We are often approached by business consultants to assist in an area of our business. Of course, we enjoy meeting with them and learning about their offerings. However, we have to weigh the cost and the value of their services with what we could manage on our own.
Here are some of the filters we use:
- Can I absorb this project using existing staff?
- Are they offering skills that we don’t currently have?
- Do we have the skills but lack the bandwidth?
- Is this the most important place for me to focus my dollars and energy right now?
- Will they provide a turnkey product or do I also have work to do? How do I factor that in to my budget for this effort?
Over the years, we’ve hired experts to help us hone the sales process. One thing I have learned is that if we don’t lay the groundwork for this outside support, it can be a total waste of money and time. We gathered material in advance to educate the consultant about our current process. We provided data about the length of the sales cycle and how we work through it. The consultant put together a fun and informative day of exercises for us to do as a group. And, at the end of the day, we went back to doing things the way we had always done them. We didn’t have the buy-in and we had too many “urgent” pulls on our attention to fully implement the suggestions.
We’ve also hired advertising and marketing agencies from time to time to assist in branding and messaging. This is not our area of expertise and we need professionals who challenge our thinking to get to the core of the message we are trying to present. Otherwise, we are out there trying to be all things to all people with no differentiation. One insight has been to be clear on whether we are at a point of thinking strategically and we want them to start with mission/vision and high level thinking. Sometimes we are at a tactical point where we are trying to target a particular group, fill seats at an event, or introduce a new product or service. In those cases, we have to be clear about the scope so they don’t start at the beginning every time.
For day-to-day communications, we can handle our own writing demands. For the website or a more extensive project such as my book, American Fathers, we’ve engaged professional writers who can provide consistent style and theme. For the book, I needed someone who could help flesh out the characters and the story arc. This may have been a contributing factor in being picked up by a New York publisher.
There are certain market segments and industry sectors that use social media effectively. For my business, it’s a bit cumbersome as the posts have to pass by our compliance department, thus reducing the timeliness of the posts or responses. For me personally, I just don’t have the passion for becoming an expert in social media and have chosen to hire outside support for keeping us current. I would recommend Michael Hyatt’s excellent book, Platform-Get noticed in a noisy world as a good reference.
Here are some ways that you might evaluate the use of a consultant vs. keeping the project in-house:
Criteria: What problem are we trying to solve?
Budget: How many dollars are we willing to allocate? Is the consultant providing a turnkey project or will you have additional work to fully execute their recommendations? This can impact the time and the expense of roll-out.
Time frame: When do we need the solution? When would it be realistic to expect a payoff or process improvement?
Desired results: What best describes the desired outcome? Where are we trying to go? Do we have the skills on our existing team?
Return on investment: Emotions can play a part here. Is this a brainchild of yours that you really want to push forward on? If so, you probably are less concerned about the payoff. If it’s a “must-do” such as upgrading your website or your IT system, then you may not have a choice. I like to look for at least double to 3 times my investment in terms of return on a project.
Amount of time and energy staff can commit to the project: This is the BIG one! We have a finite amount of time to accomplish the urgent, the important, and the required. As a side note, some companies are recognizing that they can’t realistically expect their employees to be available to answer email and calls 24/7. In our firm we don’t call after hours as a rule; only if there’s something urgent or changed for the following morning. If your staff is already “maxed” out with these three priorities, how much will they be willing to devote to the new project?
People can sabotage projects simply by ignoring them. They can procrastinate and let other items slip in front of your request. We once had a staffer who really liked to organize files and order supplies. She could let lots of things slide in order to do the ones she enjoyed.
If your team does not emotionally buy in to your project, the potential of success diminishes exponentially. If a person feels threatened by the new initiative or is simply resistant to change, it can help to meet with them in advance of the introduction to help pave the way. On the flip side, team buy-in can raise the prospects for success.
I hope these short reflections help stimulate your thinking through your next consultant vs. in-house opportunity. Taking a disciplined step-by-step approach helps us. May this be true for you.