'How do I choose the right small business consultant?' can be a very difficult question for any business owner. But the first question we need to answer is why would they need one in the first place?
Running any business is difficult these days, from retail to manufacturing and anywhere in-between, the number of rules and regulations to comply with seems to be growing by the week. From health and safety to employment law, if you're not on top of everything, you stand to take a very big fall when things go wrong. In addition, you might well know how to carry out the main aspects of your business, but are you getting the maximum benefit from your marketing? Are you managing your business data and records well and benefiting from the information they contain? Are you concentrating your efforts on the customers who actually generate profit instead of just increasing your turnover? A good small business consultant should be able to take away the difficulties of running a business, allow you to concentrate on the things you do well and ultimately increase the turnover, profit and efficiency of your business.
So how do I choose a good small business consultant?
Unfortunately, there's no magic formula to choosing a small business consultant, but the first thing you need to decide is 'What do I want to achieve?' Some consultants specialise in one particular area - marketing, health and safety, human resources, management systems, web design, etc - while others offer a complete package of consultancy so that you only need to deal with one company. Narrowing down your requirements should allow you to focus on a handful of companies, either locally or nationally, who look to be able to handle the work you require.
Once you have a specific target in mind, make contact with the companies that you've shortlisted and ask them about what they can do to fulfil your requirements and what the likely cost will be. Also, and very importantly, ask them for the contact details of companies for whom they have done similar work for in the past - any small business consultancy that isn't willing to do this, should be taken off your shortlist. Speak to the past clients to get an idea of how well things went, were objectives met, etc to build up a picture of the consultants you're looking to deal with. Check out the credentials the small business consultant has - are they a member of any professional bodies who can verify their abilities, do they have the correct insurance in place for the work you want them to do - basically, iron out any doubts you have over the professionalism of their company and the work they do.
Hopefully, you've now narrowed the choice down to one or two possibilities. This is the stage to write a clear description of what you want to achieve (not how you want them to achieve it) and ask the new shortlisted small business consultants to propose how they will achieve your goals, exactly how much it will cost and what comeback there will be if they can't achieve what you want. Armed with all of the facts and figures, the final choice is really just down to personal feeling; assuming the answers and costs are fairly similar - choose the right small business consultant to work with and it should be the best thing that has ever happened to your business.