The pressures that small and medium-sized business owners face can be intense. Starting, taking over, or learning to manage a business is hard enough as it is, but such owners also often find themselves having to play the roles of VP Finance, Head of HR, Director of Sales, Marketing Specialist, and many more, all at once. With so many hats to wear, small business owners can quickly run out of capacity, and mental strength as well. In fact, having no time to “do it all” is one of the top stresses of small business owners, according to Forbes Magazine.
For businesses small, medium, or large, hiring a consultant can be a huge time-saver, and a real asset to growth, while removing direct pressure from business owners.
Consultants can provide expertise and an objective eye to help guide a business, with different consultants specializing in various industries and areas.
Hiring a Business Consultant: What are the Benefits?
Consultants work closely with business owners and managers to help identify challenges, offer advice, and propose practical solutions. You might think of consultants as doctors, who diagnose the problem and prescribe a remedy that alleviates pain.
In fact, according to Harvard Business School, consultants are fundamental in disseminating innovation and new knowledge within their industries.
Benefits of Hiring a Business Consultant
The main values of consultants include their knowledge, expert skills, and influence. Because consultants work with a variety of businesses, they may have a much broader and deeper knowledge of business trends, industry challenges, and new technologies and processes.
When you hire a consultant, you pay only for the services that you need, when you need them. This can provide substantial savings over hiring a salaried employee, with the same level of expertise, to complete similar tasks.
Further, consultants in multiple areas—lean manufacturing, proactive funding, financial planning, etc.—can identify areas where you are currently spending more than you need to, and help you cut costs.
The experience of consultants means that they know best practices already. For example, a lean consultant can look at a client’s manufacturing process and very quickly identify inefficiencies.
Consultants provide a useful distance from business challenges. They are not emotionally invested in operations in the same way that business owners are, and they can more easily identify and address challenges.
The consultant’s objectivity can be especially important in family-run businesses, where dynamics could be emotional and core problems more difficult to discuss.
Consultants do not offer a one-size-fits-all solution. Their value comes in learning about each client’s business and goals, and tailoring advice and strategy consulting to the specific challenges that the business faces.
This customization means that a consultant’s solutions are much more effective than generic advisory services. For example, a government grant consultant can select funding programs for which your business is clearly eligible and has the greatest chance of success.
Unsure about Hiring a Business Consultant?
Despite the benefits of business consulting services, some business owners may be wary of engaging them. Researcher Lance Lindon has complained that consultants “would borrow our watch to tell us what time it is.” That is, some business owners may feel that consultants cannot tell them anything that they don’t already know. Other business owners and managers may reject consultants out of a discomfort with sharing the business’s problems with an outsider.
Choosing the Right Consultant
Select a consultant with a proven record of results. You might speak to other business owners and managers in your circle and see if you can get a recommendation.
You can also dig into the backgrounds of potential consultants through their websites and social media sites. Who have consultants worked for and what is their educational background? How long have they been in business? Such information will help ensure that your chosen consultant is a qualified expert who will provide concrete results.
As well, in choosing your consultant, remember that the best consultants meet both the technical and psychological needs of their clients.
For example, your government funding consultants should not only understand funding programs, but possess sharp project management abilities; your ideal IT consultant should not only have a deep understanding of the relevant hardware and software, but also possess excellent communication skills.
The Journal of International Management Studies identifies the following additional key soft skills for consultants:
- Capacity to cognitively collect, synthesize, and analyze information about a business
- Empathy for the client’s situation
- Discretion about the client’s operations
- Adaptation to the client’s readiness for change and available resources
- Ability to “read” the client’s environment and fit in
Consultants should understand your motives for engaging them and should approach the consulting work as a partnership. Development of this partnership can be the key to a business owner saving time ,money and reducing stress.