When you start a new business it’s a very exciting time; when you have finally put your plans into place and taken that last bold step into the unknown.
You knew your trade very well with lots of good connections, and you probably had a business plan giving you a well sign-posted route forward.
The problem is nobody has told you what to do when problems arise.
The good news is there is help available from skilled professionals who are passionate about helping and supporting the SME owner manager overcome difficult situations, in an effective and cost-effective way.
The hard bit is choosing the right one…
Because there is such a wide array of consultants, interim managers and turnaround experts available in the market place, all with different levels of skills and experience, we have developed the following checklist to help you make the right decision:
1. Free time
How much free time will the consultant commit to understanding you and your business, to enable you to make the decision? This is a measure of trust. The more that is provided on a FOC basis, prior to any form of charging taking place, the more TRUST is being bestowed on you. This is done on the basis that this trust will be reciprocated if, and when, it is agreed that you will work together.
Look at the background and experience of the individual(s) you will be working with. Do they have actual experience of the matter that they are advising you about. If, for instance, you are seeking assistance and support for a turnaround of your business, has the consultant ever turned around their own business or only ever advised others? Do they have knowledge of business management theory as well as the practical?
In my experience, the best business consultancy is a mix of both personal experience and theory working in tandem. The best advisors are those that possess both skill sets, as no two businesses are the same, and advising them is an art (experience) as well as a science (theory). You can’t be prescriptive.
3. Proof of capability
Make sure the consultant knows his or her stuff. Talk to them and dig deep as to how they will deal with the specific issue(s). Do they have examples of successes in similar situations?
Does the consultant have a good network of contacts in the right places? These links can prove invaluable when working on complex business issues and problems. For example, if the problem – or part of the problem – is one of business finance, does the consultant know the right people in positions of influence to get this resolved?
5. Fees/Charging structure
How will the consultant get paid? We have already looked at how much time the consultant will be prepared to put in up front – on a free of charge basis – for the parties to get to know each other, and to understand your business and the issue(s). What I am talking about here is how they will get paid if, and when, you agree to engage them.
Will it be on an hourly rate, a day rate or a fixed fee for the particular piece of work? Will they be prepared to carry out some, or possibly even all, of their work on a success only basis? Most importantly, try and determine how flexible they are in their fees and how much they are prepared to adjust the structure to meet your budget?
If not, and the clock is running from the moment you start talking, this is not a great start to your working relationship.
With the advent of the World Wide Web and, more recently, the explosion of social media, it’s relatively easy to check out someone’s reputation online. Case studies and testimonials should be easily accessible from websites and LinkedIn, when comparing track records and looking at what other clients are saying about the consultant.
Personal recommendations and endorsements from previous clients and/or other professionals are very valuable here when making your final choice.
7. Good chemistry
You need to get on with the person advising you. In my experience, there has to be some good chemistry combined with a mutual trust and respect to make the relationship really fly and achieve the best results. You can only actually get to this point by meeting and talking through the issues.
If you have any comments on this article or would like to discuss any aspect of it please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0845 689 8750.
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