Business consultants can be a good option to solve problems and correct weaknesses. However hiring the right consultant at an affordable cost and getting good work out of him is the real challenge.
When a business is growing, many problems will crop up which cannot be handled by anyone including the entrepreneur. Say you want to set up an HR department in the company and you don’t know how to go about it. Or your sales are not increasing desirably despite spending big deal on marketing and advertising. These problems can be dealt with by hiring a business or management consultant specialising in the particular problem area, or a generalist who can help figure out the problem and correct it as well.
How consultants work
Some of the common areas which most businesses need consulting are organisational restructuring, manpower planning, performance management, employee satisfaction survey, building HR systems, compensation and incentive management and many others. The consultant’s job is very much similar to that of a doctor. He diagnoses your problem, find out areas of weakness and recommends corrective measures. Not only that he also hand holds you to implement the remedies.
How to hunt the right consultant?
Looking for the right consultant is paramount as the wrong consultant can do a lousy job, putting your business at stake. So you should put in the same amount of seriousness in hiring a consultant as you would put in hiring an employee. The first step is to make an assessment of your needs and budget and then have 2-3 best choices available in the market. Ask for a resume and be upfront in asking for a complete fee schedule. The best way to check his performance credentials is to ask for a few references who can provide a feedback o f the performance of the consultant and the satisfaction level of the client. Also check whether the consultant is trying to hide some references. These can be valuable sources of information about the quality of his work.
It is important to understand that you should share a good rapport with your consultant because you will have to work in tandem with him for several hours a day. So if you think you will not be able to get along this person, better try another one.
As far as small businesses are concerned affordability plays an important part in selecting the right consultant. Professor Ranjan Mohapatra, of Vision Consultants says, ‘Many small businesses want to give them an ego boost by hiring a big brand and end up burning a hole in their pockets. Most of these big names are not suited for small and medium level businesses as they do not understand the Indian realities which small businesses face. Thus they end up doing more harm than good to the business, that too at a cost that can amount to a few lakhs or a crore. On the other hand, there are many smaller names who have proven records of expertise and experience and they will cost you lesser.’ The mantra is, ‘is the costliest might not be the best for you.’
In most cases it is best to rope in a lawyer to define the relationship with your consultant in the form of a legal contract so as to protect yourself from unnecessary trouble. Here are some important points in the contract which you must check out for:
How to work with a consultant?
The entrepreneur must have the capability to put the consultant’s services to good use. Prof. Ranjan Mohapatra, says, ‘This is possible only if the entrepreneur is closely involved with the project leader of the consultant’s team and honestly vomits out all his problems, frustrations and personal equations with any department or employee of the company. Monitor the department with which the consultant is working. Is the department head co-operating with the consultant? Say you have roped in a consultant to set up an incentive and compensation system and the consultant asks for the HR data base. As the data base is in complete mess, the MD is trying to protect his team and not revealing essential facts. In such a situation the entrepreneur should immediately chip in so as to let the consultant do his job in a transparent manner.
One must have the competence to gauge if the consultant is creating new problems instead of solving existing ones. Be swift in reacting if you feel the consultant is misleading the company. This is the time to terminate the contract and send him packing.