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Why Work With A Consultant?

An insight and guidance on working with consultants and advisers.

There are a lot of pressures and challenges associated with running a business and as an owner or manager, it is almost certain that there are times when you could use some external assistance and advice.

In addition, the fast changing economic and business environment adds to this pressure and for your business to survive and remain profitable, you need to identify and manage the changes.

The key question is do you have the time, knowledge and experience in managing this process? Can this be done using existing internal resources or would the business benefit from the services of an external consultant/adviser?

The purpose of this guide is to give the reader an insight and guidance on working with consultants and advisers.



There are any number of reasons why companies and organisations choose to use the services of a consultant. However whatever your reason, it is essential that you have a clear understanding of exactly the outcome you wish to achieve.

Outline below are just some of the most common reasons why businesses seek consultants.

  • To get a task done that requires specialist skills/knowledge that is unavailable by anyone in the business.
  • To provide an impartial and independent viewpoint that will assist the business.
  • To carry out a task that no one else has the time to do.
  • The need for specialist and technical advice for a specific problem.
  • To provide training.
  • To provide interim management

Businesses often make the mistake of hiring a consultant when things have gone wrong. Hiring someone before a crisis occurs will often yield better results.



There are many benefits to a business from using a consultant and these benefits will be specific to the reason for using the consultant in the first place.  However to ensure maximum benefit it is essential that the objective is set out clearly and the task scoped accurately. 

Outlined below are some of the benefits a business may derive from using a consultant:

  • Introduction of new skills/expertise unavailable in the business
  • The task is completed within an agreed time frame
  • Existing strategies and plans are questioned to ensure they are robust and accurate
  • Targets and objectives are more clear and approachable
  • Frees up time thereby enabling management to concentrate on running the business

A typical example maybe when a business requires funding. Developing appropriate business plans and strategy are hugely time consuming and require many drafts, followed by the endless rounds of investor meetings.

A consultant can take a lot of pressure off the management by helping develop the business plan, provide impartial advice and follow up the investor meetings. They can also act as gate-keeper on behalf of the management in investor negotiations. 



Working with an external consultant is an important decision for any business and more so for a SME.  Therefore choosing the right one becomes of paramount importance. To do so you should first prepare a detailed brief that contains the following:

  1. An outline of the business: what it does, brief history and the organisational structure.

  2. Details of the issues or problems concerned and why the help of a consultant is required.

  3. Set specific objectives, time-frame and your expectations from the Consultant

  4. Specify who the consultant will be working with and the resources available both in terms of financial and personnel



Here are some guidelines on managing the relationship between the consultant and yourself:

  • Specify objectives, timelines and schedules.
  • Ensure there is a good relationship and that both parties can work together.
  • Develop standard forms and frequency for reporting. 
  • Assume the consultant is part of the management team and do not leave out crucial information.
  • Regular communication is essential.
  • Encourage the consultant to work in your office if possible.
  • Ensure the consultant shares similar values and ethos since they may be representing your company with external organisations.



It is strongly recommended that you have a contract with the consultant. Often the consultant will provide one. Be sure you read the contract thoroughly. The contract need not be unduly long-winded or complicated. It can be limited to the basics as long as it contains the following:

The Names of the Parties
The parties, your company and the consultant or consultancy you’re hiring, should be mentioned by name. This should be on the first page of your contract, ideally with registration or identity numbers, and should clearly indicate the roles: employer and consultant.


The Project Scope
To avoid future misunderstandings, agree as to what is included in the project. Be as specific as possible, to avoid any future queries.  

Timeframe and Cost

Include a timeframe in any agreement, and remember to note when that timeframe is measured from – for example, from the date of signing, or from the date of commencement.

Likewise, when it comes to the cost, be specific. Get a lump sum price for the work stipulated, as well as hourly rates for any extra work – that limits the possibility of nasty surprises later on!


Specific Inclusions and Exclusions
Ensure to stipulate what resources, if any, you are willing to provide as a part of the contract, and what you expect to be included from the consultant.


Contract Technicalities
Beware of technicalities. Here are a few basics to bear in mind:

  • Names, signatures and dates. It’s usually preferable to have a witness (or two) sign the document at the same time, and eliminates any questions relating to the signing of the document.
  • Be careful to get dates right! An incorrect date on a contract can cause a huge amount of problems!
  • If you make an error, never ever just cross it out, or worse, use correction fluid. In most cases, that automatically invalidates an agreement. If you need to make a correction, cross it out, and make sure you both initial the correction.
  • If your contract requires specific signatures in specific places, make sure you get them in the right place. Having signatures in the wrong places can invalidate an agreement.



When using a consultant the biggest fear is that the project will be a failure and that scarce resources of money and time will have been wasted.

In order to avoid this it is important to understand some of the major reasons why projects might fail.


1.    Change of Scope

A classic and common scenario where the scope of the project alters and is not reflected in the contract. It is quite common for the original scope of work to change be it a minor, or a more radical. This in itself is not a problem as long as both the company and the consultant agree to the change and its effect on the time, and cost. Both parties should ensure that the contract is suitably amended.


2.    Poor Reporting

Whether intentional or not, poor reporting can end up with disastrous results! Poor communication can lead to misunderstanding and unreasonable expectations. This can easily be dealt with by regular and informative reporting.


3.    Insufficient Information

A common mistake is a failure to provide sufficient information and the specific requirements on what is expected from the consultant. Failure to do this leads to a project based on assumptions and more often than not a consultant’s assumptions will vary from the company’s. Thus agree on the desired outcome from the start and, review this regularly during the project. 

 4.     Bad Timing

Often organisations hire consultants at the last minute when things have gone wrong and miracles are expected. Every project needs a suitable time frame. Thus, plan ahead and hire in good time.


5.     Unreasonable Expectations

Companies often expect miracles. Bear in mind that the consultant’s job is to assess, analyse and develop a solution to a problem. That solution may not be immediate but allow for the result to evolve over time and don’t be afraid to change if it is required.


 6.     Failing to Provide a Comprehensive Brief

Comprehensive instructions and a well defined outcome is essential. If key information is left out then the desired outcome is likely to fall short of expectations.


7.      Letting Politics Get in the Way

Do not let internal company politics affect your decision to hire or work with a consultant. Beware of internal jealousies that may prevent a consultant from doing the job effectively.


8.     Failure to Deliver Resources

Failure to deliver promised resources could impact negatively on the project timeline and outcome 


This article was first published on July 2009 and may not necessarily match current events or current opinions and views of Acumen Consulting Ltd. The information contained in this article is intended as a guide. 


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