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Using consultants

Managing the varied demands of a small business, you often feel that you are required to be a master of all trades. It is not possible, though, to be an expert in every aspect of your business.

What can a consultant help me with?

  • Human resources - especially hiring and firing people, and seeking recognition as an Investor in People.
  • Business management - especially getting proper systems in place or troubleshooting tricky management problems.
  • Business advice - especially when setting up a business for the first time.
  • Health and safety - especially in a new business that may have to comply with regulations.
  • Public relations - especially when your business needs a marketing boost.
  • Quality issues - especially if you decide to introduce recognised standards such as ISO 9000.
  • Environmental issues - especially when your business wants to put itself on an environmentally friendly footing for the future.

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What are the advantages of using consultants?

  • You can call on consultants when you need them, but you are not taking on any long-term costs as you would do when employing someone.
  • An outsider's perspective is often crucial for spotting problems or opportunities.
  • A consultant is ideally an expert in their field. They will have seen your business's need or problem before, and can offer you the benefit of that experience without you having to learn it the hard way.
  • The focused expertise of a consultant is particularly useful when your business has to comply with current legislation affecting your sector. Their experience in this will save you a great deal of time, and eliminate the risk of you making a costly legal mistake.

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What should I expect to pay a consultant?

This will vary both between and within kinds of consultants. A management consultant's fees, for example, will start at about 300 per day, but could be as high as 1,000 per day or more.

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What should I include in a brief to a consultant?

A written brief should contain business information, budget details, business aims and objectives, resource details, time constraints, special conditions, problem details and reporting methods. This should prevent confusion and make the overall process more effective. Most importantly, the brief provides the means to assess the work when it has been done.

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How can I protect my business interests, and keep things confidential?

Consultants are required to respect the confidentiality of their client's business and not to divulge any information about your business to a third party. To be quite sure that the consultant will abide by this, include a clause about confidentiality in the contract.

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Hints and tips

  • Be prepared to listen attentively to the consultant's comments and be willing to admit you may have made mistakes. Never employ a consultant to ratify something that you have already decided.
  • Try to absorb as much as possible of the consultant's expertise; treat the process as a learning experience.
  • The Institute of Management Consultancy is a good starting point

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