Being a business owner is about so much more than merely “running a business.” What we do has a real impact on real people. And we can wield that influence in intentional ways.

We start with our teams. That gives us the opportunity to know them as people, not just as workers. We get to support them in their pursuits and help them come through difficulties. We get to help them succeed beyond the walls of our businesses. That goes a long way.

Now, speaking of your staff, perhaps you are in need of a consultant to help. We have thoughts.

The TCG Accounting Team’s
“Real World” Business Strategy Note
Hiring a Consultant 101
“Advice is like castor oil: easy enough to give but dreadful uneasy to take.” – Josh Billings

HR or IT getting complex and time-consuming for you alone? Suddenly what seemed to be an advertising no-brainer looks complicated? It’s only natural that as your company grows, functions that were once easy get too cumbersome. You may wonder about hiring a consultant. 

Finding the right one for your company, though, is like finding any other answer in business: It takes work. 

What they do and what you need

Consultants come in a lot of varieties and can help – or claim they can — in many areas of business. This ranges from advertising and marketing, to how to handle human resources needs to advising on real estate purchases, protecting data as a company grows… among many others. 

You can’t know what you need until you know what you need. Your first task is to resist flailing for help in all directions and pin down what problem you want to tackle. You need homework and questions.

Rather than simply saying you want a consultant to help with your advertising, first find out which services you want to advertise and which kinds of ads you want to run. You need tech help – but to install software, pick a server, or build a firewall? Do you need your consultant for one project or for semi-regular engagements over the long haul? 

The more specific, the better. 

What you can expect to pay

For all the above, your big determinants are your budget going in and projected ROI. Until you’ve tacked those down, don’t even Google the word “consultant …” 

Pricing is where consultants really get varied. Understand that this can only be just an overview of their rates, but it should give you a snapshot to start budgeting. 

Consultants can charge by the project or by a length of time, such as a day or an hour. Small-business consulting fees can range from the high two figures to more than a grand, sometimes much more. That breaks down to the low three figures per hour. Generally, the more technical or senior-level the expertise needed, the more expensive it’ll be. 

So how can you rein in costs yet still get the expertise you need? 

Some screening questions are the same as with any vendor. Is this a one-time consulting need? You’re better off with a fixed fee. Is the project ongoing, with repeated fine-tuning down the road? That’ll get you a lower fee than a one-time project, but you will have to pay the fee more often, so can you negotiate a volume discount? 

For figuring out a base price to start, check your business network for experience with consultants’ fees and for referrals. 

Who they should be

Unfortunately, this isn’t like hiring a tax preparer, plumber, doctor, or other professional who works under fixed and clear levels of certification. There are many certifications for consultants. But for your purposes, those titles don’t mean as much as finding someone with smarts concerning your company and with whom you just click. 

Common sense will tell you the qualities of a good consultant: ability to listen, learn and analyze. They’re calm, have objective judgment and the skills to document completely. They have insight and experience – maybe even on the expert level, though again this can cost you. They think strategically and have inductive reasoning. And, they have the ability to clearly communicate findings and recommendations so you can act on them. 

You might also need them to have a sharp eye for data or possess management or mediation skills – sales ability doesn’t hurt either.

When you’re screening candidates, bounce your problem off them directly. You can also give them hypothetical problems and ask for their judgment in ways to respond, much like you’d do with a job candidate. 

Ideally, you’re not the only one asking questions in the screening. A candidate should: 

  • Want to know specifics about what you want
  • Want to know what deliverables and ROI you expect to see and when
  • Give you pricing options – low to high, and length levels of service. 

Again, this is only an overview – your mileage may vary.

No small business makes it on its own – a lot goes into improving your bottom line. 

We’re here for you and your small business in all initiatives. Think of us as Consultant Number One. 

On your team,

The TCG Accounting Team