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A business consultant is a specialist in a specific area or sector who is employed to assist with the performance, progress, or implementation of a new function or service of a business. Most consultants are independent of the companies they're contracted to work with and are generally hired for a specific project.
Business consultants are experts in numerous fields, including:
IT: May help with new software deployment, infrastructure, company system overhauls, etc.
HR: Can help provide assistance with a new company policy implementation, payroll systems, staffing concerns, etc.
Marketing: May implement social media marketing, develop an online ad campaign, build/update/refresh public appearance, develop new company collateral, assist with brand identity, etc.
Management: Can assist with company IPO, develop new product or service initiatives, provide leadership training, etc.
Accounting: May perform mock tax audits, manage company financials, perform forensic account services, etc.
Operations: Can help with new production systems, such as Six Sigma, Lean, Agile; may help with core operation functions, such as manufacturing, production, etc.
Business consultants identify areas of improvement or are hired to implement or facilitate specific company initiatives. For example, a business may hire a consultant to help find weaknesses in its sales processes or develop a strategy for improving customer engagement with its products or services. The consultant may develop and implement a new sales process or execute a customer satisfaction feedback system, such as Net Promoter Score.
A company might hire a business consultant when it needs a particular set of expertise or experience that's not readily available within the company but may not warrant bringing on a permanent staff position. For example, the company wants to enter into an international market but lacks experience in launching in foreign markets.
A company may wish to hire a business consultant if:
It wants to overhaul their payroll system with an off-site, cloud-based solution but lacks the proper expertise in its current IT department to handle it.
The company's sales are faltering and the need for positive change could determine the company's fate, yet current measures aren't producing results.
Operating procedures are leading to production line hang-ups, and it's interested in specialized workflows.
Consultants charge different rates. Some charge an hourly or daily rate, while other consultants charge by the total project. They may charge on a value-based structure in which their compensation is directly tied to your company's performance after their change(s) or consultation has been delivered. For hourly rates, the rates can vary from $150 to $1,000 per hour and beyond.
While backgrounds can vary greatly, most business consultants have obtained an MBA and some relevant business experience, such as project management or business development. Most consultants also possess soft skills, such as working well on a team, the ability to publicly present information, such as at a meeting or conference, and problem-solving skills.
How much do you charge?
Having the right expectations with regards to the company's budget will ultimately determine if a certain consultant is the right fit.
Do you have a structured approach to your strategy, or do you make it up as you go?
There's no one-size-fits-all solution to businesses, but determining the type of approach a consultant takes toward a business could gauge what's in store.
How many years of experience do you have in X industry?
Even if not directly related, their skillset should be able to translate. For example, a marketing consultant for an outdoor company may do well in other retail environments.
What sort of analysis or assessment do you typically perform?
Some assessments may require little to no interference with daily operations, but others may require multiple team members to be available.
Do you have references or client testimonials?
They say, "The proof is in the pudding." Past performance is often a good indicator of how a consultant performs on a job. Check references, reviews, and previous clients to find out how the consultant helped improve their business.