domingo, 27 de enero de 2013

CONSULTANTS ARE LOSERS...or are they? Questions to consider before hiring consultants

My father used to always say "consultants are failed entrepreneurs," which has biased me against consultants all of my life. And to throw gas on that fire, over the last few years,  I have personally met failed entrepreneurs who at one point or another turned to the consulting business. Suffice to say, I am not a guy that would likely ever hire a consultant. Let me just go out and say it, for me "consultant" meant "L-O-S-E-R."

Other business people and entrepreneurs have told me the same line: consultants waste time and money, charge ridiculous fees -  and what the hell do they know about my business anyway?!?!!

But then last year I found myself in need of a written business plan for a franchise I am building.  I had to face the fact that I did not have the skills, nor the desire, to write a business plan. Besides, I´d much rather delegate jobs to people more talented than myself. 

So I took a leap of faith. Eventually, I came across a franchise business consultant and business plan writer. 

This was my first question to her: 

If you are an expert in franchises, why don't you own your own franchise. 
I am not an entrepreneur. 

Good answer - no BS. I liked that...and I'd rather hear that than some excuse about past failures or how "one day..."  And so, I gave it a shot.

We ended up creating a great business plan, and since then my bias against consultants has fallen   - just a bit. 

Perhaps that was a good thing:  last week  I had the opportunity for a free consultancy with Everis, one of Spain's top consulting companies, via The Madrid International Lab for Entrepreneurs. 

I was skeptical and I skipped out on my first meeting with them because, well,  I had more important things to do. 

My thinking was, for starters, that these guys knew nothing about my business, so what gave the the right to give me any advice? Second, from their web site it looked like they were in the tech/telcom business, and my company has nothing to do that. Finally, I assumed that they were just looking for new clients. 

But it turned out to be a valuable experience. 

First,  it took a long time for them to "get" what my business does - which made me realize that I need to get better at explaining it.

Second, they had experience in franchises and were able to give some general pointers. Now, maybe those franchises had nothing to do with mine, but in general "services" franchises work on the same concepts, so I was able to see what I need to work on. 

In the end, I would say that I walked away with 2 or 3 points to seriously consider - now that may not seem like a lot after a 45 minute consultancy session, but actually, those pointers may prove to be very significant

So now that I am starting to think that consultants aren't that bad, I've come up with a few questions to ask yourself when hiring a consultant:

1.  Why doesn't this person own their own business? (after all, one-to-one consultancy is time consuming and  personality-based businesses are hard to delegate and not scalable...Wouldn't they rather be golfing?). 

2. If the consultant is a failed entrepreneur, is there anything specific to their failures that is going to help you avoid those mistake. Just go right out and ask them! 

3. What do they know that you don't? 

4. Am I too close to my business to be objective? Do I need an impartial opinion to help me cut through the noise?

5. Am I willy to fully commit to the process and take this person seriously?

6. What is the final goal?

7.  Has this person worked in a large range of industries and sectors and thus I can count on this diversity for new insights?

The facts is that some people do not believe in consultants and never will - and probably some people will actually never need one. But so far, so good for me. 

Hit me up with your thoughts. 

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