The Reality of Hiring a Consultant for Your Small Business

As a small business owner, you probably like to be involved with every aspect of your business, from the mundane to the most critical tasks. Hiring employees is one step to getting help for your business, but there may be some problems outside your and your employees’ knowledgeable scope.

Perhaps you need the help of more specific professionals — which is the void a consultant can handily fill. Still, you find yourself wondering if you really need a consultant, and if paying them would be worth the knowledge and skills they bring to the table. As a small business owner, you have to learn when to ask for — and find — cost-effective help.

Do You Really Need a Consultant?

Consultants come in a variety of flavors with different niche skill sets to potentially suit your needs. Trying to figure out if you need someone’s specific experience to help your business might be as easy as asking yourself a few questions.

First, make sure you’ve done all the research on the subject you could. If information was beyond your grasp or unavailable, reaching out for paid help might be the way to go. Second, focus on the job you want them to bring to your business. Is this skill something you or an employee can learn in a few days or weeks, or is this an area that takes years to master? If the funds are available, but the skill set isn’t, a consultant may be exactly what you need.

What Does a Consultant Do?

A consultant is an outside expert you hire through an agreed-upon contract to help your business. The consultant is independent of your company, so they keep to their own schedule and may have more clients than just you at one time. You might even hire a consulting team, rather than one person.

There are many different types of consultants for different jobs. Some of the most commonly used consultants work in accounting, IT, human resources and legal services, each able to bring a new and better direction for your business.

There is a general process for every consulting project. The pre-consulting phase is before the work starts, where you and the expert discuss terms and come to an agreement. The consulting period consists of discovery, research and the final presentation for your business. Lastly, the post-consulting phase is where you may choose to extend the agreement or implement your own.

Find a Consultant

Finding a consultant for your specific needs may be easier than you think. You have to know what you need from the hired expert. Searching through friends, business partners and online are sure ways to find the person you need. However, you need to make sure they fit the role. They should be fluent in data modeling, in addition to an ability to connect information from seemingly random sources, also known as dot-to-dot literacy.

An ideal consultant is someone who has experience as a coach and a fellow small business owner to relate to the process. Coaching skills are important so they can take action and get involved with your employees. You can also check their LinkedIn profile for testimonials and recommendations if you’re still in any doubt.

While looking around for a consultant, you may run into a lot of contractors and need to know the difference between the two. Both are temporary experts hired via a contract, but a consultant works outside the business, while a contractor is an internal component. Knowing the difference can keep you from hiring the wrong job title, especially if you’re in the market for a contractor instead.

Payment and Budget

Typically, your consultant is going to work with you for about three to six months, with the open option to renew the contract. The pre-consulting phase is the time where you talk to the expert you’re wanting to hire to hash out pay, time and your budget. An important bit of advice is to remember value determines price, not any pre-set rules.

However, on average, expect the price to be anywhere from $150 to $10,000 an hour, with projects ranging from $1,000 to $250,000. Here is where you have to find your budget. Once you discover how much the expert help is worth to you and how much you can afford, the rest should be easier. Figure out your sales percentages and where you need them to be, versus what you’re willing to pay the expert, and discuss your options with them personally.

What’s Best for Your Business

A consultant will be an expensive add-on to your business either way if you discover you need the help. However, the reward can easily outweigh the cost. Decide what you want the future of your business to look like, and explore all the avenues to get you there. A consultant may be expensive, and hiring one could be a process, but they could bring your business to new heights you likely hadn’t imagined before.

Bio: Nathan Sykes is the editor of Finding an Outlet, a source for the latest in IT and business news and trends.