Consulting 101

Consulting 101
April 6, 2010 Chris Hart

To help organizations who are considering adding a consultant to their team, I have compiled the:

Seven Questions to Ask When Choosing a Consultant?

1) Are They a “Big Black Binder” Consultant?
2) Is Your Consultant’s Fee Affordable?
3) How Much Access Will You Have to Your Consultant?
4) What Resources Does Your Consultant Bring to The Table?
5) Is Your Consultant a “Cutter” or a “Grower”?
6) Does Your Consultant Have a Bill Of Goods They Want to Sell You?
7) Is There a Pre-Determined Model They Want to Mold Your Business Into?

Question #1: Are They a “Big Black Binder” Consultant?

There are several national consulting firms whose model is to obtain an up-front fee ($20,000 to $80,000!) and then send a team that “Blows In, Blows Up, and Blows Out.” Their representatives are on-site for a month or so and when they are finished, they leave behind the proverbial, Big Black Binder. I have carefully reviewed several of these Big Black Binders and frankly, many of them are well-written and have good business info in them. The problem is, I have never YET met an organization who implemented the suggestions in the Big Black Binder. While the content may have been great, the organization was left on its own to implement the changes.

What business leaders need is regular, consistent help from an executive who knows them personally, and knows the goals of their organization.

All of my clients are long-term relationships. We usually meet in person once a week to work on their Business Operations Blueprint (BOB). We also communicate during the week with phone calls, emails, and virtual meetings as needed.

Having access to executive expertise in on-going, “bite-sized” chunks makes our relationship productive and affordable. Speaking of affordable. (top of page)


Question #2: Is Your Consultant’s Fee Affordable?
My clients and I are not fans of paying large, up-front fees.

Since the most effective consulting relationship is a regular, on-going one, I offer my clients an affordable, set, monthly fee. This way, they can budget their consulting investment into their cash flow.

A while back, I was reviewing one of my client?s financial statements with them. The expense category, “Professional Services”, is where his accountant posts my monthly fee. At the time, my fee was the only expense recorded in that category. When we got to that line on the Income Statement, my client said good-naturedly, “Well, we know what THAT expense is for, don’t we!”

Then, to my surprise, he sat up straight in his chair and looked me right in the eye. He said, “Chris, all kidding aside, let me tell you something about your fee.”

Not being quite sure what he was going to say next, I replied, “OK, what’s that?”

He said, “Chris, your fee is less than I pay the receptionist. For that amount, I get a seasoned executive on my team with over 30 years experience. And, you have access to that “network” where you are always getting ideas and resources from your colleagues around the world. Chris, I don’t mind saying this “You’re the best value on my staff.”

Don’t you love it when people say cool things like that? (top of page)

Question #3: How Much Access Will You Have to Your Consultant?
Will you be able to get in touch with your consultant easily? Will they respond promptly to your phone calls and email messages?

You need to be able to ask questions and bring issues to your consultant in real-time. I have defined an internal service level for my team that requires us to respond to all client inquiries as soon as possible, but no later than “before the sun sets twice.” All of my clients have my direct cell phone number and are encouraged to use it! (top of page)

Question #4: What Resources Does Your Consultant Bring to The Table?
Is the consultant you are considering just one individual with a “platinum” resume? Even if they are part of a 10 member firm, your business will be limited in the amount of intellectual resources available to it.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are industries, best practices, and an untold number of business scenarios with which I am unfamiliar. That is why I have become accredited by an organization with an international network of over 5,000 top executive advisors.

I have access to this entire network of associates, and they can help me with any business issue my clients may face. This network is an invaluable resource for promoting my clients? services, finding specialist support, or opening new markets for my clients.

I like to tell my prospective clients, ?When you have me on your team, you get my 30+ years of business experience, PLUS, access to an international network of over 5,000 top executive advisors!?? (top of page)

Question #5: Is Your Consultant a “Cutter” Or a “Grower”?
Here we get into differences in personalities and business philosophies. I was an employee of a company that brought in a consultant to help them become more profitable. The consultant began with a savage campaign of systematically cutting over two-thirds of the staff. He then began cutting expenses in employee benefits, advertising, marketing, sales, customer service, and product development.

By the time he was finished, the expenses had definitely been cut, but the company had virtually no resources left to retain their customers, much less go after new business.

Of course, you always need to monitor your expenses to make sure you are getting the best value for your dollars. My experience has shown me that just cutting expenses does not result in increased profits; especially when you cut back on items that motivate your staff and encourage prospective customers to spend their dollars with you.

As for my consulting style, I like to grow businesses. I like to ask questions like these:

  • How can we use the resources we have to become more profitable?
  • What new products can we introduce with little or modest investment?
  • What ideas does the staff have that can help us grow?

My experience is that with proper consulting leadership, there are usually adequate resources of personnel and finances in the organization to begin executing a business growth strategy.

Growing an organization is always exciting and rewarding. You?ll be amazed at how creative you can become when you see your Business Operations Blueprint unfold. (top of page)

Question #6: Does Your Consultant Have a Bill Of Goods They Want to Sell You?
I was introduced to a business owner who really wanted help with her organization’s business plan. She was, however, very hesitant about working with a consultant because of a bad experience she had with her last one.

She explained to me that the consultant insisted that for her business to be profitable, she needed to outsource her Payroll, Accounting, Human Resources, Marketing, and even Sales.

After a confusing and time-consuming transfer of services, the business owner learned that the consultant received commissions from all of her new service providers. And to add insult to injury, they were all costing her more than before!

When my clients ask for my help in choosing business-to-business service providers, my loyalty is to my clients. I don’t believe it is ethical for a consultant to try and make a few extra bucks by steering them to vendors that serve the consultant’s interests instead of the client’s.  (top of page)

Question #7: Is There a Pre-Determined Model They Want to Mold Your Business Into?
Far too often, I have heard of consultants trying to force an organization’s operation into a model that the consultant wants instead of what the organization needs.

Every organization is unique and has its own personality. There are, however, broad business practices that are healthy for all organizations to embrace. My solution to bringing tried and true best practices into a customized plan is the Business Operations Blueprint.

Every organization needs it own Business Operations Blueprint, or BOB.

The BOB components include the Vision and Mission Statements, Goals and Objectives, Productivity Metrics, the Financial Plan and Financial Review, the Operations Model, Staffing Services, Projects, Research & Development, Marketing, and Sales.

When I start working with a client, the most important thing for me to do is listen!

As we talk openly about every aspect of their organization, we begin to set priorities that determine the critical issues which need attention first. Perhaps there is a toxic staffing issue that needs to be corrected. Maybe the marketing is not producing adequate sales to keep the doors open. The great thing about the Business Operations Blueprint is that it is flexible and completely customized for each organization. Using proven business growth strategies, we lay out simple, daily tasks that will accomplish the goals and objectives of the organization.

After a period of time, we will address all the components of the Business Operations Blueprint. A fully developed BOB will help business leaders to train their staffs, standardize procedures, measure their productivity, document their operations, and define specific steps to guide the organization in accomplishing its Vision and Mission successfully. (top of page)

I trust that this article will help you to have a productive and profitable relationship with your consultant. The team at
ChrisHart1 Consulting stand ready to help you.

The next step is for you to contact one of our Business Growth Specialists. They will talk with you confidentially to see what your needs, goals, and objectives are. From there, we will craft a plan that is comfortable, yet exciting and energizing!

Click here to contact the ChrisHart1 Consulting team.