The basics of hiring a consulting firm remain constant: receive multiple proposals and talk to previous customers of all firms you’re considering. It’s amazing how often senior executives neglect these basic precautions.

Unfortunately, there are several common mistakes between the preliminary search and final hiring of a consulting firm. While no criteria is foolproof, you’re more likely to make a wise hiring decision by avoiding these common problems:

1. NOT hiring a consulting firm

It’s the classic blunder. Many major projects may appear to be well within the realm of your team’s capability. But before you know it, they’ve morphed into monstrous initiatives that burn out your best employees and require you to hire a consultant to clean up the mess. It’s usually less expensive if you hire the right firm from the outset.

2. Waiting until you are desperate

Waiting until things catastrophically fail can increase the cost of a remedy, or worse, lead to irreparable damage. A minor customer service process issue can turn into a big issue if sales increase. As soon as you see signs of trouble, begin engaging with consulting firms to see how you can head off a major complication.

3. Delivering muddled communication

Open communication includes asking straightforward questions and clearly delineating what you want and expect from a consulting firm. Put verbal communication in writing.

4. Being enticed by low or high bids

Be wary of bids that are outliers (substantially higher or lower than the competition). Make sure each bid accounts for the same services and can be compared realistically. Read the fine print.

Lower bids might mean part-time resources that are stretched thin between competing priorities. They may assume internal employees will be responsible for day-to-day activities with minimal oversight from the consulting firm.

Higher bids rarely reflect higher standards of service. It might be as simple as out-of-town travel expenses billed to a project, or a firm with a full workload only seeking work with high-profit margins.

5. Choosing a consulting firm that never says no

A consulting firm that says yes to everything is probably too good to be true. Either they are desperate for business or aren’t really listening to your needs. In a good consulting relationship, the firm will serve as a trusted advisor who may occasionally have a differing opinion.

6. Hiring a firm to fix a problem without assessing it

Don’t hire consultants to fix a problem without asking them to first gauge the issue. This doesn’t necessitate binders full of analysis or months-long studies on the topic. However, it does require the consulting firm to take a broad view of your situation and provide straightforward answers about your current approach and their proposal.

On the flip side is the consultant who wants to sell more work than is actually needed. To avoid this, ensure the consulting firm provides you with a project plan with an exit strategy. Any deviations from the agreed upon timeline should be made upfront and well in advance.

It’s easy to be enticed by a low price, propensity for a “yes” to everything, or always being told what you want to hear. Stop, take a minute, and make sure the consulting firm will tell you what needs to be said and can solve your problem. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to every issue. It’s important to assess all options and ensure the consultants you hire will deliver what they promise.

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