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How to find the right consultant.

Many times the result of a consultant's efforts to acquire a new client starts off with a few jokes about consulting, a nice presentation, brain picking, general conversation and ends with the potential client switching back to whatever he was doing before.

This regression may be less the result of disinterested clients, but rather the consulting profession as a whole for not providing prospective clients with the tools and knowledge needed to evaluate the credentials and experience of the the consultant.

We should first have an understanding of the role of the consultant. For those who have never utilized consulting services before some key points to consider are:

1. The consultant should have specialized skills and current knowledge.

2. The services of a consultant should be contracted to fill a short term specific need in an organization.

3. The consultant should be constantly developing and maintaining a multi-client base.

4. The consultant should prescribe to the highest ethical standards.

5. The consultant should be an excellent source for objective information on how to improve people and systems, particularly during tough economic times.

It is a fact that consulting is not a difficult profession to get into. As a matter of fact, try saying "I am a consultant" to someone close by. First, welcome to the club, and second, you probably got a puzzled or amused look.

The simplicity of entering the consulting profession has necessitated certain standards of measurement in order that managers find the best consultant for their organization. These measurements can be summarized into two categories: preparations and indicators.

The following process can help you quickly evaluate a potential consultant:

Preparations

1. Have you completed your own "Needs Analysis" which demonstrated that outside expertise was required to advance your company's objectives, or solve a problem? Taking the time to know your needs in advance will assist both you, and the consultant, in determining if there is a fit.

2. If you are of an open mind and will allow the consultant time to prove he can assist you, you should have a checklist of "Facts, Variables and Assumptions" provided to the consultant in order that a thorough consulting services proposal can be developed. How the consultant acquires good insight into his work and methodologies.

Indicators

1. Can the consultant describe his or her services to you in ten words or less? The inability to quickly detail services could demonstrate unfocused efforts and possibly a propensity to take longer to achieve specific objectives.

2. Where did the contact originate? For example, was it a cold call, which provides no information, or a referral from an associate? Cold calls show initiative but require a thorough checklist from you while a referral is a strong indication of past quality services and results.

3. Check references, particularly the most recent project the consultant worked on.

4. What does the consultant's personal presentation say? There is a strong correlation between good communication skills and attitude with the quality of the services you will ultimately receive.

5. What professional organizations does the consultant belong to? If the consultant demonstrates that it is important to keep up with new developments in his profession and business in general, then the same thoroughness should flow into services provided. 6. What is the consultants experience as it pertains to your particular needs? Education is important, but not nearly as important as the cumulative hands-on experience the consultant has acquired in his chosen field of expertise.

In summary, the methods described here will greatly assist you in the process of locating a good consultant. There also has to be a comfortable "feel" about the consultant. You may have to work closely with him for an intense period of time, so you should feel comfortable about the prospect.

Consultants can be an extremely valuable management tool. They can fulfill short-term needs without the cost and administrative problems involved in hiring a fulltime person.

By evaluating the consultant correctly, ensuring good communications and working together to meet project objectives, you as a manager will be managing well with a strong resource at your side.

Kevin Hood is an independent consultant specializing in organizational review, feasibility studies and business plans. He is also the Founder and current President of the Association of Independent Consultants in Canada.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Canadian Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Hood, Kevin
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Mar 22, 1991
Words:714
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