Prior to an acquisition by American Addiction Centers in 2015, Zach Binder served as Partner/Chief Operating Officer for RankLab, a digital marketing agency in Los Angeles.

As your business thrives, your needs will often change dramatically, leaving you feeling like you're in uncharted territory. Perhaps you have grown your business because you are a terrific strategist, but now you are stuck between needing better technology and not being ready to bring on a full-time CTO.

As a COO at a digital marketing agency, clients would consistently approach me with predicaments like this. And prior to the acquisition of our company, we consistently operated as a consultancy with many of our clients. This meant that we often had to make strategic recommendations that wouldn't necessarily benefit our agency financially in order to help the client succeed. When your business needs a specialized skill that your team lacks, it's not always necessary to bring someone on board full-time.

Consultants can be a perfect solution for a team with a specific need but that doesn't want to take on the long-term commitment or maintenance. If you're on the fence about hiring a new team member to fill a strategic and specific role, ask yourself these questions to decide whether it's time to hire a consultant.

1. Are you building up or building out?

Building out means that you are still forming the skeleton of your team's most basic needs. Building up is what strong companies do after they're already built out. Businesses with a solid foundation still stumble over unforeseen problems that need immediate attention; however, hiring a new employee to solve each problem that comes your way can become excessive. A small company may need a social media strategy in place without bringing a full-time strategist into the company unless they're running multiple, ongoing campaigns with a generous budget. Like a personal trainer, a strategy consultant can give you a specific plan to put into place in their absence so that your team can take it from there and continue those steps towards your goals.

2. Where's your revenue?

Too many companies suffer by spending in the wrong places, until their issues are muddled and too close to ground level to see clearly. Identify where your company's income comes from now, and where it can come from later down the road. If you're taking a chance with a new campaign or method that may have monetary results, but you don't want to risk the investment, it's wise to hire a consultant to do one temporary job for their rate without an ongoing expense commitment. Hiring an expert can save you time, energy and risks that come from uncertainty. If you decide that the consultant's results are crucial to maintain, you can then consider if you are able to hire a full-time employee to handle your needs. If your consultant is temporary, don't be afraid to let them take a look at the guts of your company. Providing credentials, access and information ahead of time will allow your consultant to hone in on trouble areas and come up with strategic solutions. You can have them sign a non-disclosure agreement if necessary.

3. Do you need something new?

As a consultant, one of the most rewarding moments is introducing a client to a cost-cutting, time-saving tool, and not only watch the business adopt it, but fully embrace it with enthusiasm. The landscape of new media platforms changes faster and faster and it's easy to get stuck in a rut with old practices that don't align with your future goals. A consultant can help you get on track and switch from old to new. Let them guide you, showing you the shortcuts and tricks to stay current and efficient for something as simple as a new software, social platform or tool that looks cumbersome or challenging.

4. What don't you know?

You must know what you don't know. Every person at your company has an area they specialize in, but plenty of businesses find that there is at least one resource or skill that they don't have in-house. We're human, we're busy and we don't know everything. Your consultant is there to give you that resource or skill your business doesn't have or even need on an everyday basis, but would help it run better. Let your consultant elaborate on specific areas to focus on and allow them to use their objectivity to help you. They're hired to provide what you don't know -- a detailed plan designed to bridge a gap. When you meet to address your company's needs, your consultant may tell you some things you don't want to hear. Remember that you're getting their feedback in order to grow, so pay attention to what fits and leave your ego at the door.

5. How much time do you have?

Hiring means training and managing. A big risk for hiring employees that may leave is losing the time spent training them and having to start over from scratch with someone new. Consultants are far less hands-on because they are already trained to tailor their solution to your existing structure. The training is built in and consultants are already well-versed in handling different types of clients with varying needs, systems in place and personalities. This means you can spend less time showing them how things are done, and instead get right to solving problems instead.

Published on: Mar 23, 2016