimi Gorman

By the time they called me, the business was in a jam.  The owner of an established, well-liked local restaurant had partnered with a new chef who wanted to change the name and the menu.  The owner wanted advice, marketing guidance and publicity since it was going to be a challenge for his regular customers to get on board.

I spent time in the dining room, reviewed the new menu, watched the chef at work, analyzed the kitchen, and came up with a plan to present it successfully to the public. With deft handling, I gave them what they needed, and the customers were happy, but then…

Soon after, the owner and the chef had a major falling out, leading the chef to leave permanently.  The business owner was in a bigger pickle than he’d been before. The restaurant he had previously worked just fine.  The name was familiar to the community, as was his popular, long-time menu.  The challenge was now erasing the past few months and going back to what worked earlier.  He called me in a panic.  We met and devised a new strategy.  We successfully launched the restaurant once again.

The owner could have spent precious time bouncing ideas off of his family, friends and cooks, but he got something more by hiring a consultant.  While it’s not a bad thing asking for advice from your own circle of influence, an external advisor, with no attachment to a business, has the advantage of a detached and unbiased viewpoint.  A business consultant provides rational assessments for creating the best outcome without being emotionally involved.

There are so many reasons to hire an outside resource.  As an owner, you may have emotional ties to employees, relatives who work for you, a sense of possessiveness to your original idea, frustration that something which once worked no longer works.  New competition may be stealing your business.  New technology may have left you in the dust.  Now is the time to rethink your goals and find success in a new way…before it’s out of reach.

Ensure you make the best choice:

  • Personalities that click

Search websites for one that makes sense to you.  If the jargon is too vague, it was probably written by someone right out of grad school who likes big words and thinks you will be impressed by them.  If you don’t know what they are talking about, don’t go there.

  • No ties to the company

Your Uncle Joe who works for you might know someone they think is good, but while referrals are helpful, make sure whoever you hire won’t be influenced by prior relationships with anyone in your company. They may come in with pre-conceived ideas about the problems, or a bias toward the person who recommended them.

  • Experience

Hire someone with relevant experience in the type of business you own.  Everyone has a specialty.  Their website and a meeting should confirm that for you.  Be open to what that person offers.  You may think you have a money problem, when it’s actually a personnel issue.  Your marketing may be outdated, when you were sure it was the product.  Don’t limit yourself when seeking help.

  • Trustworthiness

You must share intimate information with this consultant, or it won’t be an effective result.Don’t hide financials, personality clashes, or goals. If you plan to sell in 5 years, let your advisor know. It will affect the recommendations. If you’re on the verge of bankruptcy, or have a legal problem, they need to know that, too. 

The bottom line is that there is no shame in hiring outside consultants to help overcome internal strife or market vulnerabilities — a keen pair of eyes can see the forest for the trees, and an unbiased, knowledgeable voice can guide an enterprise out of the woods.