Start by deciding what you need, then look for someone with the expertise to meet those needs. A consultant may have already approached you with a sales pitch. If not, you can ask other business owners for referrals. You might also find names in the Yellow Pages or on the Web--but be sure to ask for a client list and talk to some of the people who've worked with the consultant. Did the consultant deliver according to expectations? A trade association such as the Association of Professional Consultants may be able to help you check people's reputations.
Finding a good match, however, is just the start. "You need to lay out the expectations," says Wessels. One of the best ways to do that is by preparing a contract. To ensure a smooth relationship, both parties should know what they're getting into, what their responsibilities are and how to proceed in case of a disagreement.
The use of contracts for consultants varies widely, Wessels says. Some companies retain consultants without using any sort of contract, while others insist on complex, multipage contracts. Typically, a consultant will provide a proposal stating what he or she will do, how long it will take and how much it will cost. Some companies respond with a letter of engagement that refers to the proposal.