Thinking about hiring a consultant? Read this first… » SMEInsider

Thinking about hiring a consultant? Read this first…

Stefano Maifreni EggcelerateStefano Maifreni is founder and director of business growth specialist Eggcelerate. In this guest post, he advises on what you should look for in a ‘committed expert’ – someone who can give you impartial advice on developing your SME.

If you’re a small business owner, you may have experienced the following symptoms: a sensation that you’re losing control. An overwhelming feeling of weariness.  Maybe your wallet seems mysteriously lighter. The symptoms can come and go, every few years. Diagnosis? You’re allergic to consultants.

Over the years, I’ve worked with many clients who want to achieve and manage growth for their businesses. In most cases, this meant difficult change at some level. But they all managed to go through it and achieve their objectives.

However, all of them loathed the word ‘consultant’.

Why? They had some previous experience with consulting firms that came in and told them what to do. The consultant’s report or presentation was slick and stylish. Then they disappeared, leaving behind a huge bill.

But their recommendations didn’t really work. It was easy for the consultants to claim that the execution, not the strategy, was to blame, and that therefore, another consulting assignment was needed to fix things! Sound familiar?

Simply telling small businesses what to do isn’t enough. Nor is coming up with a strategy. You need to be accountable for the execution.

Small businesses don’t require consultants. What they really need are ‘committed experts’.

So how can you identify one? Here are five capabilities a good one will display.

1) They provide the answers that small businesses need – and put them into effect

Usually, committed experts have experience working for major corporations as well as for small businesses. They understand the pressures weighing on business owners and senior decision-makers, whether it’s the daily decisions faced by a small family firm, or a key change to a portfolio of products worth millions of pounds. They know what works and what doesn’t. They put their proposals into action for you.

2) They have an impressive skill set

A committed expert’s skill set extends across many overlapping areas of business expertise: strategy, marketing, business development, restructuring and funding. This means you can make smarter decisions faster, without endless meetings with large groups of people.

3) They are committed

They don’t suddenly appear, make a few general observations and then vanish, leaving you with a large bill. They’re willing to work hand-in-hand with your business at a deeper level. You can trust them. They’re open, honest, committed, knowledgeable, and genuinely care about making your company a success. They’ll stay for as long as you need them.

4) When you invest, they’ll help you to get more back

During times of business growth, it’s very easy for companies to waste money on marketing plans, product launches and campaigns that turn out to be flawed. When working for your company, a committed expert can help you to avoid these approaches and focus only on proven strategies that will deliver the maximum ROI.

5) They see the big picture and can make success sustainable

Expanding in a profitable way is great news for any company. But there can be growing pains as the business needs to reshape and re-organise around different objectives, products or services, and customers. These experts will enable you to plan ahead, so you can prepare for these extra challenges in advance. This way, you can adapt easily, avoid the pressures of unforeseen consequences and protect the morale of your staff. With their help, you can make your profitability sustainable.

By this point, you may be asking yourself “do these people exist?” They do. But you have to look for them carefully.

For a start, look out for those who ask questions, rather than giving answers straight away. That’s a good sign they’re focused on you and solving your problems, rather than making a quick dollar and a fast getaway!

Eggcelerate helps small and medium-sized companies expand. It provides expertise in areas such as strategy, product marketing, business development, selling across Europe or accessing additional funding. The company is based in London and works across Europe. For more details or to arrange a meeting with no obligation on you, visit their website.

  • Vincent Theobald-Vega

    Yes I completely agree.

    As a Consultant I seem to spend a large part of my time helping people to find their own solutions and getting off the nicely bated ‘hook’ that so many ‘have clipboard will travel’ merchants sell.

    If the consultant you are looking for will not give you free consultation to explain the approach then perhaps you should not deal with them.

    If they insist that you adopt their ‘system’ then they are probably not as good as they say – and are more interested in your cash than your success.

    All my services are 100% bespoke for the client – designed round their needs – for their business – for the business to manage and control. I will happily support any client over the long term, including with significant amounts of free advice if that is what they need. I also expect the same from the consultants that I use.

    In the long term – getting what you need (as opposed to what ‘they’ want to sell) is more effective, costs less, and gives you back the control for your business.

    • Stefano Maifreni | Eggcelerate

      You’re right, Vincent. Too many times those who come with an answer are looked at as knowledgeable and trustworthy – and most are. However, I’m more comfortable with people who ask questions first.

  • I have rated this article 5 star (a first for me). It speaks directly to the heart of proper consulting support and describes the journey that too many businesses take when they engage with the wrong advice and guidance. I have run a business management workshop for a group of consultants from different areas of business and I was stunned at their lack of basic knowledge.

    In the small business world the consultant’s journey is simple: know and understand your client; know and understand the business: know and understand the market they are in: work with the client to produce a model/programme that fits with the people and the business.

    Interlace this with a design; test; launch; review; redesign attitude and your client has a fighting chance.

    • Stefano Maifreni | Eggcelerate

      Thank you for the 5 stars!!! Unfortunately, what you describe means taking on a challenge many can’t. Or simply they don’t see the point, being focussed on the short term.

  • Mike Dean

    Couldn’t agree more with the sentiment of this article……I’ve been working with SME clients for the past ten years, having worked in senior roles in both clue chip and small cap plc businesses in a past life…..I call on experiences from all of that when working with clients today and am constantly amazed by the formulaic way ins which some consultants try to operate… in the clients world couldn’t be more important and building bespoke solutions is always key……

    • Stefano Maifreni | Eggcelerate

      Hello Mike, there so many “Cut & Paste” Consultants … !

  • Stefano Maifreni | Eggcelerate

    Thank you for your comments! This topic always generates interesting debates and some controversy! Glad you share our approach. Hope to see you at The Business Show later this week!