Before you hire a business consultant, ask yourself a few questions.

First of all, why are you considering hiring a consultant?

Did someone else suggest this to you? That’s fine, as long as you are sure. But if you decided to hire a business consultant simply because someone else recommended it, and you really have no intention of cooperating with or listening to the consultant, then don’t do it. You will just waste everyone’s time, and your own money. We speak from experience.

When we look back at all of the small business consulting engagements we have done, the picture becomes very clear. The business owner has to be engaged. Otherwise, it just won’t work.

What do you want to accomplish?

Do you have clear goals, or do you have broad, open questions? Either is fine, as long as you are honest with yourself and with the consultant. But if you really don’t have clear goals, but say you do and insist on a narrow project scope so you can “save money”, you will probably be disappointed. The usual result is that long before the initial project is finished, the scope changes, so the questions we thought were important turn out to be irrelevant, or minor, whereas the truly important questions were never even asked. The end result is frustration, wasted time and money.

Of course, if you are seriously looking for a business consultant, you may not even know what questions to ask. That is fine. A good consultant can work with you to help you figure out what the most important questions are. But you have to be honest.

How do you want to interact with the consultant?

Do you want somebody to solve problems while you go about your daily activities, or do you want someone to work closely with you so you are involved throughout the engagement?

There is no right or wrong answer here, but if you are expecting a turnkey solution, whereas the business consultant is expecting a collaborative consulting engagement, you have a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, if you are expecting a lot of collaboration and interaction, but the consultant specializes in turnkey solutions, you are also going to be disappointed. At Ground Floor Partners, our level of involvement depends both on the client’s needs, and on the type of project we are working on. For market research and feasibility study projects, we usually don’t need much client involvement once we get started. Whereas for business planning, strategy consulting and management consulting projects, we need to stay in close communication with clients throughout the entire engagement.

Do you have a reasonable budget for the project?

Budgeting is always a difficult decision. Clients usually want to pay less, and business consultants usually want to charge more. The challenge is to find the right balance. Inexperienced consultants will often compromise on price just to land a project. That was certainly our strategy when we first started out. But over time we learned that often neither party was happy with the results. In fact we discovered that our highest paying clients were usually our happiest clients.

We try to accommodate our clients when it comes to price. We try to find ways to deliver high quality results while cutting back on things that don’t affect the overall integrity of the project. But the reality is that high quality work usually does come at a higher price. Our skills, experience, network of partners, and our consulting methodology all have significant value, and we charge accordingly.

Is your timetable realistic?

Clients often tell us they want a project done within two or three weeks. The reality is that budget, quality and timing all tie together. For example, if you cut back on the time, you usually increase the budget or you decrease the quality. In the end, you need to decide what really matters to you. Most of the projects we work on take at least a few months. If we cut back too far on the timing, the quality suffers, and nobody is happy. We understand that time is always in short supply, and we work hard to accommodate our clients when there is a real urgency. But if we know a certain type of project usually takes three months and a client wants it done in three weeks, we take a pass.

Bottom Line: Hiring a business consultant can be a great investment. Hiring the right one can make a huge positive difference in your company’s future, whereas the wrong one can lead to unnecessary frustration and pain. A little preparation and thought in advance can save you money and time in the long run.

Here is a cautionary tale about a business owner who hired the wrong business consulting firm and ended up paying dearly.