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Turning Consultants Into Hidden Weapons And Not Financial Sink Holes: for owner-managed businesses.

About the author
Francis J. Haines, Jr. is President of Janvier Associates, Inc., a Concord-based consulting firm providing financial, bank credit, and operating performance assistance to owner-managed businesses. Mr. Haines established Janvier in 1990 after a 23-year career in commercial banking as senior commercial loan administrator and bank president. Jay can be contacted at 603 223 0901 or at

It is reasonably easy to know when to consult a lawyer or an accountant. But knowing when to call a business consultant can be elusive. Most executives know their business better than anyone else, so they might not recognize when the use of outside expertise would be beneficial

Why Use a Business Consultant

A business consultant is a professional with a specialized expertise - and one who brings an unbiased view to your business. As such, a consultant provides specific talents that are not likely to already exist on your staff. You pay a premium for these talents, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term expense.

When to Use a Business Consultant

From start-up to the day you sell your business or retire, the services of a business consultant can be invaluable. In "getting started", consultants can help you draft a business plan, write employee handbooks and job descriptions, prepare marketing materials, set up your computer system, and get you on-line. Later, you may use consultants for market research and strategic planning, organizational structuring, performance analyses, executive searches for key employees, and financial/tax advice for expanding, merging or selling your business. By using outsourced expertise, you get what you need without having to add costly full-time experts to your payroll. You know you should bring in a consultant when your own ideas aren't being effectively implemented, or don't bear the fruit you had expected.

Finding a Business Consultant That's Right For You

The best way to determine if a consultant is right for your needs is to seek recommendations. Professional advisors and business peers are good sources of information. Then, conduct a series of telephone interviews. Once you've found a consultant - or better yet, a few - who seem to grasp your needs, set up a meeting with each to describe your situation in more detail. This meeting should be at no charge to you.

This meeting is important in helping you to get a feel for the personalities involved and the working relationship you can expect. During the meeting, ask for a detailed proposal to include a definition of the issue(s), the scope of work to be provided and the expected results, how long it will take, fees and payment schedule(s), and any other conditions. Also ask for references and then CALL THEM.

How to Use Your Business Consultant

Like anything else, you have to work to get the best results. Don't bring someone in and say "do your thing". Know the situation and what you need.

Before beginning, sign an "Engagement Agreement" that reflects the consultant's proposal. By the way, it's not uncommon to pay half the fee up front and half when the job is done, or to stagger payments over the course of the project. Since consultants rely on referrals for their next job, they should be happy to ensure your satisfaction before receiving their last payment.

Finally, stay in touch during the life of the project. Through regularly scheduled meetings, you can stay "on track" and make sure your consultant is also "on track."

Used Properly, Consultants Become Your "Hidden Weapon"

With remarkable advances in technology, the marketplace is forever reinventing itself and it's getting larger. Hiring consultants with the expertise you need, when you need it, can give you a competitive edge that might otherwise slip through your fingers. Using consultants during the "start-up" phase of your business familiarizes you with the benefits of outside experts. As a result, you're more likely to effectively use consultants during subsequent business stages.

Tips To Remember:

Consultants are outsourced experts, available as needed Identify your specific needs Work from a list of referred consultants Ask for a formal proposal Sign an Engagement Agreement Fee payment(s) must be justified in value of service Final payment only on satisfied results Consultants provide value in all stages of the life of a business

Francis J. Haines/ Janvier Associates tel. 603 223 0901