By Stewart Brannen

In any business environment, on any given day, there are problems that need timely resolution, so they don’t snowball into larger problems. Many even could have been prevented in the first place. Oftentimes, however, a business owner will try and do it ALL themselves and find that that they are barely making any headway as it relates to their particular situation. Generally speaking, a business owner may find themselves so far into the forest that seeing the trees becomes an exercise of blurry visions and unconscious assumptions: their problem self-perpetuates and never gets resolved.

In this article, I will touch upon what to look for when selecting a consultant so that the trees become much easier to recognize. This will result in a greater sense of relief for whatever entanglements a business owner might be in.

First things first – make sure you know what the problem is and the type of expertise that you are looking for! This is important, because making an appointment with a dentist about an eye problem is clearly not a good understanding of a problem – is it? Typically, most businesses have issues that fall broadly within these types of categories:

  • Money and Finance
  • Marketing and Sales
  • Management and Human Resources
  • Information Technology and Computers
  • Legal

Any one of these areas can require a subject matter expert (SME) to provide the right sort of analysis and feedback for the situation upfront. A good way to find the right consultant is to talk to peers in the industry and ask them who they turned towards for help when in need. Personally, I like to work at the speed of trust. Finding a consultant that is both trustworthy and who can provide the right answers that are being sought after can be worth her/his weight in gold. To do this, though, verify with your peer source and consultant that they have the necessary experience and have done this sort of work before – then ask for and check references. I can’t emphasize this enough, and it will go a long way in sorting out the type of consulting expertise that is needed.

Here’s an example: On a month-to-month basis, a company may be experiencing a cash flow problem that might stem from a variety of causes. It could be a simple bookkeeping error or accounting issue. It could be an accounts payable or receivable problem. Or, it could be a deeper systemic customer marketing problem related to a jaded or costly marketing strategy that is not working. Then again, it could be something entirely different or hidden. The key to build on from here is to try and generate as much knowledge as possible about the situation. When selecting a consultant, the owner can then zero in on the type of expertise necessary and walk through with the consultant what their strategy and approach would be to resolve it. It’s the double whammy approach to doing the detective work up front and sharing the findings with Sherlock Holmes afterwards. Let Sherlock take it from there!

This brings up the next important point of “Scope of Work.” It is always a good thing and necessary practice to put in writing what the consultant will do, the time it will take them and the price that will be paid for the services provided. When considering a consultant, all three of these will importantly come together because it will soberly crystalize what’s needed, the time it will take and how much it will cost. When all three are evaluated, the nitty-gritty of the situation becomes much more apparent and you will have a sense of what you are looking at.

To bring this together – select a consultant that has the expertise to work through the situation with you, can be trusted and is affordable. A good consultant will tell you what you already know, but the RIGHT consultant will tell you what you don’t know and what you need to do because of it. Remember, there is one thing that transcends common sense and it is good sense. Good sense is exactly what you need when you can’t see the forest for the trees. In certain situations, a specialist (like an accountant or attorney) can provide you with what you are looking for, but in most situations, a generalist will have much more options to draw from. It’s precisely a consultant’s own resources and networks that can oftentimes lead to a much stronger and timelier solution. Onwards!