A good consultant is easy to find, if you follow these steps.
From time-to-time, you may need to find a consultant to help you with your business. Sometimes, those needs are high level, like setting strategies or marketing plans. And other times, those needs are more point solutions, like a pro in search engine optimization or product sourcing. Whatever your need may be, there is most likely a consultant out there that is immediately available to help you. The problem is finding them. This post will tell you how best to fill your consulting needs.
1. Be Clear on the Expertise You Are Looking For
Not all consultants are created equal. A business generalist will not have the depth of a domain expert, as an example. But on the flipside, maybe your business problems are so broad, that a jack-of-all-trades is well equipped to point you in the right direction to start, to then dig deeper with a different pro on that specific topic, once it is identified. And consultants that are well versed in solutions for enterprise scale companies, are most likely not the right consultants to help early stage startups, with much lower budgets. So, be very clear on exactly what is needed for your specific pain point and company size, and focus there during your consultant interview process.
2. Decide Length, Depth and Location of Engagement
Now you need to decide how long you think this consultant will be with you, and whether it is a full-time problem or a part-time problem. Some consultants prefer bigger, longer, full-time assignments. And other consultants prefer smaller, shorter, part-time assignments. So, depending on what your business need is, will dictate what type of consultant you will need, and more importantly, where to look for them. You will also need to decide if the work needs to be done on-site, in your office, or if the work can be done virtually from the consultant’s office. The advantage of virtual consultants: it opens up the world of potential talent to you, instead of simply finding someone willing to work in your home market. That said, some work simply needs to be done in the office working hand-in-hand with your team, for efficiency sake.
3. Leverage Your Networks
Like when hiring employees for your business, it is always best to start with someone you know and trust. If not for the work itself, for the introductions to potential consultants for you. So, maybe send an email to your fellow business colleagues or fellow CEO’s, asking if they have run into the same problem in the past, and if they are aware of any experts on that particular topic. Having that “stamp of approval” from someone you trust that has worked with the consultant in the past, should increase the odds of a successful outcome from the project.
4. Leverage Consulting Marketplaces
There are several websites out there that have built marketplaces to find consultants by topic, budget and location. Those include companies like Catalant (US focus), Graphite (US focus), Business Talent Group (US Focus), Talmix (EU focus) and Expert 360 (AU focus) where you can post your exact needs, and experts will bid their expertise and costs for you to choose from. LinkedIn also has a solution here called Pro Finder, but it is not as big as the other sites listed here, in terms of activity on that site. There are also sites like GLG and Coleman, where they have a network of thousands of specific domain experts, that you can get on the phone for an hour of their time, typically focused on enterprise scale companies. So, consider posting your needs on these sites and see how it goes.
5. Leverage Social Media
Social media is also a good place to look. Most people on LinkedIn have been recommended by their peers as experts on specific topics. For example, my LinkedIn network has tagged me as an expert in startups, entrepreneurship, business development, e-commerce, online marketing and venture capital, to name a few. So, search for people with the keyword topics you need to solve your pain point, and ask them to point you in the right direction. Someone with 99+ recommendations around the key term “fundraising”, is probably a pretty good fundraiser. Same thing on Twitter. Many people on Twitter add hashtags to their profile description with skills that they want to be known for, so search for those Twitter users (e.g., #BusinessCoach). The problem with Twitter vs. LinkedIn, in Twitter’s case, people are attaching tags to themselves, so you don’t really know if they are really a pro on that topic, or not. Whereas on LinkedIn, the tags have been made by third party individuals, which adds materially more credibility to their expertise.
6. Leverage Freelancer Marketplaces
If you are looking for very specific point solutions, the freelancer websites could be the way to go. For example, the other day I needed an expert on the cloud ERP technology Odoo, and I went to freelancer sites like Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, or Guru, where you can type in keywords of what you need, and their search engine will bring back the various talent in their database that should fit the bill. There are many other freelancer communities based on your specific skillset needed, but the ones I listed above are the big one-stop portal sites that have a little bit of everything. What I like about the freelancer sites, is you can see how busy/engaged these freelance consultants have been to date, and what their past client reviews have been. So, again, the importance of third party validation to make sure you are making a smart engagement.
7. Decide Between Consultant Firms or Individuals
Most of the above is talking about finding specific individuals that can help you with your consulting needs. You could also consider engaging consulting firms that specialize in your particular pain point. And, no not the big firms like McKinsey, Bain or BCG, as they work on huge budget projects for huge enterprise companies. I am talking about the boutique firms you never heard of, like Maddock Douglas, whose expertise is around business innovation and are willing to work with early stage businesses in their target industries. You can throw Red Rocket in this bucket for your growth strategy needs. So, do a little digging on Google (e.g., “Chicago Brand Strategy Firm”) and see what you stumble on in the Google results. Then, ask to speak to their references before engaging them.
Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding around how to find a consultant for your business and your specific pain point. It is very important you do your homework on that person or firm, to make sure they are the right person to solve your exact situation. The worst thing you can do is try to force a square peg into a circular hole, as all that will do is result in you wasting valuable time, energy and money to only end up in exactly the same place you started . . . stumped!!
George Deeb is a Partner at Red Rocket Ventures and author of 101 Startup Lessons-An Entrepreneur’s Handbook. For future posts from George, please follow him here or on Twitter at @georgedeeb or @redrocketvc.