Thinking about hiring an Expert?
It is not uncommon for a small business owner to feel a loss of control, or a sense of being overwhelmed trying to be your own accountant, marketing specialist, sales person, strategic planner as well as ‘chief cook and bottle-washer' in your business. This is often the time that many turn to an ‘expert’ for advice. But if all you get from this ‘consulting' experience is more frustration due to unfulfilled expectations of what the ‘expert' can provide you with, or no real return on the investment you have made you can end up more frustrated, with a feeling of having been ‘ripped-off' and a lower bank balance.
If you have ever worked in the corporate world you would know that experts (consultants) are used extensively. They come into an organisation, identify what changes are needed, recommend certain strategies that the management team should put in place to effect the necessary changes and then off they go to their next basket case, leaving a swishy beautifully bound report and usually a big fat invoice.
In my experience of the corporate world, it was rare that this process worked well for the business. When things didn’t go according to plan, it was all too easy for the outside expert to blame this on a lack of commitment, engagement or ownership of the plan on the part of management, other staff members or both. Most often, what I witnessed was a lack of commitment, engagement and ownership of the plan on behalf of the outside expert which culminated in a corresponding lack of ownership of the ‘plan’ by the management and employees.
If this ‘outsourcing of strategy’ to a third party is often ineffective in the corporate world, it surely won’t work in the world of small business. Yet, the financial impact on small business owners of paying for advice which has been ineffective is huge and often damaging beyond just its finances.
As a Consultant of many years, working with small business owners with ‘skin in the game' was much more rewarding than working with employees of a larger organisation. The enthusiasm and commitment to the future of their business is palpable and, when the relationship worked really well, my client's growth became my growth.
Small business owners needs advisors who are committed to them and their business, who invest themselves, their expertise and knowledge into their clients’ business future as an integral component of how they do business.
Some of the things you should consider when choosing an Advisor:
- So many advisors will advertise “we take the time to get to know you and your business”.
A great marketing statement but ask them why they do this and how they do this, then evaluate their answers carefully. Their answers should be that they need to get to know you as a client and to understand the particular issues you are facing in your business, what you are trying to achieve. They should also be able to clearly articulate how they go about ‘getting to know you’, they need to show you that they know what works in a small business environment and that they can be mindful of any budget constraints. No point in recommending a global marketing strategy if you don’t need it nor could you afford it.
- Find an Advisor who will work ‘with you’ and not just ‘for you’.
Be clear what you are looking for in an Advisor. If you are needing help to get your business in a more resilient position so that it can grow, then it will be critical for you and your Advisor to work closely together to work out the correct strategy. Even though you are probably time-poor, delegating your business strategy decisions to a third party is not the answer. You must find the time to work closely with your Advisor to ensure you are both on the same page. One client I know had an initial briefing meeting with a marketing expert for an hour or so. The expert came back two weeks later with a marketing plan that was not only unworkable but completely unaffordable. Like an architect designing a house, not much good if the clients can’t afford to build it.
- Check out their credentials
It’s ok to ask an Advisor for the name of some of their clients, don’t just rely on their portfolio client list on their website. Ask for the name of a client with a business similar to yours who they would be happy for you to speak with. You wouldn’t employ someone without checking their references, would you? You’re not exactly employing Advisors but you will certainly be paying them and relying on the quality of their advice and looking for a result from your investment – so check them out.
- Find an Advisor who asks you lots of questions
When you are looking for Advice it is very tempting to ask lots of questions of the Advisor so we can get to know them and make the decision to engage them. This is a big mistake. The Advisor is there to take a job brief from you so choose an Advisor who asks lots of questions of you about your business. How else can Advisors understand what your needs are and to assess whether they can meet them. Be wary of Advisors who are quick to say they know what you need and quick to provide a quote for their services – these are the sort you might want to avoid.
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Author: Angie Mardon, Engine Room Hub