A fresh outlook, a second opinion, a critical friend: the case for business consultants


In some ways, running a small business is a lot like being a plate spinner, especially if you’re overseeing several projects. You’ll need excellent coordination and a watchful eye; otherwise you’ll end up with smashed chinaware. As you grow in confidence, you might seek to add more and more plates to the mix. At some point, you’ll require an extra pair of hands. Likewise, in business, there may come a time when you need additional help.

Depending on the objective, this additional help may take the form of a new employee. Where hiring someone full-time isn’t cost-effective, you might consider hiring a consultant on a short- to medium-term basis. They can help you augment your staffing requirements without the oncosts associated with recruitment. Consultants are also incredible useful in circumstances where you need a “critical friend” and someone with the expertise necessary to take the heat away from you as the decision maker.

The right consultant for the right job

Getting the right consultant means checking out what projects or work they have undertaken in the last two financial years. They should pitch themselves to you in the same way you pitch goods and services to your clientele. Remember that they have the rare privilege of serving a number of masters across the same sector, as well as dealing with the same types of problems from outsourcing to expansion. They bring with them a number of networks you may not have been able to penetrate or have had time to work within.

Part of the brief you present them should include a presentation on how they will approach your particular needs and requirements before you decide whether or not to hire them. You can check out their references and get a recent testimonial or two to follow up on, as well as talk to their previous hirers to see if they got value for money and a solution to their problem.

A really good consultant will work hard to get your business and go the extra mile by ensuring you get an outline SMART action plan of what they can offer, with no hidden extras and a timeline of reporting so you can monitor what they do, when they do it.

Scenarios where consultants can help

Here are some scenarios where your business could benefit from engaging a consultant:

  • You’re unable to focus on business growth because you’re too busy staying on top of general administrative tasks (e.g. completing taxes, managing payroll and handling website management). A consultant can support you with kick starting your outsourcing project or researching and resourcing new premises and staff, for example.
  • You find yourself in a situation where a job, while necessary, is either not your forte or you’re not up to the task. For example, you want to approach a lender or investor to help fund growth plans but lack the know-how to map out the financial strategies necessary to secure a loan or investment. Other examples include restructures, contract management or procurement, or negotiations with unions. A consultant with employment law and negotiation skills can set up and chair Joint Consultative Committees, draw up and oversee a tendering process or put together a sound financial plan and risk management strategy.
  • You want to review your offering or your operational management procedures to ensure your business remains viable but lack objectivity, find it difficult to make tough decisions or don’t know how to implement changes. Getting a consultant in to review operational strategy, implement a downsizing, or even look at redundancies means they can focus on getting this right and can take some of the heat away from you. They can also carry out a skills need analysis across the staffing structure, recommend relevant upskilling of staff you should be retaining, and identify those you can do without.
  • You’re launching a new line or service but don’t have the time to focus on the marketing, the networking or a specific launch. By engaging a consultant who has the right contacts and network, you tap into their little black book of addresses to build and foster business relationships while you get on with the day job.
  • Your focus has been more on getting more contracts in, rather than how you are going to deliver. Rather than disappoint customers or not fulfill orders, a consultant can review the “end process”, looking at a holistic staff management approach to help you work your way around the increased flow of supply and demand. Consultants can also offer up “what if” scenarios so that you can be prepared for unexpected changes, and this will form part of your risk management process.
  • You require a sounding board or a second opinion but don’t have anyone with business expertise to bounce ideas off. A consultant can serve as a “critical friend” whom you can talk through business decisions with, and who will pose intelligent and knowledgeable questions to get you thinking proactively.
So, do you need a business consultant?

Personally, I have found consultants to be very effective when it came to giving me a fresh outlook on my business. A different perspective is always welcome, particularly when you are in the same business every day and can sometimes be so stuck in a rut that you are unable to be view things objectively.

In the past, I have found consultants to be helpful when it came to cost cutting, business process streamlining and customer relationship management, but your business will have different needs. Make a list of what you want a business consultant to help you achieve, as that will be key in helping you to identify the right person to support you in the work you have in mind.


About the Author

Julie Pettett Numanoglu is the Managing Director of Brighton Panel Works in Melbourne, Australia, a company her father founded that specialises in the smash repair of prestige cars. Having literally grown up with the business, she has watched the company grow and understands all facets of it, from marketing to creditors and debtors, payroll, staff management and customer relations. More importantly, she has seen the changes that businesses undergo, and knows the importance of seeking help when she needs it.