5 Tips For Getting What You Need From A Consultant

by Diana Ecker on August 25, 2014

consulting-postThinking about working with a consultant? Even when everyone is excited to work together, there are assumptions and emotions that can get in the way. The key is to identify and deal with them — before the process even begins! These 5 tips can help you do just that.

1. First, make sure: Is now the right time for you?

Timing is everything! If you’re engaging a consultant to help you grow your customer base, remember: growth brings new challenges.

If you feel unprepared to deal with the effects of growth or broader exposure, you may find yourself resisting progress without even realizing it. I’ve seen clients do this before. On a practical level, if you don’t have the resources to deal with an increase in customers, for instance, it might make more sense to focus on that first.

It’s also helpful to take a look at the calendar. Do you have significant life events, family demands, or major travel coming up? Then maybe now is not the time. (But if your schedule’s looking good and you’re ready to grow…keep reading!)

2. If your budget is an issue, prioritize — and be transparent.

Be focused and flexible: “Hey, we’re a pre-funding startup and things are a little tight. But we want to work with you. Here are the top questions we’re hoping to answer. Here’s our budget. Is there some way we could work together?”

This enables the consultant to think strategically about how to answer those questions. Maybe there’s a streamlined process that would provide useful answers to your most vital questions, while deferring the less urgent ones. Or maybe he or she can make a referral that would be a good fit.

Often early-stage startups are curious: why not just ask for a reduced rate? Because ultimately, it won’t benefit you. You want to be on the same level as all of their other clients, set the stage for productive collaborations in the future, and remove any potential distractions. Prioritizing and being transparent help you create a foundation for clear, productive communication.

3. Be realistic about your available bandwidth.

It’s easy (and fun!) to get caught up in someone else’s enthusiasm and become enchanted by a grand vision: “And then you can totally redo your site from scratch — and add this feature and that feature — it’ll be amazing!”

If you don’t have the bandwidth to take on a massive site overhaul, it’s helpful to know that from the start. Ultimately, you’ll need to think carefully about how much time and energy you can allocate.

The recommendations you receive from a consultant are supposed to be genuinely useful. Help make that possible by being up front about the time and energy that are available for implementing them.

4. Think about how you best process information.

One client I’ve worked with was a talented designer. When we discussed how I’d be communicating results to her, my first suggestion was a multi-page report with everything explained in detail.

She pondered for a moment and then said, “You know, I’m a visual person and it’s helpful for me to be able to see what you mean. Can we use a more visual format instead?”

Absolutely! I was glad to accommodate her request. In fact, I was especially happy to know that this format would make it easier for her to process the main points and act on them. And she was glad to know that the results would be in a format that would be useful for her.

5. Identify a clear goal — but not only for the reason you may think.

A clear goal is very useful in measuring progress or the outcome of the engagement. But there’s another excellent reason to identify a specific goal: it helps you to manage your emotions as new discoveries and insights emerge.

For instance, maybe you find out that the language on your home page is actually alienating the exact people you hoped to attract. Augh! This can be a painful realization, especially if you’re attached to that wording.

But if your goal is to increase the number of people who click through to the next page instead of skimming and bouncing off, this realization is actually fantastic — because it brings you one step closer to meeting your goal.

Photo by Viktor Hanacek via Picjumbo

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