Can a Business Consultant Make a Difference in Your Company’s Success?

A business consultant has many roles and can help an old company re-new itself and find itself again; help founders start and develop a new venture or project; help to turn around a company fraught with problems; help a company identify new opportunities and markets; or help a company develop a business success plan.

A good business consultant has experience working in and with a broad range of businesses. An experienced business consultant has broad and narrow stroke experience and typically, twenty years or more of accumulated business experience. Having an MBA from a good business school isn’t enough. The consultant must have solid real world experience with many types of companies to be an effective consultant.

So what does a business consultant do? First and foremost, a consultant gets to know and understand your business. As the business owner, you know more about your business than anyone else. For this reason, a good business consultant will take the time to learn from you, your department heads and key employees the ins and outs of your business.

The consultant then goes to work identifying problems and opportunities. Those may be certain problems and opportunities you point out to the consultant, but also a good consultant will have a process to identify problems and opportunities which a business owner has not identified. A consultant brings fresh eyes, fresh experience and an open mind to your business enterprise, providing a completely different perspective than that of someone who has been running the company for some time or someone looking to start a new venture.

A business consultant will then analyze this gathered information in order to provide solid solutions and plans for the future. Often business ownership is so focused on working “in” the business that short term and long term outlooks and strategies are overlooked and neglected. The consultant re-focuses a company’s strategies in order to solve immediate problems, while taking advantage of future opportunities. Steps taken in a good consulting process include: learn about the business; identify problems; identify future opportunities; perform analysis; provide solutions through a concrete plan; listen to feedback and adjust the plan; and implement and track the plan.

The consultant considers all company input to develop a business plan that will be effective. The consultant listens to the opinions of the company’s advisors (accountants, lawyers, bankers and other advisers). The consultant can use Delphi sessions and red teams which contain industry experts and competitive viewpoints. The consultant also listens carefully to the view points of the company’s ownership, founders, board, top management and key employees. A final business plan is agreed upon and signed off on by the company with the consultant helping to implement, track and re-work the plan as necessary over time.

When an entrepreneur is thinking about starting up a new business, a business consultant can apply a start-up analysis to determine if it is a feasible opportunity, which includes: analyze and evaluate the opportunity; develop a business strategy and model; resource audit; acquiring and leveraging needed resources; venture deployment; and getting and distributing value.

When considering an existing business acquisition, a business consultant can employ an business analysis, such as: products and services analysis; management team appraisal; operational analysis; market position; competitive factors; SWOT analysis; analyze financials; valuations; and risk assessment.

A business consultant’s derived value pays for itself. What you pay in fees for a good consultant will pale in comparison to the profitability the consultant’s strategies will create. A business consultant is an investment in the future success of your company.

How to Make Small Business Consulting Profitable

For a beginning, let’s ask ourselves the question: Is small business consulting profitable? The answer would be a resounding “Yes,” from all corners of the world. So, why are you unable to make it work, and in the process help small consulting with your unique experience and approaches?

You are a business consultant, not the direct worker

The most common mix-up faced by small consultants is that rather than remaining as business advisors, they end up as direct service providers. They end up handling the major workload of the business process where they were expected only to provide advice, and the client ends up with a steep bill. In place of mutual satisfaction, you now have mutual dissatisfaction. The results are unwelcome on both sides – but they happen all too often, where in small business consulting, the consultant fails to maintain the position of a consultant.

There are three possible outcomes in such situations – the client pays up and remains upset with you, the client doesn’t pay your bills and you are upset with the client, or both parties reach an unhappy compromise.

After a few such mix-ups, you become convinced that there is no profitability in consulting. But you know, that’s not true. The reality is your approach needs to be transparent and needs to change case by case.

In certain cases, time-schedule, lack of resources on part of the client, or other exigencies may call for you to provide most of the work as a direct service provider. But in such cases, the client needs to understand from the very beginning that the instant situation needs a service provider with your experience, more than it needs power of consulting. The client needs to have a clear idea of the bills that may be chalked up if you were providing direct service, or the client is free to hire another direct service provider, to save the day. Even providing that little advice is sufficient for you to bill as a consultant, because the client was unable to recognize the situation. What you are doing is business consulting, and not creating a fallible situation.

Why small business consulting mix-ups happen with such regularity

The oldest and most traditional businesses in providing consulting have traditionally modeled themselves as consultant-cum-service providers, take for example, law firms, or Accountant firms. Each of these sectors are used to clients coming to them at the last moment or when the situation is precarious for them, and according to the laws of maximizing business opportunities, they have set up systems to provide service alternatives ready at hand. In fact, in many such traditional firms, service delivery starts first, and then it turns to consulting.

However, in the era of information technology, the number of alternatives available even to small one are hundred times more than the time when CPAs or law firms began establishing their business models. Consequently, with the availability of greater choice of service providers, and ability to compare between alternatives, the chances of client dissatisfaction multiply. This is why, in today’s consulting, it is sufficient to point out the necessity of direct service delivery to a client, without embroiling yourself, or pushing your own agenda of direct service.

In a globalized service providing market, you can never outbid the “I’m cheaper than you can ever be” brigade, and don’t even think of that. To make small business consulting profitable, stick to your guns and be a consultant primarily, and act as direct service provider only when the client asks you, and only when you can afford to do so at the client’s rates.

5 Things to Consider While Choosing Right Business Consulting Experts

There are many factors to consider while choosing the right business consulting experts. Variables such as reputation, price and background come to mind. Often, non-obvious factors can enlighten your understanding and help in your business consulting search process. Business consulting experts are part knowledge providers and part sales people. At times, it is difficult to separate the sales from the expertise.

The first thing to consider while choosing a business consulting expert is their client outcomes. They should have very measurable client outcomes such as increased profit, increased revenue growth, upgraded financial reporting etc. that should be top of mind discussion points for them. These outcomes should be easily available to the business consulting expert and he should be able to share them with you. Second, a business consulting expert should have a unique background in a variety of different corporate environments.

The best consultants have been involved at big corporations, small entrepreneurial companies and everything in between. They have seen the same issues such as information weaknesses, management team weaknesses and lack of clarity on planning, played out in a number of different settings. This gives them an intuitive ability to see your shortcomings as an organization. Thirdly, often the best consulting experts have a vision for where your business should be going, due to their understanding of best practices and business trends. Often, businesses over time become inwardly focused and disengage from the outside world.

This lack of connection can result in a business not keeping up with the latest management approach, technology trend or marketing strategy. They lose their ability to change and to try new things. A quality business consulting expert will have his finger on the pulse of where your company is in its growth lifecycle and where it should be heading. They will lay out a vision of business development or management organization that may challenge your current thinking. It may sound outrageous or completely unattainable, yet true business consulting experts will challenge your preconceived notions about the status quo. They have exposure to those companies on the cutting edge and can help you understand what your business needs to do to get there. Fourth, quality business consulting experts will have pragmatic ideas for implementation. Lasting change is dependent on implementing a permanent long term solution.

Mere theoretical talking points do little in the way of providing a permanent solution. A quality consultant will be able to get the ball rolling and help you properly resource the change plan. Fifth, the person must have a 360° understanding of your business and your long term plan. They must spend the time to understand your business and have a holistic appreciation for it. You have to be able to trust this person and ensure that there is alignment of values. Is the consultant coming up with fresh observations that show that he is really taking the time to deconstruct your business model? With the right consulting expert involved in your business, the sky is indeed the limit. It can lead to a virtuous cycle of strategic improvement.