How to use a consultant

Checklist

  1. 1 Define the project and the result you are aiming for; confirm how this will contribute to your overall business objectives.
  2. 2 Consider whether you have (or should acquire) the in-house skills to carry out part or all of the project.
  3. 3 Discuss the project with relevant employees; ask for suggestions and get their agreement to involving a consultant.
  4. 4 Ask your local Business Link, trade association or relevant body to recommend a list of suitable consultants with experience of similar projects.
  5. 5 Choose a suitably skilled and experienced consultant from your shortlist and ask for a preliminary proposal based on your brief; amend the brief to incorporate any valid suggestions.
  6. 6 Clarify roles and responsibilities for the consultant, employees and any other contractors involved.
  7. 7 Identify key objectives; aim for specific, measurable targets but leave room for the consultant to suggest alternatives.
  8. 8 Prepare an outline brief summarising the project, objectives, budget, timescales and in-house resources available to the consultant.
  9. 9 Clarify any constraints on the consultant: for example, restrictions on disclosing confidential information or contacting customers.
  10. 10 Agree a project schedule, including project completion and interim milestones; negotiate escape clauses for sub-standard performance.
  11. 11 Negotiate fees; consider success fees or a fixed fee and clarify exactly how fees will be earned and how any expenses will be handled.
  12. 12 Brief employees involved in the project; ensure they fulfil their responsibilities to maximise the consultant's effectiveness.
  13. 13 Provide access to any necessary in-house information and resources.
  14. 14 Maintain regular contact with the consultant; look for evidence of the work, monitor costs and review the project at each milestone.
  15. 15 Watch for warning signs of any problems: for example, sub-standard work, missed deadlines or poor communication from the consultant, or low morale among the project team.
  16. 16 Check that objectives have been met to the agreed standards before signing off any work or overall project completion.

Cardinal rules

Do:

  • brief relevant employees and get their support
  • use in-house skills where available
  • set clear objectives and performance standards
  • define clear roles and responsibilities for everyone involved
  • set interim milestones
  • monitor progress and tackle problems

Don't:

  • agree to open-ended projects without clear objectives
  • amend the brief mid-project without agreeing new objectives and fees
  • sign off unsatisfactory work
  • become over-reliant on consultants - build in-house skills instead