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Many small businesses count on professional services from companies and individual consultants to supplement their in-house expertise and capabilities. Some of these relationships contribute enormously to business success while others falter and may feel like a waste of money. Based on my experience in hiring professional services and as a consultant providing them to other companies, here are some lessons about creating partnerships that work and getting the most value from consulting relationships.
1. Treat your consultant as a partner. The most successful consultation relationships I’ve had, both as an employer and a contractor, are when service providers are treated as an extension of the team. This manifests through setting clear expectations, presenting an atmosphere that respects the contract services, and working seamlessly so you enlist the best ideas and contributions to a strategy or a project from both the in-house and external teams.
2. Share information. The more service providers are kept in the know, the better equipped they are to give their best advice and to identify how they can add value. Invite your consultants to important meetings, send them business updates that relate to the project you’ve contracted with them, and share staff and organizational changes. If you expect them to guess your needs or be strategic while only seeing pieces of the puzzle, you may be undermining your own contractors—and diminishing what they can accomplish for you.
3. Insist that experienced professionals work the account. Ever have an executive sell business to you and then disappear after you sign the contract? Be sure that you specify in your contract which professionals (by name or title) are responsible for delivering—versus supervising—the service. Estimate the time and cost of their involvement in the budget. It is rarely enough for these executives to "supervise" if you are paying for senior-level work.
4. Allocate responsibilities. To spend fees wisely, it is worth limiting the number of reports and meetings you require, minimizing the number of document drafts that need to pass back and forth, and streamlining your internal process for chasing down resources and securing approvals. Tasks that involve multiple internal contacts often are most effectively handled by the in-house team.
5. Set clear expectations. I’m a big believer in itemizing deliverables and roles up-front. The more specific assignments, deadlines, budgets, and roles are in the contract or project plan, the less chance for misunderstanding—and the better chance for an effective outcome.
President and CEO
Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications
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