Should You Be Working With a Consultant?

by / ⠀Startup Advice / October 29, 2020
handshake over coffee table

You may be a new entrepreneur with no experience and a strong desire to build the next billion-dollar tech unicorn. You might be a company that’s been around for a few years that is struggling to see continued growth. You might just be solving a difficult problem and in need of good advice. 

In any of these scenarios, you’ll likely consider hiring a consultant. Within the realm of consultants, there are many viable options to choose from. For starters, you might hire a consulting company dedicated to your industry or businesses like yours; for example, TAFS is a trucking consultant specifically created to help trucking companies. You could also work with an individual freelance consultant. In either scenario, you might recruit a consultant for a short-term purpose, like solving a specific problem, or you may recruit them for a long-term arrangement, keeping them on retainer. 

Millions of individuals and businesses have benefitted from hiring consultants, but there have also been millions of companies that have wasted money on this as a non-essential service. How can you tell if you truly need a consultant? 

Defining the Problem 

Before hiring a consultant, you should have a decent idea of what your core problem is. You may not know how to solve it, but you should at least know the broad scope of the issue. For example, let’s say your company isn’t as profitable as you would like because your expenses are too high. You aren’t sure what to cut or how your profit margins got compromised, but you know you have a financial issue. Here, you understand the nature of the problem you’re trying to solve, but you aren’t sure how to solve it—a consultant could be the perfect solution. 

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Internal Expertise

You also need to think about your internal experts, and their current take on the problem. For example, let’s say you’re having trouble seeing the marketing results you want, but you have a strong, competent marketing director who insists the problem is the nature of the strategies you’ve chosen. They recommend increasing the budget and switching up tactics, and they have a blueprint for how to get better results next quarter. In this scenario, it may be wise to trust their advice since they’re functioning as a kind of internal consultant. 

However, by contrast, let’s say your marketing strategies keep failing and your marketing director is running out of options. They don’t understand why your marketing approaches have failed, and they’re eager to hear some outside advice. In this scenario, you have a dearth of internal expertise, and the external expertise of a consultant could be exactly what you need to get back on track. 

Echo Chambers and Silos

Many companies, especially large ones and those that have been in business for decades, suffer from internal communication and culture issues related to echo chambers and corporate silos. 

In an echo chamber, team members get used to hearing the same opinions and perspectives. They’re likely to reinforce their existing opinions and are unlikely to hear new ideas or outside perspectives. This is limiting in terms of creative potential, and it can keep teams making the same mistakes over and over again. A consultant can help you in this scenario because they’re an outside force. They can break the echo chamber, point out what’s wrong, and provide neutral, third-party advice.

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Corporate silos are similar barriers; here, the idea is that multiple departments each have a strong internal culture, but find it hard to communicate or engage with other departments. Each department may function independently, making it hard to create or enforce a unified vision. Here, a consultant can help restore high-level perspective, and bring these departments together with common goals and a unified vision. 

Choosing the Right Consultant

If your business can benefit from a consultant, much of your success will depend on choosing the right one. Make sure you do your research and vet your options carefully; anyone can claim they’re an expert on a given topic, or give themselves the title of “consultant.” However, you’ll want to look for someone with years of experience in your field and/or the resources necessary to solve your specific problems. Additionally, make sure you pay attention to your experience as you begin conversations with them. Are they easy to reach and have conversations with? 

Professional consultants aren’t the right play for every business, but they can be a powerful unifying and problem-solving force for your organization. Before hiring a consultant, consider the scope of your problem, the current state of your organization, and your access to internal experts. If a consultant could help your business improve, you can start doing your due diligence to find the right candidate. 

About The Author

Kimberly Zhang

Editor in Chief of Under30CEO. I have a passion for helping educate the next generation of leaders.