Businessman selecting hireWhile many business leaders understand why to hire a consultant, often the real question is about when to hire a consultant. You have needs in your business and you have choices to fill those needs, when is a consultant the best, or at least an on-par, option?

There are 8 main criteria for when to hire a consultant:


  1. You could do the job yourself, but should not
  2. Your employees are afraid
  3. You are unsure of your needs
  4. Headcount budget is an issue
  5. Immediate experience is required
  6. Your needs are known to be short-term or limited
  7. You need to “get the ball rolling”
  8. You want to “try before you buy”

You Could Do the Job Yourself but Should Not

One of the best times to hire a consultant is when you could do the job yourself, but you know you should not be doing it yourself. This is true for start up CEOs, small business owners and organization heads. For example, you could build out the new marketing campaign, designate the tools required, get the quotes and implement the program, but that is really the job of the senior marketer… and you only have a junior marketer.

Your time is better spent with strategy and management, not detail work or handholding inexperienced staff. A consultant bridges the gap allowing you to lead, to maintain close tabs on the job at hand, to discuss issues at the executive level, and to empower your staff through project engagement.

Your Employees are Afraid

Sometimes a key business need or project comes along and it is outside of what your staff does on a daily basis. They may be capable of the job, just not used to it. You discuss what is needed with your team and all you can see is fear in their eyes. Fear of failure, fear of overtime, fear of change, fear of hard work. Suddenly everyone is playing “devil’s advocate” and suggesting alternatives. It happens. This is a time to hire a specialist. Consultants "live change" and complete big projects and work under high expectations every day. Get it done right and let your team learn and grow from working with the consultant.

You are Unsure of Your Needs

You know you have one or more tasks to complete or roles to fill, but you really haven’t quite figured out the sort of skills, or personality, or experience that will best fulfill your needs. Perhaps you are looking at a new line of business but are unsure of whether or not to pursue it long-term. Why spend time and money interviewing potential full-time employees who will only tell you what you want to hear? Work with a consultant to refine or define your needs. Your consultant has no personal stake in how you end up defining your needs. The consultant’s job is just to do the work as you sort it out. Additionally, if you’re really lost in what to do, a veteran’s experience can be a great sounding board to focus your business.

Headcount Budget is an Issue

Having a budget for employees is an issue for just about any organization, and cash flow is typically an issue for start ups and small business. If you need a professional to complete a task, set up processes, perform research or drive business, and the money is limited, a contract consultant is likely your best use of your funds. By using a consultant you limit your financial exposure to the amount contracted and you “buy” only the work needed. With a full-time employee you incur all of the typical overhead expenses for an indeterminate length of time, with a questionable level of quality and the need to manage that employee for the target project and beyond.

Immediate Experience is Required

If your business need is immediate and you don’t have the skill set in house, then it is time to hire an outside expert. Consultants are often immediately available and don’t require much if any training. A full-time employee requires turning on the hiring process, finding budget and approval for the hire, spinning up recruiters and spending in multiple organizations to on-board an employee. Not to mention that when a mistake is made with a full-time hire, it is more costly to undo than with a consultant.

Your Needs are Short-term or Limited

If you have a one-off job or a short-term project, hire a consultant rather than disrupting your full-time employees’ work plan. Just as most businesses have full-time financial people but hire contract accountants at tax time, consultants can provide expert services when performing due diligence on a company or technology, evaluating new markets or business strategies, and more.

You Need to Get the Project Started

Timing is everything and businesses often need to “get the ball rolling” before they are able to put permanent, experienced, staffing in place. This leads to existing staff being overtaxed as stand-ins, or a costly delay in the program. A contract professional will come on board and get the project started, set up the necessary processes, build customer engagements, resolve technology concerns and meet other needs as well as transition the project to your newly hired team when they finally come on board.

You Want to Try Before You Buy

“Try before you buy” is part of the when as well as the why of hiring a consultant. Start ups and small businesses will often hire a consultant to bring them industry expertise with the intention of bringing that consultant on-board, either as a full-time employee or as a retained advisor. When you want an industry expert, look for a consultant before spending your money on someone who might not work out in the long term. A good industry consultant may also be able to refer a colleague to two for your permanent roles.

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