Choosing the Consultant That is Right For You
When we, as individuals or in a business situation, look for consultants or vendors, we tend to go about things in very different ways. I’m going to present a few simple steps to make sure that you hire the consultant or vendor that’s right for you. Now, we all have certain “hard lines” inherent with each project such as budget, timetable, etc. Those are set parameters however, it’s the “soft lines” that really makes the difference.
The first step, once you know what the hard lines are, is to find out who performs the services I am in need of. So you might get recommendations from respected colleagues or friends, use a service like Angie’s List or look for ads in trade publications. These are some pretty good ways to start.
Ok. Now you have a list of potential consultants/vendors. Now it’s time to do a little research.
Check out the websites for each consultant/vendor. See if the service you are in need of is one of the primary services they offer, or is it a secondary or even tertiary service?
Check their credentials. If they are providing a service for which they must be licensed, check to make sure that they have a license and that they are in good standing, meaning that their license has not been revoked or suspended
Check their reputation. Do they have a reputation for quality work? Or do they have a reputation for riding the gray areas? Do they follow through, or leave you hanging after the job is done?
Ask for, and check, references. Also, pay attention to who these references are. Are they colleagues? Former clients? Their grandmother?
Do a simple, cost free background check. This is probably the most important step and it is hardly ever done. All it takes is a few minutes of your time and is super easy. Isn’t it helpful to know if the teacher at your child’s daycare has been arrested for child abuse? Or if your accountant has a gambling or drug problem? In this digital age, nearly all public information is available on line for FREE. Websites such as mugshots.com, or put the info into one of those paying sites to get aliases, or other names that person has used in the past (maiden, first married name, etc.) to use at mugshots.com, or even a simple Google search. Also, check the licensing board(s) if they are licensed. They will tell you if that person or company has been reprimanded in the past even if their license is active and in good standing now.
Presumably, this has further reduced your list of possible consultants/vendors. Now it’s time to talk to them. This is where the soft lines come into play. The most important thing you want to find out is if they are compatible with you and/or your business. You want to have a comfortable working relationship with this individual and/or company. Ask lots of questions. You want to find out how do they work? Do they plan things out or fly by the seat of their pants? What is their attitude toward work? What is their work ethic? Do they have one? Do they answer the phone when you call? If you leave a message do they get back to you promptly? Is what is important to you, important to them?
This is where we employ our active listening skills. You need to listen to what they say but also pay attention to what they don’t say. Do they seem to listen to and understand your concerns or do they just talk, talk, talk? Do they answer questions directly or do they beat around the bush or and hem and haw? Do they look you in the eye when they speak? Pay attention to body language. They should be telling you not only what they are going to do but how they are going to do it and when. Never make a decision on the spot. Always wait a day or two and look over your notes and impressions before making a final decision and listen to your gut.
The bottom line is that we need to protect ourselves, as well as our clients. I hope that you find these tips helpful.