Consultants vs. Partnerships: A Case for the Long-Term
EVALUATING THE OPTIONS
In today's marketplace, you'll typically find three different 'breeds': Contractors, Consultants, & Partners. Each brings their own positives and negatives to the table as you look for assistance with whatever problem(s) you're looking to solve.
But wait... do they all have negatives? Intriguing notion...
'CHURN & BURN' VS. 'CONSULTATIVE AGREEMENTS'
Contractors are most often exactly that - 'churn and burn' individuals or organizations who attack a specific problem or organizational need, address it, and are out the door as fast as they can while charging maximum dollars. They go 'A to B' - and rarely, if ever, want anything to do with C.
While still focused on delivering solutions for their clients, Consultants take the next step. By incorporating consultative advice based on prior experience - both inside and outside of the your vertical - they are able to influence the approach you may or may not take in addressing organizational needs. Remember though, you're paying for that experience - likely at top dollar - in addition to paying for the manpower to complete the associated work. Consultants are more 'A to B while telling you to consider C and D all while looking at 1, 2, and 3'. Oh, and, pay me while I'm helping you consider C and D - because we don't do that for free.
So, let's be clear - there is absolutely nothing wrong with these kinds of engagements. As with most things in business and in life, there is a time and place for everything. Make sure you clearly understand the purpose of both Contractors and Consultants as you look to put pen to paper on those very dollar-heavy, potentially all-consuming contracts.
What you see is not always what you get.
PARTNERSHIPS FOR THE LONG TERM
You knew this is where we were going all along - it's in the title. Duh.
So now, the question must be asked: Why Partnerships? What is the added value from finding a Consultant who is a Partner?
An engagement with a Consultant or Consulting Firm is no small task.
From the moment you decide to engage to the time they actually walk in the door can be months.
You and your business will invest massive amounts of time and money, as well as human and physical resources, in the pursuit of the promise of something better - delivered by said Consultant(s).
You and/or members of your organization will need to spend significant amounts of time to educate the Consultant(s) on your operation.
The first, second, or even third iteration of any deliverable(s) will not be perfect, so expect multiple cycles of improvement to be necessary in order to have a viable deliverable produced.
For you and/or your staff, a productivity quagmire is created: is it more valuable to spend time working with the Consultant(s), or, is it more valuable to do my regular job?
Think of it as Return on Investment (ROI): If you were to invest $100,000, would you want a return of $1,000 or $1,000,000?
While the answer is obvious when framed this way, you'd be shocked how many businesses are swept up in the 'aura' of the promise of a better day. However, what they fail to see is the Consultant(s) eating away their productivity, their ability to serve their customers, and most notably, their profit margins.
So how do you prevent yourself from falling into this trap?
IDENTIFYING PARTNERS FROM CONSULTANTS
As you evaluate different Consultants, consider a few markers to gauge long term viability:
1) Does the prospective consultant spend as much or more time asking you questions about your goals and objectives beyond just the task at hand?
2) Does the prospective consultant inquire as to how your business operates holistically versus just the area of concern?
3) Does the prospective consultant take great pains to itemize every last area of effort for billing and invoicing, or, do they focus on the deliverable(s) and how they help improve your organization without conversations of billing and rates?
4) Does the prospective consultant offer advice and/or potential solutions before the terms and conditions of the engagement are even written?
5) Does the prospective consultant encourage you to speak with other consultants / consulting firms in order to help confirm the proper fit for your organization?
6) Does the prospective consultant state when they are lacking in experience / expertise in certain areas so as to provide full transparency in their capabilities? Or, do you consistently hear they are capable of delivering everything you need?
7) Does the prospective consultant offer 'warranties' for their work, committing to being available to support you and your business long after the deliverables are completed?
Fair to say these few questions only scratch the surface as to the presence and viability of long-term Consultative Partners. However, if you continue to ask questions in a similar vein, you will be able to sort out those who are in for the quick paycheck as opposed to those who are in it for your success.
The sum is always greater than the individual parts.
Great Consultants know their success is a direct byproduct of understanding their client's business model, objectives, and goals so thoroughly so as to align and deliver consulting services for the greatest return on the organizational investment.
This equation creates a symbiosis between the individual parts - a partnership where both parties can be jointly invested in each other for the common goal of success.
MAKING THE CASE (TL;DR)
Contractors and Consultants have their place - just make sure you know what you're getting yourself into before you sign an agreement.
Consultants who act as your Partner will always be more concerned with the success of your business rather than their bottom line - every single time.
Consulting Partners will always be willing to throttle their services with the rhythms of your business without forcing themselves on you.
Consulting Partners will, without prompting and without cost, always bring forth new and unique ideas for how to help improve your business.
Always view Consulting Partnerships through the lens of ROI - am I getting out of this Partnership more than what I'm putting into it? If you can answer 'yes' to that question, you do indeed have a Partner.
Red Star Consulting views all of our relationships as Partnerships. No business can function without the assistance of others. Irrespective of 'competitor' or 'complimentary', we fully believe all organizations have their place in the ecosystem of business.