While there are a few reasons why you may hire an external consultant, the end result should always be the same — the successful completion of a project. Whether you hire a consultant to manage an overwhelming company task list or simply to offer your team a fresh, unbiased opinion, outsourcing talent is often an invaluable business practice.
If you’re in the market for a consultant, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you find the perfect fit. Ready to hire? Here’s some helpful advice to help you select and hire an external expert consultant for your company.
What is an external consultant?
The term “external consultant” is used to describe a professional, in any field, that offers independent consulting services to clients. The main purpose of an external consultant is to provide expertise to your company that would otherwise be difficult to obtain in-house. Even if you or your staff are capable of completing certain tasks, outsourcing is a great way to redistribute task load without sacrificing the quality of the outcome or overworking yourself or your team.
How can you find an external consultant?
The first step towards hiring a consultant is finding one. There are more than a few ways that you can locate a consultant, but each comes with its own set of considerations. Let’s do a quick breakdown of some of the most popular methods for discovering consultants.
One of the most common methods for searching for a consultant is the use of search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo. Using this method is relatively simple, but you’ll need to know what to search for to find useful results. Instead of using vague keywords like “VBA consulting” or “Excel consultant”, you should aim for a more specific search term, such as “Excel consultant for hire in Washington, DC”. With the addition of the word “hire” and the location you intend to hire in, you can return results that are more precise to your needs.
Hiring via a platform is a great way to locate a variety of qualified consultants in one location. Platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Catalant allow independent consultants to create profiles, complete projects, and amass client reviews. These profiles and reviews can make it easier for you to locate verifiably talented professionals. You’ll likely have to create a profile on your platform of choice and, often, this comes with attached client account fees that you may not have catered for. But, if you’re in a rush or prefer the security of using an established website, platforms are a wonderful place to begin your search.
Social media is full of talented professionals looking for their next client. Websites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can be very useful in helping you connect with these potential candidates in a more casual way. You can use your personal or company social media to create a job posting (like on Facebook or LinkedIn) or make a public post to see what hiring suggestions your connections may have.
Sourcing an external consultant from your network is one of the more personal methods but is also often more secure than other options. Since the suggestions for potential hires come directly from those you know, like mentors and close connections, it’s more likely that the person you hire will live up to your expectations. A referral from someone within your circle can be more reliable than hiring a complete stranger.
Tips and tricks for selecting the right external consultant
Ultimately, whether you source someone through a platform or your network, you should be keeping an eye out for qualities that indicate a consultant will be of benefit to your project.
Here are a few considerations you should keep in mind when on the journey towards selecting the right external consultant.
Consider the project’s longevity
Before you begin your consultant search, you should have a detailed scope of work for your project. If you’d like some help creating a solid project scope, you can head over to my “How to create a good project scope” article for a quick guideline. Your project scope will help you determine the longevity of your project, which is essential in hiring a consultant. A major consideration in hiring a consultant is how long you’ll need them for. Will they need to be available for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months? This information will be one of the main factors in your search.
Think about the consultant’s success rate and experience
Since you’ll be hiring a consultant with the intention of your project being completed successfully, their success rate is integral to whether or not you hire them. While not every type of consultant will have measurable rates of success, you should inquire as to what confirmation they can provide to showcase their proficiency. This may include project completion reports, published statistics from past clients, or other metric-related documentation. Experience can also be a consideration, but this will largely depend on whether you prefer a consultant with both notable success and experience or if a successful track record is enough.
Be sure to check references and reviews
References can be helpful in highlighting the work ethic, skill level, strengths, and weaknesses of a potential consultant. Checking in with previous clients isn’t always foolproof though. References can be faked and, in some cases, a previous employer may paint a negative picture of an otherwise excellent candidate. You can use references to help guide your decision but beware of misleading information.
Much in the same way that references can be used for guidance, reviews can also be critical. And, similarly, every review that you read should be read with caution. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for a small sample size of reviews, whether these be good or bad. If 100% of the reviews are nothing but glowing praise, you should tread lightly. And, of course, if the majority of the reviews are poor, you should move forward in your search for another consultant.
Dive deep into security and privacy verification
A major aspect of finding a consultant is ensuring that the person you’re hiring is trustworthy. Although not always necessary, it’s advisable to run a quick background check on your consultant before you turn over any sensitive information. While a criminal history is not definitively a sign of insincerity, a background check may help you assess whether a consultant has a record of fraudulent or deceptive behavior.
In this same vein, you’re advised to only employ consultants that are comfortable signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). These agreements make it unlawful for the consultant to reveal information about your company and project, either for the duration of the project or in perpetuity. If a potential consultant refuses to sign an NDA, it may be best to continue your search elsewhere.
Assess their tech knowledge
In the age that we live in, having a basic grasp of technology is a necessity in most fields. If you’ll be hiring a consultant that needs more than an entry-level understanding of technology, you’ll need to do your due diligence to ensure that they possess the skillset that you require. However, not every role will require that your consultant is technically knowledgeable. If you’re comfortable communicating only via telephone or text message, you may be able to get away with a consultant that’s a bit more old-school. But, if your company uses primarily email and/or message boards like Slack and Asana for communication, a tech-savvy consultant is your best bet.
Double-check their skillset
Not all professionals in an industry will have the same experience or learned or natural skills. You don’t want to make the mistake of hiring someone that is talented but that doesn’t possess the abilities you’re looking for. You should make it clear in your communication with any consultant candidates what skills they are required to have and check to ensure that they have the skill set you desire. This can be done by having a quick phone call to go over technical terms and industry knowledge. Or, you can assign a short skills assessment test that must be completed before they can be considered for the job.
Check out past projects
A great way to assess whether a consultant is a good fit is to take a look at their past projects. Past projects that are similar to your project can be a good indicator of relevant experience and a consultant with the know-how that you need. However, as with other considerations, you shouldn’t necessarily rule out candidates without applicable past projects — unless you are certain that this experience is critical to the successful competition of your project.
Scroll through their website and content
While consultants don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a website to be considered competent, a modern website is a great sign. Professionals, even those without a large amount of tech knowledge, understand the value of a well-designed website and quality content. A beautiful website is one thing — but, what about the content on the website? Does the information indicate that the consultant is skilled in their field? Or is the messaging on the site inaccurate or outdated? If the latter is true, this might be a sign that the consultant hasn’t stayed current with industry knowledge, which may negatively impact your project.
Make sure you verify payment options
Not all consultants take the same forms of payment, so this information needs to be verified early in the process. In addition to forms of payment (checks, debit/credit cards, wire transfers, PayPal, etc.), you should also find out what payment terms the consultant prefers. For example, your company may fill invoices every 30 days, while the consultant requires payment within 15 days of the receipt of the invoice. Any compromises here will need to be made before work begins.
As the client, you should be prepared to pay a down payment (between 20%-50%) to secure the contractor’s time and commitment. From there, the remainder of the invoice can generally be paid out when the project is complete or per the contract.
Hiring an external expert consultant can be a quick and easy process, or, it may take you a few days or weeks to nail down the right person. When it comes to outsourcing talent, it’s important to give yourself enough time to select and hire the ideal candidate. The best way to do this is to anticipate your project’s start date and begin your search at least a few weeks in advance. This should give you time to select and hire your consultant well before the start date for a smooth transition into project commencement.
Finding an external consultant requires time and effort, but, by using a few basic tips and tricks, you can begin your journey to landing the perfect match.