The 5 Essentials of Choosing a Consultant

Too many small-business people aren’t willing to ask for help when they need it. Entrepreneurs by nature tend to be independent risk-takers. They started the company and it is their baby. Obviously, they should know how to raise it.

However, none of us knows everything about growing and managing a business. Sometimes it makes sense to seek the counsel of others, but who is right for you and your business? When selecting a consultant, follow these five simple, but important, guidelines:

1. Unimpeachable character

First and foremost, an effective consultant must be a person of the highest character. He or she must be the consummate professional. The consultant must be willing to put the best interest of the client ahead of their own.

Related: Hiring a Consultant? Shun the 24-Hour Turnaround and Other Hype.

For example, the consultant must be willing to tell clients things that they need to hear, but may not want to -- even if doing so means that the consultant loses business. The consultant must care deeply about her or his clients.

2. Solid experience

A good consultant should have experience with the challenges or opportunities you and your company are facing. She or he may not know your specific company or industry, but you and your people know your company and your industry quite well, don’t you? What the consultant brings to the table is experience in addressing the types of issues you face.

3. Creative problem-solving skills

You will want the consultant you engage to be an outstanding problem solver. After all, you are hiring a consultant to help you solve problems (or take advantage of opportunities).

Marvin Bower, the patriarch of McKinsey & Company, essentially founded management consulting and in the process grew the firm from a fledgling enterprise to a global operation. He outlined his criteria for an outstanding consultant.

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“Mental equipment -- the successful consultant has outstanding analytical skill and the ability to synthesize his thoughts readily in reaching conclusions," Bower wrote. "He is a quick and effective learner -- imaginative and creative.”

When choosing a consultant, make sure to hire superior problem solvers.

4. Outstanding communication skills

A good consultant should be articulate. He or she should possess unusually strong communication skills, both orally and in writing. Of course, communication is a two-way street. Perhaps more important than her or his ability to speak articulately and write eloquently is the ability to listen.

No matter how smart a consultant is, she or he won’t be able to help you improve your business until they fully understand the challenges you face. This will never happen until the consultant listens to you.

5. Excellent interpersonal skills

Simply put, for any consultant to be successful in helping your company, a trust-based relationship is going to have to develop. You will need to be comfortable revealing the intimate details of your business. The relationship between consultant and client is not unlike the relationship between a doctor and patient.

Without complete candor, the consultant will be hindered in his or her effort to help your business. Chose a consultant with whom you can develop this kind of professional relationship.

The right consultant can create tremendous value. The wrong consultant can destroy value. Following these five guidelines will help ensure that you engage the right firm or individual.

Related: Be a Better Client to a Consultant With These 3 Tips