Running a small business is demanding, as there's a lot of things you have to think about and many decisions you have to make. You can't possibly be an expert on everything. If your business is facing challenges outside your expertise, you might find it beneficial to bring in an outsider who can help you find solutions.
A consultant with specialized knowledge can help small business owners meet goals and deal with complications. Here's what to keep in mind when looking for great consulting services that can help your business conquer problems and run more efficiently.
What Is a Small Business Consultant?
A small business consultant is someone who has expertise in a specific area of business. Typically, they're hired on a contract basis to help companies with particular issues, like increasing sales or handling legal affairs.
These contracted professionals can work in fields like marketing, human resources, project management, and financial services. The right consultant can be a huge asset when looking to improve a portion of your operations. All types of companies can benefit from business consulting, from retail agencies and health care companies to automotive shops and nonprofits.
What Do Small Business Consultants Do?
Business consulting services make suggestions for your organization. As your company operates, you might run into problems your staff doesn't know how to solve. You may also want to do things like expand your business into new markets.
Let's say your e-commerce company is trying to raise its sales. You could hire a digital marketing consultant to help get the job done. They would collect user data from your website to see things like where a high percentage of users leave your site and which of your items are requested most to create a marketing plan for your website.
The business consulting firm would then share a report of their findings. The report could suggest using things like customer relationship management (CRM) software, search engine optimization (SEO) strategies, or public relations (PR) campaigns in your company's marketing strategy.
While consultants help with strategic planning for your business, they don't do the actual work of implementing their advice. It's still up to your team to execute changes and upgrades.
Tips to Find the Right Small Business Consultant for You
There are several things you should consider when picking a consultant for your new business. Different consultancy firms have different areas and levels of expertise. They'll also vary greatly by size and reputation.
If you're going to find the right one for your business, you'll have to get clear on your needs, research your options, and evaluate your choices effectively. In the next few sections, we'll go over some tips to help you seek out the right consultant for your company.
Find a Consultant With Experience in Your Industry
Your consultant should specialize, or at least have some experience, in your industry. A consultant without experience in your field might not be able to understand processes that are unique to it.
Let's say you're looking for project management consulting to help your development team operate more efficiently. A consultant who specializes in software will be familiar with project management methodologies like DevOps that are unique to software development.
Do a search to find possible candidates in your industry. You can also ask your business network for referrals and recommendations of consultants they've worked with in the past. Make a list of several possible choices.
Understand What You Want Consulting Help With
Get clear on your needs. Understand the issues you need addressed or the goals you want to meet so that you can communicate your objectives transparently. The more detailed and specific your goals are, the easier it will be for potential consultants to show how they can meet your needs.
When you have your objectives mapped out, revisit your list of candidates to determine which ones can best fit the bill. Narrow down your list to a few candidates (ideally five or less), and reach out to each one for a phone or in-person interview. In the interview, you can ask questions like the ones below:
- What experience do you have in this industry?
- How have you been successful working with teams?
- Who are the members of your team (if they work for a firm)?
- What certifications do you have?
- How do you solve problems and get results?
- Who's on your client list?
- How many years of experience do you have?
- Do you have references?
- How do you charge (pricing structure)?
After you've conducted interviews, you may still have two or three candidates you're interested in hiring. Create a request for proposals (RFP). An RFP will outline the scope of the particular project or goal that you need consulting with. Send your RPF to your remaining candidates. They'll send back a bid on your project. Here are a few things an RFP should include:
- An overall description of your project
- Goals and objectives you have for the consultant
- How you want the consultant to report (e.g., in person, in writing, during presentations) and what supporting documents you'll need (e.g., graphs, charts, spreadsheets, etc.)
- An itinerary with start dates and due dates
- How you'll choose the right consultant (criteria)
- A sample contract for the consultant
Research the Consultant's Portfolio, Testimonials, etc.
Be sure to get some examples of your potential consultant's past experience. Ask for work samples, references, and testimonials that show their success in dealing with issues similar to your own. Make sure to call all of their references and ask penetrating questions, such as:
- Were you content with the consultant's performance?
- Did you have any complications working with the consultant?
- Would you work with the consultant again?
- Can I see the consultant's reports or work?
Try to reach clients who aren't listed as references, if possible. They might be able to give you a more accurate picture of how the consultant operates. You can also see if the consultant has reviews listed on Google, Yelp, or any social media pages.
Some other things you should take into account are how long a consultant's client list is and how much work experience they have. A consultant with a long record of projects and a strong reputation will be more likely to be reliable.
Understand the Consultant's Pricing Structure
When you've decided on a price you're willing to spend, communicate it clearly to your potential consultant. Make sure you understand their payment terms and that they're within your budget.
There are a few ways that consultants might charge. Some charge by the hour, while others charge a flat rate for a project. There are also consultants who will charge a flat rate for a project within a specific scope but will charge hourly if the project goes outside the scope or timeline.
If a consultant is slightly outside of your budget, you might be able to negotiate prices or the scope of your project with them. As you speak with applicants, you may even realize that your budget needs to be adjusted. Expert consultants might be able to identify project costs you've missed or might not be aware of.
Keep Your Small Business Finances on Track With Skynova
Small business consulting can be a powerful business development tool. To get the maximum benefit from it, you need to hire the right consulting firm for your own business. If you clearly identify your business needs, research your options, and thoroughly vet candidates, you'll find a great consultant with the skills to help take your company to the next level.
Whatever your business model is, you want to spend more time working on it and less time handling accounting and administrative tasks. With Skynova's accounting software, you can minimize the time and effort you spend doing things like tracking your expenses and keeping up with your tax requirements.
See how Skynova can save you time and make the bookkeeping and business processes for your startup a lot less complicated so that you can focus on building your business and making money.
Notice to the Reader
The advice in this guide is meant to be a broad overview of what to look for in a consultant. It may not be appropriate for your particular circumstances. Before making any big decision with your business, you should seek the advice of a trained professional.