Leadership & Strategy mentor Keith Lamb responds: Naturally, you'd want a credible consultant who offers short- and long-term solutions, fresh yet practical ideas, lasting results, and a solid return on investment. But you and your company have individual needs, too. Maybe you need someone to critique your strategy, or maybe your strategy is sound, but you need help executing it. Remember, consultants can do many things for you, and they can make many promises. So you must prioritize your company's needs, research prospective consultants, and then figure out a few good matches by developing your own rating system. Sketch a grid to compare and contrast prospects, if you need to.
The next bit of advice is obvious, but it's worth repeating: Look for a consultant with experience in what you're trying to accomplish in your business, whether it's a full-scale turnaround or a tweak to your compensation plan. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that your consultant of choice needs years and years of experience in the exact work that you need done -- unless, of course, you're looking for a cookie-cutter solution, which many cases is perfectly fine.
The larger point is this: Take a sane, measured approach to shopping. Don't be one of those desperate entrepreneurs who leaps at the first sign of help, only to find out later that the "expert" can't finish the job or identify someone who can. That strategy rarely works.
Some characteristics that I value in a consultant are creativity, innovation, and practicality. I tend to gravitate to vendors I like, figuring that if I'm going to share my warts and all, I'd rather share with someone I like and trust. At the end of the day, I want to feel that the consultant genuinely cares about the success of my company.
Once you've pared down your list of prospects, schedule some visits with them. Explain to them your company's needs, get a feel for their experiences, and then pepper them with questions such as:
What's your background?
What tangible value have you brought to other clients?
Can I see specific examples of solutions you've delivered?
How much of your work is repeat business?
Can you explain the process you use for working with clients?
Finally, ask for references and call them. Ask them how their relationship with the consultant worked, and what, if anything, would they have done differently to make the working relationship better. Were they satisfied with the scope, timeline, quality, and cost of the project? Would they recommend the consultant without hesitation?