When NOT to Hire a Consultant
Updated: Mar 26
Six Red Flags Saying it Might Not be a Good Fit.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not here to say “consulting” is a dirty word. Quite the contrary, especially with 700,000 firms dotting the globe, 500,000 (myself included) of which reside the in the US alone. We certainly have our place in the business world, and as anyone who has successfully implemented the talents of one can tell you, they can change the game when it comes to leveling up your operation. Consultants can bring fresh perspectives, generate new ideas, and implement revenue-booming strategies that are often hard to do when you’re busy working IN the business.
Unfortunately, the world has run amok with people anxious to turn a quick buck, hang a shoddy shingle, and call themselves a consultant. While this can happen in many an industry, becoming a consultant has a relatively low barrier to entry, a less than formal career track, and no one keeping them accountable, which leaves the door wide open for sub-par practices.
That being said, if you’ve been toying with the idea of bringing in a consultant, or have even engaged someone you’re considering, here are 5 red flags to consider before anything is in writing:
They Know Too Much:
Sure, information is power. The more they know, the better, right? Perhaps. However, when someone claims to know something about everything, it usually means they’re trying to be everything to everyone. However, in a consultant, you’re typically looking for a niche specialty, or an expert in a particular field. So, when someone claims to be able to handle everything from sales to technology to product scope, and everything in between, it may very well be a case of “too good to be true.”
In this instance, you want to ascertain whether they will be handling all of that themselves or outsourcing some of their work to niche-specific colleagues. When they claim they can do it all, see if you can uncover what specific specialty they actually have.
They Charge an Hourly Fee:
Hourly based fees have traditionally been a rite of passage, the standard way of doing business, if you will. However, when it concerns consultants, it’s an antiquated practice that is NOT in your best interest. One that leaves you and your budget more vulnerable. It just doesn’t make sense. Period.
A consultant should be an expert in his/her respective field, and therefore be able to do the same work comparatively faster than a non-expert. Yet, in this instance, they would get the short end of the stick by requiring less time on an hourly basis. Which means there is little incentive for them not to take their time and rack up more hours as a means of padding their invoice.
A far better alternative is Value-Based Fees. This is when a consultant takes stock of the entire project at large, calculates the worth of the experience they bring, the time it will take, and the results they can generate, and presents it in the form of a “project cost.” They understand what is involved, and you have a price point you can either accept or refuse. Now, they’re incentivized to get it done on time or early, and you don’t have to unearth additional fiscal resources in the event it takes more hours than he/she allotted. In this instance, everyone wins when you decide to move forward. You understand the investment up front, and they can complete the project at a price they’re happy doing business for!
They Follow the Leader:
Sure, it’s critical for a consultant to understand the client’s needs and wants. However, you’re hiring them to bring something new and fresh to the table. If they are there to simply follow orders, that is a “tasker” who shouldn’t garner the price point merited by a talented consultant.
This means they bring with them data-driven experience, fresh ideas, and the ability to challenge internal process and procedures as they see fit. Not in an aggressive way, of course. Clearly, you want to have a balanced working relationship with anyone you bring on board but looking for someone with a mind of their own, and a track record of making effective change should be a top point of consideration. Which brings me to my next point.
No Demonstrative Proof of Expertise
When I was fresh out of college and hunting for my first “big girl” job, I had all the enthusiasm in the world, and no real-world expertise. Interview after interview, I was met with the same question: “Can you give us an example of where you have handled (insert any type of scenario.). No matter how desperately I tried to persuade them that I had practiced these things in class, they weren’t convinced I could handle similar situations outside of the “lab setting.”
While the lack of faith was disheartening at the time, and I’m all for giving someone a chance to prove themselves, two decades of this “real world” experience has helped me see things from their perspective. When time is money, and resources are finite, you want someone who can hit the ground running.
Furthermore, a consultant is not someone you should have to micromanage, as you likely have enough fish to fry. So, finding someone who has a loaded toolbelt at the ready and proven experience really is worth their weight in gold.
They Keep You on Hold.
It’s no secret that time is of the essence. And business priorities can change on a dime. So, when you engage with someone who is slow or unresponsive, it’s not only creating frustration, but likely costing you money.
I get it. We’re all busy. But when you read between the lines of a consultant who takes days to respond to calls and emails, it says that you’re not a top priority. Never mind the fact that if this is how they treat you during the “wooing” phase, there is slim to no chance of this improving once you’re under contract. And despite a more lax business world than we’ve ever had before, this is still unacceptable.
It's imperative that you manage these expectations early on. If it’s not urgent, you can spell that out for that particular element. Otherwise, feel free to ask you prospective consultant what they consider a reasonable response rate. If you have differing opinions, let them know what you deem appropriate. You’ll save a lot of headaches in the long run.