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Need outside advice about your business? Why hire a consultant and what to consider

June 12, 2023

Today’s business environment requires innovative thinking, the ability to be objective about your business, and the willingness to change and adapt. Entrepreneurs and executives characteristically tend to be independent risk-takers by nature and often think they don’t need outside counsel. But sometimes an outside opinion is exactly what’s needed. Consultants can provide unique expertise and an objective eye to help guide the business and serve as an extension of smaller teams, offering valuable insight and a fresh take on challenges while the core team remains focused on their day-to-day responsibilities.

What consultants do Consultants work closely with business owners and managers to help identify and bridge gaps, offer advice, and propose practical solutions. Different consultants specialize in different industries, functional areas and skill sets.

Here are just a few of the many areas in which a business might seek help from an outside consultant:

  • Business and industry strategy

  • Management structure and operations

  • Human resources and employee experience design

  • Finance, accounting and outsource CFO duties

  • IT and cybersecurity

  • Sales enablement and training

  • Marketing, branding, and communications

  • Go-to-market, product and channel strategies

  • Data analytics

  • Customer insights and customer experience design

  • Pitch strategies

  • Investor relations and cultivation

  • Risk and compliance management

Wherever you might need help, using consultants effectively can improve the quality of your decision making, fuel real business growth, and help you avoid blind spots. But knowing when to hire and who to hire requires a bit of forethought. Types of consulting firms

When selecting a consulting firm, finding the right set of team expertise, skills, and industry knowledge is vital. Having clear expectations and understanding of your business and its needs will allow you to choose the right consultant for you and your business. Below are a few of the more common types of consulting firms:

  • Strategy consulting. Involves high-level assessments of your business, followed by strategic recommendations to increase profit or growth. These projects typically last a few weeks to a few months, depending upon numerous factors.

  • Implementation consulting. Involves executing a defined set of strategies, process design and testing. These engagements can last anywhere from a few months to a year depending on the project.

  • Specialized consulting. Focuses on a specific industry or area where a business lacks internal expertise.

  • Internal corporate strategy consulting. Typically found internally within large corporations working on long-term or recurring projects.

What to look for in a consulting firm

When looking for a match with a consulting firm, there’s no magic answer. However, there are some critical things to consider: Industry expertise. You typically want a consultant who has some degree of expertise in your industry. The more niche your industry is, the more important this becomes. Do they speak your language in a convincing way? Do they have case studies or project examples of work done for similar clients? Be sure to ask for specifics. If they have not worked directly in your industry recently, but have past experience, do you have a sense they could get back up to speed quickly?

Vision and a strong point of view. While practicality and tactical execution are critically important, you also want a consultant who is part visionary. This lets them see problems and solutions that may be hard for you or your employees to see on your own. They need to be confident and persuasive and independent enough to give you objective advice. A good consultant is not afraid to disagree with you.

Effective project management skills. Can they plan and scope projects effectively? Can they deliver on time? Not every consulting group chooses to focus on project management. If they don’t have resources or skills in this area and it’s something you emphasize, consider bridging the gap with someone from your team or even a contract resource.

Culture fit and chemistry. Are they interested in your culture and ways of working? Do they place importance on interpersonal skills? Any consultant you hire should show sensitivity to your cultural norms and treat your employees and other stakeholders with professionalism and tact.

Strong referral network and partnerships. When hiring a consultant, consider if you’re going to need to bring in other expertise or disciplines. If so, can they assist you in that regard? While this typically should not be a dealbreaker, it’s something to consider if you’re looking for more turnkey help and will need them to bring other resources into a project on your behalf.

Yellow or red flags: what to avoid when looking for a consultant

While entire articles could be devoted to this topic alone, there are a few immediate flags to consider. For example, a lack of real experience and industry expertise can cause consultants “wing it” or grasping for straws in order to gain and maintain clients that can often lead clients in the wrong direction.

You may also get the sense that a consultant wants you to be overly dependent on them. That’s fine if you’re looking for outsourced support or managed services, but a consultant should be generous with their knowledge and genuinely interested in helping you and your team develop your own expertise and competency.

Additionally, do you get the sense they’re strong-minded enough to tell you when they think you’re wrong or need to consider other approaches? Remember, the last thing you want is a consultant who is afraid to contradict you. A respectful challenger mentality can be just as important as domain expertise.

These types of consultants can give the industry a bad reputation, but being able to identify these yellow and red flags will enable you to find a firm that you can trust and work with over the long haul.

To continue the conversation These are only a few things to consider when looking to hire consulting support. By taking time to probe into these areas, you can increase your odds of finding a fitting partner who can mesh well with you and your team and at the same time achieve business results you would not otherwise achieve on your own. If you’re considering hiring a consultant but aren’t sure of your best next step, we’d love to learn more about your needs and offer suggestions.

Bluestock Advisors and our referral partners

We are proud to offer our clients high-touch, high-value advisory services distinct from what large consulting firms offer. We apply our skills (strategy + operations + deep sector expertise) and passions (home and retail goods + long-term relationships) to foster growth, creativity, and

agility while being champions for women in the workforce. Our clients are also our friends, because we care about each other’s passions, interests, and successes and value long-term relationships above commercial gain. We work closely with fellow firms who share our values, enabling us to introduce the right skills at the right time to your projects and help you build a bench of trusted consulting partners.

A few examples include the following:

  • InfoWorks is a leading business consulting firm offering clients innovative solutions that solve challenges and drive growth. They work across operations and management, technology and cloud development, and data and analytics services to provide custom solutions that impact long and short-term business goals. From practical strategies to implementation and adoption, they have the expertise to help your team see what’s possible.

  • Experient Group offers advanced business and IT solutions and shares our values of community and collaboration as they deliver strategy, design, technology, and transformation to clients nationwide.

  • Agilitics unifies data to help businesses make informed supply chain decisions. They have successfully delivered hundreds of supply chain data and BI implementations to enable strategic decision-making.

  • Connors Group is a workforce management consulting firm focused on helping clients reach sustainable operational improvement through financial health and employee satisfaction solutions.

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