Expert Article Library

Why Hire a Consultant

by James R. Thompson

Why a professional consultant?

Many people ask, “Why hire a professional consultant?”

This is a valid question. Consultants are often viewed quite negatively, and often with good reason. We believe this to be true because:

  • The cost of entry is low; many unqualified people enter the field.
  • Many people, upon becoming unemployed, immediately procure a business card that says “consultant”-- this does not help the profession.
  • Clients think of retaining a consultant’s services as hiring labor against some time basis.
  • Clients are fearful that their confidential information will be “leaked” through the consultant.
  • The consultant keeps “banker’s hours.”
  • In contrast, a professional consultant:

  • Has made the necessary investment in modern analytical tools and data warehousing systems to do professional work.
  • Has made a career of consulting and is not merely “between jobs.”
  • Works for a firm fee, from a carefully prepared proposal, which clearly delineates the project’s objectives, scope, methodology and schedule.
  • Subscribes to a published code of ethics and has a prepared, standard confidentiality agreement which is treated as if in force, whether or not it has been specifically signed for a given project.
  • Is available when the client needs him -- 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, via toll free telephone, facsimile, and internet e-mail.

  • But why hire a professional consultant?

  • A professional consultant brings to a project:

    • Accountability for results, schedule and costs to achieve an answer -- this translates into significant economies when compared to in-house efforts.
    • Proven, yet flexible, methodology appropriate for the task.

    • No cost of training or “experimenting” on how to complete the assignment -- focused on achieving results.

    • Objectivity -- no “sacred cows”.

    • Anonymity -- the ability to gather data within ethical limits but without revealing the ultimate use.

    • Established “data-mining” methods, utilizing the full breadth and depth of available data.

    • Experience in interpreting public data, to gather more than is on the surface.

    • Creativity drawn from a wide experience base.

    But won’t a consultant that works for me now, work for my competitors later?

    Yes, unless you plan to employ the consultant for the rest of their career (they must, after all find other work after your project is over). But you buy equipment, services and materials from the same vendors as your competitors, don’t you? So, why shouldn’t you buy consulting services the same way -- particularly if a consultant has developed a broad, general, and technical understanding of your business and industry. This is, after all, how you hire your employees; who, by the way, may ultimately leave you to work for a competitor.

    Comfort on this subject starts when you meet the consultant. What does s/he say about his last client? This is an indication of what, and how much, s/he will tell her next client about you. You can measure by his conversation how discrete a particular consultant is. If you are not comfortable with the initial conversation, go no further with that consultant -- find one that meets the criteria outlined above!

    The most valuable and important asset a professional consultant has is her reputation -- it is priceless. Poor, shoddy work, unprofessional conduct, and indiscretions with clients’ confidential data puts the marginal consultant out of business -- fast. Preserving his reputation is of utmost importance for a professional consultant; you can judge your own candidates for consulting by their reputation.