Like me, my lovely husband is a consultant (a different sort, not research) and he has blogged a couple of times on the subject of consultancy.
Consultancy as a Profession
Recruitment, Finding a Job, Becoming a Consultant
This is useful and interesting stuff for anyone hiring a consultant or who wishes to be a consultant so I’d encourage you to have a read. Plus he quotes me on something and says I “observed insightfully” – oh yeah! I like that!
All of Ian’s points are good ones, but the one that struck a particular chord with me was:
Bring focus and process to the project. Many clients are not experienced in the task they have hired a consultant to complete, and they may not be experienced users of consultancy. It is incumbent on the consultant to set meetings, calls and deliverables and to ensure the client knows what is expected of them at each stage.
This is a really key point. Clients generally wouldn’t hire a consultant if they could do the job themselves, so they need to hire a consultant that can get the job done by taking control of the process and imposing focus.
And in the sectors I work in – public and third sector – this is exacerbated because my clients are usually busy people juggling a million tasks on a limited budget so they have a lot on their minds and a lot on their to-do lists.
When I work with clients I therefore do my very best to make it easy for them to work with me. This is at the front of my mind at all times. I write a very detailed proposal and project plan so we all know what I am supposed to do. At each stage I am explicit about what I’ll do next, and when, and what the client will need to do to enable that. I make sure I tell clients what they need to know, as often as they want to know it, so that they can be assured that progress is being made against the project plan. If clients want to be in constant contact, great. If they want me to make the whole thing disappear and come back with a report at the end, great. Or, more often, I update them once a week.
I know that some of my clients have never commissioned research before, and I’m always very happy to talk them through the process and make sure they feel comfortable with the choices that we make together. If clients are experienced consumers of research consultancy that’s fine too. We can talk about the technical stuff if they want to.
I adapt. Every client is different and every client relationship is different. And so it should be, that’s consultancy 101.
I’m looking to minimise disruption and maximise value. I lead the research process in such a way that it fits in with client schedules and ways of working, and allows clients to have input into the process without being overfaced.
I don’t want working with me to be scary or intimidating, but I know that it can be difficult to manage someone else doing a task that you don’t fully understand yourself. One of the reasons I write this blog is to help to demystify the process, and I have written an e-book on research commissioning and management to help my clients out too.
Hiring a consultant should take a specialist task off your hands and make your life easier, freeing you up to do other things. If it doesn’t, you’ve hired the wrong consultant.