“Tell the internet what you are, and that is what you will become”.
I first heard this line from Tim Martin from Net101 and I love it. I love it for many reasons but primarily for the simplistic way it demonstrates how the internet and the online world really works. In a nutshell, the internet is just one great big database, that by design can only give people information that has already been put in there by someone else. This means, if a potential customer was to run a search for your business, it’s not just Google that decides on its own what search results, you pop up in, you do as well. What this means is if, for example, you are a small business consultant in a particular city and that is how you want to market yourself online, then you had better make sure that your online presence includes the words small business consultant and the name of the city you are in, preferably a few times to improve your chance of success. Anyone can do it, therefore you can tell the internet whatever you want, to be whatever you want, to make sure you appear in the most relevant search results. Now, we all know to be successful in search marketing it isn’t this simple, and because Google wants to keep you on your toes there are a plethora of other factors at play to ensure you come up on the first page of a search result etc,. But my point is this, don’t always believe what you see in search results as people can tell you they are anything you want them to be (because you searched for it).
Why is this important?
As a small business, you are often reliant on the services of others to help you ‘run’ your business, from couriers to suppliers and everything in between, a small business will have a team of external suppliers to help keep it ticking over on a day to day basis. Finding these common, everyday partner businesses online is pretty straightforward, and more often than not you will have some form of knowledge about these types of businesses, or you will know someone who is using them so you can get a firsthand recommendation before you engage.
But what happens when you are looking for a more strategic partner, some kind of consultant to help your business grow? It’s slightly less tangible than a courier and it can be hard to find the right one. On top of that you may not want to ask around or even know who to ask to get a referral. Can you rely solely on the search results you get back from Google? What other checks can you do to make sure you engage with the best one for your business?
How to pick the right consultant
Start with an online search
Whilst, for reasons already stated, it’s not the only tool you should use to find the right consultant, it is the best place to start. This is because you can really drill down from the many search results you will get and build a list of 4-5 possible consultants to explore further based on exactly what you are looking for.
Tip: Before you start typing in ‘small business consultant’ develop a list of expectations you want from them that is in line with your business and what you want them to do. For example, if you looking for a marketing consultant that has experience in e-retail or health products then make sure your search includes this information.
Armed with your short list head over to their websites and read everything on it. Check for credentials, industry acknowledgements, business size, customer testimonials, case studies and most importantly, relevant experience. Don’t forget, they may have come up in a search result for ‘health marketing for small business consultant’, but that doesn’t mean they have relevant experience. If they don’t have a website head to their LinkedIn account, a great place to also find out how well connected they are and what their peers think of them (via recommendations). You may find a common link between you and your prospective consultant, which will give you another source of reference to use. If they don’t have a LinkedIn profile, scratch them off your list.
Tip: Don’t use tertiary qualifications as the only requirement also look for relevant, practical and recent experience. Anyone can get a degree, but not everyone will have the right type of experience to meet your business requirement. Also, make sure the consultant is up to date on industry and business trends and beware of consultants who last worked in the industry 20 years ago but are no longer active with industry bodies or current practice.
Head over to other social media platforms
Ok, you may think this is kind of stalking but working with the right person on something as important as your business means you should cover all bases, especially if you are looking for a social media or digital consultant. See if they have a business presence and check it out. What are they saying, how are they saying it and how do they respond to their customers? If their personal profiles are public, check out what they are posting. Trust me, this information will tell you a lot about them personally and you can assess if your values are aligned.
Tip: If you are looking for a social media consultant then they must have their own social media presence. Full stop.
Pick up the phone
If you must send an email or communicate via an online contact form or social media platform, make sure it’s to schedule a time to call them. Don’t meet with any consultant without speaking to them on the phone first. This phone contact will help solidify your online research to make sure they are the right person with the right skills. Ask them to tell you a case study that aligns with your needs and if they tell you to head over to their website for more information scratch them off your list. You want to hear them tell you, not read it for yourself. That’s the sign of a disengaged and lazy consultant (or one too busy to take you on).
Tip: To make sure your conversation delivers all the information you need to make a decision write down a list of questions before you dial. Introduce your business and what you are looking for then ask them to tell you in their own words if they think they could help you and why. Listen for the passion in their voice – passion for both yours and their business.
Meet in ‘person’
To be able to compare, make sure you have a minimum of 2 consultants to meet with in person and be open to meeting either physically or virtually, via online platforms such as Skype. Virtual meetings are great if you are not able to leave your business or you are open to working with a consultant remotely because they live a long way from you. Putting a face to a name is a great way to get a feel for a consultant as a person and it helps you gauge their interest level in sitting down with you. Keep the meeting short, no more than one hour and prepare a brief for the consultant to take away that captures the conversation and what you are asking them to do (email it prior to the meeting if you are Skyping). A good consultant will appreciate this and be able to give you a thorough response to your brief to help you make the best decision.
Tip: One of the biggest turn-offs for consultants are tyre kicker prospects who want to sit down for coffee and ‘have a chat’. This usually means the consultant ends up getting their brains picked, the conversation goes around in circles and they walk away not knowing what they are being asked to do or if they will ever hear from you again. It is your responsibility to make sure the consultant knows what you are after and give them an opportunity to provide a quote or project scope to show how they can deliver on your needs.
Make a quick decision
Be professional and get back to the consultant in a timely manner. A good consultant will follow up with a courtesy call or email after you have met, but please don’t make them call or email you multiple times to get an update on your decision. And don’t ignore their attempts to call you because you don’t want to tell them they haven’t won the job, or you’ve changed your mind about moving ahead with it. Not only is it unprofessional, it’s rude.
Tip: Make a commitment at the close of your ‘face to face’ meeting to get back to the consultant with a decision and stick to it.
Do you have any tips on how to pick the right consultant? We’d love to hear from you.
Image Credits: Moviehole