What to look for in a consultant

Our very first client, back in 2015, was very reluctant to hire a consultant. It took several meetings before we were engaged. Prior experiences with consultants were not positive; they all wanted a five figure “retainer” and provided limited insight as to what they would do for him. They showed up in suits and offered up dazzling power point presentation - but my client was left baffled. What exactly would they do?

Sensing his hesitation and knowing we could provide value, we guided him through the process of what to look for. We made it simple and concise - and it worked! We were hired and within two months his business was back on track! So we are sharing our thoughts on the matter to help you as you search for that perfect match. We hope it helps!

Fit - the most important consideration is to find people you think you could work with. It may take 2-3 meetings to get a sense of a consultants’ style, so insist that they spend some time with you before you sign up! Have your questions teed up and look for consistency in responses. Also have them meet with others on your team to ensure buy in.

Accessibility, availability - how much time will they spend with your organization? Who is the personnel that will be assigned? Get assurances that

Deliverability - what, exactly, will they do for you? Provide written guidance? Mentor your team? Coach you as a leader?

References - always a good idea to ask for references. Also ask them to describe an assignment that didn’t quite work out. Probe the whys and their takeaways and lessons learned.

Pricing - Hourly? Project based? Determine what is best for you and seek flexibility from the market. Get a sense for what are “market rates” so you are not blindsided in the process

If you are interviewing a few different firms, it might help to create a ratings matrix of these and other pertinent considerations. After each interview, rank the candidates on a 1-5 scale. That way you are recording and quantifying your observations, and glaring differences can be weighed.

Tell us what your “gating” considerations are. We’d love to hear your perspectives!

How do I turn a side business into a full time business?

A client had developed a niche fitness business with a good following while employed full time.  He decided to take a big risk by pursuing his passion on a full time basis and left his day job. He rented space, created a website and Facebook page and a pricing schedule for his services.  He reached out to his current clients and quickly signed them up for his new studio based services. Fast forward a year and he still had essentially the same clients but was not growing and was still not covering his expenses or drawing a salary.  He had expected that more clients would emerge by word of mouth since he had demonstrated great results with his current client base. He had some success in getting referrals but it just wasn’t enough. He began questioning his decision to leave his full time position and turned to Stonebridge for help.

What did he miss?  How did he begin to grow?

Marketing!  Like many of us, he was great at his passion but had not developed a marketing plan to attract new clients.  He realized that he needed to incorporate a disciplined approach to marketing if he was going to grow. By partnering with local recreational athlete organizations and participating in fitness events, he was able to share his passion and establish his credibility and expertise.  He then began to grow his client base substantially.

Expanded products and services with a range of price points:  He began offering new services, some priced on a monthly subscription basis, and some a la carte.  This gave him the chance to offer more to his loyal clients and also to move new clients along a continuum of services as they improved their skills.

Rebuilding a family business

How do you revive a family business after suffering a major downturn during the Great Recession?  Can you rebuild the pride and begin to grow again?

A long established manufacturing business had suffered a major sales decline during the Great Recession period of the mid 2000’s.  They hunkered down and adjusted their production and expenses for survival at the lower volume. Their quality remained high but they were just doing the minimum to keep things running and had forgotten how to grow and thrive.  

The owner was proud of his family business and knew they could do better now that the economy had improved. He needed to breathe new life into the business and wanted some outside perspective.

We worked with them to identify their key strengths and weaknesses and develop an action plan for the turnaround.  There were several keys to their success:

Culture.  He needed to move his team from a survival mindset to a growth mode.  He brought in some new leadership that bought into his new vision. He also changed responsibilities of his current team to ensure they were in roles that best fit their strengths and made some difficult decisions to part ways with some long term employees.

Customer focus.  He moved from an “order taking” approach to a more proactive one, tasking associates with reaching out to long time customers, including some that had not ordered in a long time to understand their needs and remind them of the quality of their product.  Orders began to pick up just by taking this simple step.

Making their presence known in the market.  He brought in new sales reps to cover expanded territories and began selectively attending trade shows.  He experimented with Twitter sharing new developments in their industry and found a niche following their progress.  

Is bigger really better?

We were hired by a very successful, locally based IT service provider to help with an acquisition,

The CEO was near possessed by expanding his business by leaps and bounds, and believed acquisitions were the way to go. This same CEO was an avid sportsman who valued down time for recreational activities.

He found a deal to buy another, locally run company that was six hours away. The target had just recently added numerous new service contracts and was pricing his business accordingly. The owners indicated they would stay on for a bit to transition the business.

Think about this. You are buying a locally run business six hours away, with new contracts. The CEO assumed the owners would possess the same zeal in managing the business, and nurse newly acquired contracts, post acquisition.

Our take: You will be commuting or relocating six hours away to ensure that your new “baby” is probably cared for. Your investors, creditors and new customers will expect no less. Free time and sportsmanship would take a back seat until your new acquisition is launched.

Acquisitions are like children: They require nurturing, attention, time, but mostly …. you. Don’t say you want to do a deal unless you are willing to put aside yourself - for awhile.

You don’t know what you don’t know

We had a client that asked us to review their cost reimbursement contracts, with an eye toward possibly modifying their charge back practices. The CEO believed that certain cost plus contracts were not profitable and was considering redirecting organization away from these types of reimbursements. Sounds like an easy assignment right?

Digging into the organization’s contracts was the easy part. Syncing them to its cost structure was not. What the CEO did not appreciate was that these cost plus contracts provided an ample base of fixed cost absorption and subsidy for its other, more impactful initiatives.

Moral of the story? While the CEO failed in his assumptions, he succeeded in recognizing his limitations. He hired a fresh set of eyes to challenge his assumptions. Bottom line: armed with knowledge of his cost structure, he took another direction in expanding the organization.