Expert consultancy is usually considered to be a luxury.
But with the changes in the market place brought about by the recession, expert consultancy is now highly affordable to anyone who knows how to play the game.
Hiring By Time
Traditionally, consultants are hired for agreed time periods. These periods have shortened over the last decade: my first contract was for twelve months, whereas the standard now is between one and three months.
But even with these reduced time spans, it is not the ideal basis on which to hire a consultant.
If there is a month’s worth of work and you hire a consultant to do it, the likelihood is that you will find that three weeks into the contract only half of the work is done. Of course you will have no alternative but to extend the contract, and some unscrupulous consultants are well aware of this.
The way to avoid this is to agree the contract as a set piece of work for a set fee. The pricing structure can still be calculated based on the estimated days of work involved for simplicity. This will also tempt the consultant to focus on the project with the impression of “finish the job early and get a few days paid holiday”.
Honest consultants will use added value, and the suggestion of new and useful initiatives to try and advise contract extensions. They will still do this even when carrying out costed work as it is the most efficient and positive way of securing further work.
Understandably, agents may try to dissuade you from this approach, but will happily concede if you are confident in communicating your requirement for it.
Consultants (even very good ones) are often reluctant to give out references. This is because the hiring process is it is usually handled by an agent who will often tactlessly bombard the reference provider with marketing calls and emails in the hope of placing other consultants with them.
Add that to the fact that most consultants go through this process every three to six months and the situation becomes untenable.
With this in mind, it is better to ask for references as the last stage of the recruitment process and to ask the consultant directly, excluding any agent involvement.
However, you do not have to settle for a pre-written letter. Insist on the contact details for the reference so you can ask the questions you want and are able to press beyond meaningless generalities such as “good time keeper” and “team player”.
References are the best indicators of a consultant’s actual expertise, but on the other hand it is worth bearing in mind that occasionally a consultant may genuinely struggle to get a particular reference purely due to the transient nature of contract-based employment.
Choose Work Carefully
I feel like I am about to cut my own career’s throat with this next tip, but…
Carefully select the work when a consultant is hired. Ideally aim for them to produce examples of a variety of tasks which can then be easily amended for different uses by your own staff.
This advice may not be suitable when using an expert to exploit some area totally unknown to your own staff, but when using a consultant to top-up the skills already present in your business, this approach can cut costs by 75% as well as increase the abilities of your own staff.
As I have described, it only takes a little ingenuity for the expertise usually reserved for the large companies to be affordable for all, and the value this imparts to an organisation can be priceless.
The time is ripe to tap this resource and give your business a boost.
Jason Dove is a senior consultant at Scry Business Intelligence and instructor who has specialised in Crystal Reports and Business Intelligence his entire career, utilising it for everything, from selling paint to counter-terrorism. He has provided Business Intelligence consultancy for some of the world’s leading companies and is currently making the same service available to smaller businesses. He is also the author of 'Crystal Reports Formulas Explained', a step by step guide to creating and using formulas for the industry leading BI reporting software.