What's a Consultant and How to Work with One
A computer whiz who offers his
services to businesses needing I.T. advice says on his website: “When I
was employed at IBM I was an employee. While I was unemployed I was a
His tongue-in-cheek inference is that consultants are between jobs
waiting for a new situation of paid employment to arise, but in today’s
business environment consultants are performing valuable services for
companies that would otherwise be without access to much-needed
Two simple definitions of a consultant are: “One who gives expert or
professional advice” and “An expert who gives advice”. The key words are
expert and advice.
A consultant is external to the client business. They specialize in a
particular area and have a body of knowledge and experience beyond that
of the client’s own personnel. When the consultant is employed on a
specific assignment they are applying that knowledge and experience for
the client’s benefit.
Consultants help others to
achieve their business goals and are paid a fee for their services. They
are called in as needed and depart when their task has been
accomplished. It is an arrangement that suits both sides of the equation
by enabling consultants to stay up-to-date with their specialized body
of knowledge and not requiring them to work outside their field of
These are just some of the situations where a consultant’s services
might be called upon by a business.
1. The business needs expertise in a specialized area but doesn’t
2. The need for the expertise is temporary and doesn’t justify a
3. The business has inadequate expertise internally.
4. There is a lack of internal unity on a subject and the consultant is
brought in to provide expert advice that leads to a conclusion.
5. The business wants to distance itself from the consequences of a
6. The business wants the consultant to analyse an internally-made
decision with the aim of predicting its consequences.
If you decide to use a consultant for any purpose there are some steps
you can take that will help you maximize the benefit you receive from
• Always give the consultant a full understanding of your business. They
need to know what it is that you do and how you do it. Give them a clear
picture of your enterprise so they’ll know exactly where the work they
do fits in.
• Agree on a schedule for the work they undertake. Never leave
arrangements open-ended. Instead, clearly define what it is they’re
there to do and set a series of milestones to measure progress on the
• Give them a single point of contact in your organization, either
yourself or another senior member of management. It is this person who
will be responsible for providing information and other resources to the
consultant so that work stays on schedule and there are no gaps in
communications between the two parties.
• Agree on the fee that the consultant will charge. For a short-term
project you can usually set a flat figure if there is general agreement
on the duration it will take. Longer-term consultancies are most often
charged for on an hourly or monthly retainer basis.
(If the fee seems high by comparison with what employees in the business
are paid, remember that out of this sum must come the consultant’s
taxes, business costs, insurances, and of course the continuous updating
of their specialized knowledge.)
Finally, when you decide to engage a consultant be sure that everything
is put in writing, both to the consultant and from them. This will help
ensure that both parties know exactly what is needed, who provides it
and when it should be there.