Many small business owners hit a point where they find it’s necessary to hire a small business consultant. Whether you’re looking to solve an issue, capitalize on a new market, strategize for the future or streamline your overall processes, a small business consultant can provide the guidance and expertise you need to hit your goals and grow.
What Do Small Business Consultants Do?
A small business consultant can help you deepen your knowledge or develop specific business skills. They can work with you to create frameworks and programs that don’t yet exist in your organization. A consultant can also help you identify future opportunities and guide your business in the right direction.
In summary, a small business consulting firm can help you take your business to the next level while allowing you to refocus on what you do best: Developing your small business and pursuing the passions that led you to launch your company in the first place.
Below, we break down four ways small business consulting firms provide value.
1. Hiring a Small Business Consultant for Accounting and Bookkeeping
While it’s not unusual for small business owners to do accounting and bookkeeping themselves, the DIY method can become time consuming and potential liability as a business grows—especially if you’re not trained in these areas. This is where hiring a consultant can make a huge difference.
“In as little as a few hours a month, a good bookkeeper can do most of your record-keeping, including submitting invoices, paying bills, doing payroll and prepping the company accounts for tax season,” writes Susan Ward of The Balance Small Business.
Not only that, but accounting and bookkeeping consultants can make recommendations for how to save money on your taxes and give input on how to cut your business costs.
2. Utilizing an IT Consultant
IT consultants can be instrumental in fortifying your organization against virtual threats and helping your small business stay abreast of today’s shifting technology landscape.
“For organizations without IT management skills, independent IT consultants can be valuable allies who help identify needs, find potential service providers, advise on provider selection and help plan and manage the project,” writes Mike Bohlmann of Entrepreneur.
Additionally, an IT consultant can help you:
- Integrate or improve your phone systems, computers, software and storage space
- Upgrade your servers
- Defend your sensitive information against threats
- Ensure your business is not negatively impacted by outdated technology
3. Partnering With a Marketing Consultant
A marketing consultant can help you cut past the confusion to create a marketing strategy that maximizes your brand’s potential.
Nicolas Maechler, Kevin Neher and Robert Park of McKinsey & Company point out, “The explosion of potential customer interaction points — across new channels, devices, applications and more — makes the consistency of service and experience across channels nigh impossible unless you’re managing the journey, and not simply individual touchpoints.”
It’s a marketing consultant’s job to guide you towards winning strategies to generate more leads and shore up your marketing programs, helping you to:
- Create marketing plans
- Work on positioning statements
- Develop your brand
- Launch advertising campaigns
- Establish social media strategies
- Initiate sales processes and improvements
Plus, marketing consultants can design and implement individual marketing campaigns, oversee training and coaching programs and provide strategic advice on promoting your business.
4. Developing HR Programs With a Small Business Consultant
For small businesses, there are numerous advantages to hiring an outside HR consultant, the most important of which include having a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.
HR consultants are an invaluable resource when it comes to helping your business attract and retain the best employees and coordinate tactical HR functions. These types of consultants can also help you map out appropriate employee compensation or create and execute leadership development and workforce training programs.
Choosing the Right Small Business Consulting Firm
When it comes to taking your business to the next level, hiring the right consultant can be a cost-effective way to bridge knowledge, skills and resource gaps. But how do you choose a consultant who’s right for your needs?
While you can always start with a quick Google search of the top small business consulting firms in your area, it’s smart to go into conversations with prospective partners armed with baseline questions.
Here are a few qualities to look for as you shop around for the right fit.
A Proven Track Record
One of the most common ways small business owners find great consultants? By tapping into their network.
Start by asking other business owners who have hired consultants for similar needs and find out who they used, what results they achieved and if that business owner would hire them again.
Don’t be afraid to ask the consultants themselves for references and concrete examples of their work. Hard evidence is the best way to find a partner who will produce great work for your firm. Plus, experienced consultants will have case studies explaining the problems they have worked on and the results they achieved.
Expertise and Focus
The type of business you own and the problems you want to address will help you narrow down the small business consulting firms that are a good fit for you. For instance, if it’s a tax issue you need help with, you’ll want to look into accounting and bookkeeping consultants.
The industry match should be close but does not need to be exact. The experts at Robert Half point out that if you operate in the foodservice industry, for example, a financial consultant who has expertise in determining the cost of goods versus the cost of labor could be a valuable asset for your team.
Keep in mind, business consulting isn’t a tightly-regulated industry. So when vetting prospective partners, here are a few questions to ask to get an idea of the type of expertise a consultant or firm has:
- How long have they been a small business consultant?
- How long have they been a small business owner (If they own a small business)?
- How many clients have they worked with and in which industries?
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to ask the consultant about what size firm they typically work with. While some small business consultants specialize in coaching firms with 100 or more employees, others specialize in consulting companies with fewer than five employees or solo entrepreneurs.
Education and Certifications
What is the gold standard when it comes to a small business consulting certification? The answer is: it depends on your industry.
If you’re working with a small business consulting firm, look for:
- Awards or accolades from local organizations or publications: A top workplace award or fastest-growing business award are signs of client satisfaction and healthy workplace culture, respectively.
- Case studies: Seeing what the consultant or firm did for several clients — and the results of their work — is perhaps the quickest way to get a sense of what they can provide for your firm.
For individual small business consultants, degrees in business, economics, finance, math, engineering — or an MBA — can be a window into a prospective partner’s credibility, as can proven leadership skills and specific areas of expertise. But these needn’t be the only determining qualifications, as problem-solving skills can be honed just as well with enough experience.
Additionally, look for a professional who is aggressively pursuing continuing education and knowledge, and who is on the cutting edge of the industry they focus on.
Fees and Fee Structure
As you shop around for a small business consultant, you will begin to get a sense of how long it will take to address your business’s issue, and what kind of help you will need.
A good way to determine which small business consulting firm will give you the most bang for your buck is to start by considering these questions:
- Does the consultant charge by the hour or a fixed project/package rate?
- Does the rate make financial sense for your business?
- Is the timeframe open-ended or is there a firm end date?
Once you’ve interviewed a few consultants and narrowed down your options, you can tell your final contenders your problem and ask them for a quote, which typically involves:
- Working with the small business consultant to determine what the project will look like (the consultant will walk you through this)
- Outlining and documenting what the engagement will involve
- Defining and agreeing on a price for the project (whether hourly or lump sum)
As a rule of thumb, typical consulting fees are double — sometimes triple — the actual wage of the position being engaged.
Pro Tip: A consultant who charges more by the hour but can deliver a strategy faster may prove a wiser investment for the business owner than an inexpensive consultant. Even if your budget is tight, resist the urge to cut corners. Instead, match your needs to the scope of work and the expertise of the consultant who will provide the best results.
Is a Small Business Consulting Firm Worth the Cost?
As your small business grows and changes, bringing on a consultant can give you valuable skills, knowledge and insights that will equip your organization for future success.
In some cases, you may only need to tap the specialized expertise of a consultant for a few weeks or months. The insights you gain, however, can positively impact your business for years to come.