Small business owners and entrepreneurs are by their nature very hands-on. They’ve built their businesses themselves. It makes sense that they want to be involved with every aspect of their operation. It can be part of the reason that there never seem to be enough hours in the day.
There comes a time, however, when you need to recognise that you might benefit from asking for help. That help could come from delegating more tasks to your colleagues or employees. Another option, though, is to use a business consultant.
Engaging the services of a business consultant can give your company a real leg-up. It could prove a masterstroke that saves both time and money. That’s critical when you consider how hard businesses have to work to raise funding. It may also give you access to new expertise and inject added dynamism into your business. Hiring the wrong consultant can represent a major misstep. It might be a wasted effort, which sets your firm on the wrong track.
The challenge for a small business is to identify when they should use a business consultant. To be able to identify when a business could help you, there are a few things you need to understand. You need to know the role of business consultants and how they can help businesses. You need to know why firms seek their help and how you can find the right business consultant when you need them.
What does a business consultant do?
A business consultant is an external expert you can hire to help your business. They will bring an outside perspective, as well as their skills and know-how into your firm. Consultants are not employees who you bring on board permanently. They’re outside contractors who you work with on a contract or project basis.
You might pay them a certain fee for their input in a particular project. Alternatively, you may bring them in for a certain period of time to offer an overview of your business. Consultants typically specialise in certain niches and business areas. Some of the most common categories of consultants are as follows:
- Strategy & Management Consultants
Consultants who will look at the overall business direction and how your business is run. They can help to steer a firm toward sustainable growth. They might assist with expanding or diversifying a product line. Often these consultants will also provide insight into cost-cutting and long-term planning.
- Operations Consultants
These consultants look to refine or improve day-to-day business operations. They will analyse and improve the quality and efficiency of business processes. Their overall aims will often be to decrease costs and/or increase margins. They achieve those aims by recommending various improvements.
- HR Consultants
An HR consultant can offer help and advice about everything to do with your business’s personnel. They might be brought in to oversee a period of significant recruitment. They could also help a firm to improve employee retention. Remuneration and compensation for staff would also fall within their remit.
- Sales & Marketing Consultants
Sales and marketing consultants work to improve those areas of a business. They might be brought in to manage or devise a particular marketing campaign. They could be tasked with identifying how a firm could better build their brand. They may simply look at improving sales techniques and thus conversion rates.
- IT Consultants
This is one of the fastest growing consultancy sectors. IT consultants help businesses with their IT infrastructure. That might mean building initial infrastructure. It could be helping a firm to scale their systems. IT consultants can be invaluable to small business owners. They themselves often lack IT-related or technical expertise.
Why might a business use a business consultant?
Hiring a business consultant is a cost-effective way to cover gaps in a business’s knowledge or skill set. The consultant can be brought on board to perform work or provide insight that the firm’s own staff isn’t capable of.
Seeking advice and guidance from a business consultant can also help you to look at your company in a different way. Consultants have an outside perspective that’s not biased or otherwise compromised. They’re far more able to remain detached. That means they can make unemotional judgements or decisions.
In general, there are three main reasons why businesses might decide to use a consultant.
1. Identify problems
It’s often easy for business owners to spot the symptoms of underlying problems. A glance at the accounts will show any fall in sales. Day-to-day struggles can demonstrate cash flow issues. A brief chat with staff will reveal if customer complaints are up.
What’s more difficult to identify is the root cause of those symptoms. Business owners have lots of other responsibilities. They can struggle to take a step back and find the problem. That’s where a business consultant can come in. Their fresh eyes and ability to focus on just the one issue, make identifying the problem far easier.
2. Develop solutions
The help business consultants can offer isn’t all diagnostic. They can provide insights, solutions and strategies, based on their previous business experience. This is useful to business owners who have already found an issue with operations. It’s also vital for any firm struggling to meet a commercial goal.
In those situations, a consultant can be brought in to help a company move forward. Depending on the nature of their agreement with a business, they might also stay on and help implement that plan.
3. Optimise & refine operations
Using a business consultant isn’t all about troubleshooting or long-term planning. A consultant can also be helpful for refining and improving day-to-day operations. They’re able to take an overview of business processes and find areas that can be better optimised.
This can make a big difference for any business. It may lead to improved efficiency and result in greater productivity. It’s also something that business owners don’t often have the time to do themselves.
The benefits of using a business consultant
The right business consultant can excel in delivering any of the above services. They will be perfectly placed to do so because of the range of benefits they offer to small businesses:
Expertise – As a result of their years of experience, and knowledge, each business consultant has a specific skill set. Businesses can use consultants who have the skills and expertise that their own staff lack. That makes their advice and assistance invaluable.
Independence – Consultants look at business’s issues from a fresh perspective. They’re uniquely positioned to look at the bigger picture. It’s also easier for them to take an unbiased view of what they see. They’re emotionally detached from the business. They don't have their analysis clouded by sentiment. That makes it easier to make tough decisions.
Cost-efficiency – Business consultants can be brought on board as and when needed. A business can enjoy their expert knowledge for a specific project and then move on without them. That's far more cost-efficient than taking on a full-time senior member of staff.
Unlocking potential – Using a business consultant to address specific problems can help on two levels. The obvious benefit is that the right candidate can help the business grow faster. Beyond that, it also frees up a business owner and their staff to achieve more themselves. That’s because they don’t have to use their valuable time triaging the symptoms of the overall problem.
Finding the right business consultant
Business consultants come in a variety of forms. They range from self-employed individuals to consultants who work for massive multinational firms. Small businesses who decide to use a business consultant will never be short of options. What’s critical, though, is to ensure you have the right person to support your business.
Before you make any hiring decisions, you need to think about exactly what you want from a consultant. Are you looking for someone to review your overall operation? Is there a specific area, project or problem that you think needs attention? Do you want a consultant to diagnose problems or to develop solutions?
Once you’ve asked yourself those questions, you can develop an idea of the kind of consultant you need. You’ll be able to draw up a list of the skills and abilities they would need to meet your demands. You can then use that information to find the right consultant.
It’s also a good idea to insist on having a personal interview with any consultant before you agree to work with them. That can be over the phone or in person. Either way, directly interacting with them will tell you whether they’re a good fit for your company. You need them to be someone you and your staff can work with every day for the duration of their contract.
Should you use a business consultant?
There’s no question that a business consultant can provide invaluable assistance. The experience they bring to the table can help you avoid expensive mistakes and they can come up with solutions to problems you might not have considered. The issue is finding the right business consultant to fit your needs.
To achieve this you first need to consider your business needs. You can then use this information to define the scope of the support you are after. Only after you have considered your needs and set clear quantifiable targets should you search for a business consultant who can support your goals.