Why Hire a Consultant?

I was attending a Chamber of Commerce event the other evening and overhead an interesting conversation. One member was sharing with another how he had recently been approached by a consulting firm offering to help him with some operational challenges he was facing. He had turned them down, and was actually a little insulted that he’d been contacted. “After all,” I heard him tell his friend, “I know my business better than they do. How could they think they could help me?”
Not knowing either of these gentlemen, I resisted the impulse to join them and answer his question. As a marketing consultant it is not the first time I’ve encountered an owner who didn’t understand what it is that a consultant does, and the value they can bring to an enterprise. Let me suggest three characteristics of a good consulting relationship that this owner might have considered.
First, a consultant is able to look at your business from an unbiased viewpoint and ask the questions you are not asking. You may be so involved in the day to day management of your business that you don’t know the “macro” questions to ask…or maybe are afraid to ask them. Not an issue for the consultant, it’s the way they most quickly determine how to help you.
Related to this is the fact that, in most cases, the consultant will not know the day to day intricacies of your business. Nor does he/she want to. This is to your advantage as a business owner—the consultant is not biased before they get on site, but can follow their normal discovery methodology with an open mind and eye.
Second, a good marketing consultant gets to know your company both internally and externally. In my conversations with clients I call this the “inside reality and outside perception.” The inside reality is the value you bring to the marketplace: your product/service, people, systems, ability to anticipate customer wants and needs and develop your business to meet them. The outside perception is defined as the way your company is viewed by prospective customers as they encounter your advertising, marketing, and sales efforts.
This process of thoroughly understanding your company involves asking many question, and taking the line of inquiry two, three, or more levels deep. An owner or manager will definitely get different answers to these questions from employees, vendors, and customers than will a consultant.
Third, a good consultant is not looking for long term employment. What I mean by that is they will help you evaluate your business, identify challenges and opportunities, work with you to develop a plan, and then step back and let you implement at the pace you decide. It is not the consultant’s job to “fix” things, just help you see your business with new glasses; glasses that have been refitted with lenses that better reflect the viewpoints of those who make your company thrive: customers, employees, and vendors.
Had I interrupted the conversation at the Chamber meeting, that’s what I would have said. You know, maybe I should try to find out who that business owner was and send him this post.