By Jennifer Barnes, CEO of Optima Office, a firm that provides Fractional CFOs, COOs, Controllers and HR professionals for businesses.
Many business owners gravitate toward hiring in-house staff instead of bringing on a consultant or fractional resource mostly because they aren’t familiar with how the process works. Many companies have a better understanding of the role of a full-time employee than an ambiguously titled “consultant.”
However, strategically bringing on consulting help can be a cost-effective way to grow your business. With the right consultant, companies can add a missing skill set when they need it, for as long as they need it. It’s a fill-the-gap model that can add a tremendous amount of value.
But when exactly should you consider bringing on a consultant? Let’s consider a few instances.
When One Employee Is Filling Multiple Positions
If a single employee is doing the work of multiple roles, consider bringing on a consultant to fill at least one of those roles. This way, you get exactly what and who you need and only for the hours you need them, and you have the right person performing the work well instead of having one employee trying to perform several poorly.
A great example I often see is that of the office manager/bookkeeper/controller. Often, someone is assigned this role despite not being capable of closing the books, yet the company is relying on them to provide accurate and timely financials. A true controller will not want — or have the time — to order office supplies or do data entry. Therefore, you have an employee trying to keep up, constantly overwhelmed and not delivering the results that will drive your business forward.
When Your Team Lacks Necessary Experience/Knowledge
If there is no one on the team with the necessary level of experience or depth of knowledge for a particular role or project, it’s time to bring on a consultant. For instance, if you were trying to assess the value of your company and no one on your team has done that before, consider bringing on a valuation expert for this particular project.
For example, if you want to change your marketing strategy, an experienced CMO could give you the consulting advice you need. You may choose to hire a middle-level marketing person full-time to help execute this new strategy, however, if you don’t have 40 hours a week for this person, you could hire a marketing agency and a CMO consultant. You would get everything you need at the levels you need.
When You Can’t Afford To Fill The Position Full-Time
Companies of all sizes are searching for high-level finance and accounting expertise. In most cases, it just doesn’t make sense to hire a full-time CFO or controller, nor is there enough work for someone at the CFO or controller level to do.
Recently, my team and I worked with a company facing this exact problem. They had one employee working as the bookkeeper, office manager, controller and human resources director. Yikes! When this employee tragically passed away, the company faced some big issues: no one knew where their check stock was located or how to process payroll, the books were a mess, a fifth of the employees had inaccurate information in their personnel file and many expressed they didn’t feel they had an advocate in HR. Instead of trying to fill all of these roles immediately, either with another individual or several employees, they brought in three consultants from our firm, all experts in these areas, and divided up the work. Saving them time, money and a whole lot of stress.
How To Bring On A Consultant
If you find your business in one or more of the above situations, it might be time to hire a consultant to help fill the gaps. Whether you’re hiring an IT consultant, a human resource expert or a C-suite executive, you want to find the right person for your business. You should not only focus on the specific expertise a consultant has but look for someone who fits within the culture of your organization.
When looking for the right consultant, it’s also important to define your goals ahead of time, and not just over the next quarter, but the next few years. What kind of support are you going to need? Do you just want to maintain and need competent people to help you, or do you need someone strategic, such as a CFO or COO, to help you with forward-looking advice?
If you make the decision to hire a consultant, start by researching a few companies to see which one is the right fit. It’s important to take this decision seriously to ensure you are hiring the right firm, and therefore the right consultant, to support you. By asking some important questions, such as inquiring about the firm’s retention rate and how they describe their culture, you will gain a better understanding of what they stand for. You want a firm and a consultant who doesn’t approach their clients with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Additionally, a firm that offers a fixed fee is not usually a good long-term solution as they may find a way to cut corners to gain margin. Mostly, you want to find the solution that is going to be customized to you specifically and one that is able to evolve with you as you grow.