What Is a Business Consultant?

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So, you've created a successful business. Only now, the market is changing, and you're not sure how to leverage the opportunities that are opening up in front of you and how to plan for future growth. Or maybe you're rushed off your feet and there aren't enough hours in the day to manage the blog, the books or the payroll. Whatever it is you're struggling with, business consultants can offer a helping hand. These experts can support you in many areas, from marketing and finance to strategy, brand development and startup education.

What Is a Business Consultant?

Essentially, a business consultant is an expert in her field. That field could be anything a business might need such as sales, marketing, accounting, business planning, IT support, manufacturing, product development or human resources. Some consultants are management and strategy experts, giving advice across the board on planning, growth strategy and problem-solving; some even develop soft skills such as motivation and networking to position you for success. Whatever the niche, consultants help to improve businesses by assessing weaknesses and recommending practical solutions.

Why You Need a Business Consultant

Businesses hire consultants for all sorts of reasons, but the most common ones include:

  • To help a startup get a fledgling business off the ground.
  • To plug a skills gap that cannot be met with the existing skills within the business.
  • To bring in extra horsepower on areas that fall outside the company's core capabilities.
  • To add specialized skills such as legal, accounting or IT.
  • To bring in an outside eye in order to solve specific problems or challenges that have arisen.
  • To teach and train employees on best practices.
  • To look at the bigger picture and inspire creative thinking.
  • To realize fresh opportunities and act as a catalyst for change.

Consultants can be expensive, so you need to be very clear on what your business needs before you bring someone in. Only you know the particular needs of your business. The right consultant should provide an objective view on those dilemmas and offer a clear strategy for moving forward.

How Do Business Consultants Work?

How business consultants work depends on what you need. Those who get the ball rolling on change typically come into your business for a fixed period and work with you to solve specific business challenges. Their objective is to plan a new path, spot growth opportunities and teach you critical skills that you can implement yourself after the consultant leaves. Consultants who come in to do the dirty work in areas where you fall short such as bookkeeping, for example, will usually work on a rolling contract until you don't need her services anymore. Payment options include lump sums, daily rates, hourly rates or even a commission or success-based fee. The latter works well when you have objective goals, for example, you want the consultant to achieve a 20-percent sales growth. It's worthwhile knowing what the options are so you can choose a pay structure that suits your needs.

How to Find a Business Consultant

Personal referrals are a good start. Try networking with your industry associations and the local chamber of commerce to identify candidates in your area; you can also find talented people through LinkedIn. Anyone can call themselves a consultant, so make sure the candidate has the necessary certification for his area of expertise. The Association of Accredited Small Business Consultants is a membership organization for small business consultants; accredited consultants must adhere to a strict code of conduct. It's wise to vet credentials through the consultant's website. Ask for examples of their past successes and ensure you contact references.


About the Author

A former real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and corporate communications, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London.