Working with a consultant

OK, so you’ve followed my advice and selected a consultant, and now you are wondering how this relationship might evolve.  How are you going to work together?  What are the rules of engagement? Here are some of my”do’s” and “don’t’s”.

DO…

  • Be as open as you can up front in initial meetings (all interactions, really). Trying to keep that proverbial closet door closed won’t help scope the work.
  • Outline and agree to the work – figure out what is billable, what isn’t.
  • Realize that you’ll have to participate.  Hiring a consultant doesn’t mean that they do everything in a vacuum – they need your time to find out about your organization.  Ask for a time estimate for your involvement as well.
  • Think long term.  For example in the world of training – you can buy (or customize) a program/course, where you will pay ongoing usage fees or you can contract for a work-for-hire where you own the materials outright and control what’s in them, how they are delivered, etc.  Back-test your thinking with some scenarios to see if this is a good call for today and tomorrow. 

DON’T…

  • Go fishing.  If you don’t really think you are going to hire this person for the work, then say so up front.  It is a waste of time and will lead to an awkward conversation and a strained relationship.  If you have no budget to do the work, then just say so.
  • Assume the consultant is at your beck-and-call, be respectful of their time and recognize they have other clients.
  • Pay for a proposal or initial meeting.
  • Buy solely on price.  Be up front with your budget and if you’ve picked a consultant that you trust, they should tell you where they’ll add value and where you can cut costs.  If not, then they aren’t really on your team and are more interested in selling you something.   If you are provided a proposal with a breakdown of costs (based on assumptions), don’t try to eliminate steps because you want to save money.  The steps are not put in to gouge you, but because that’s the logical way of doing the work.  Tell the consultant what you can afford and ask for them to give you a proposal that fits with your budget.

What would you add to my list?  Anything you disagree with?


Holly MacDonald is an independent consultant with well over 15 years of experience in the learning & development field.  Holly is a bit of a techno-geek and can often be found playing online.  When she steps away from her computer, she spends time outside: hiking, kayaking, gardening and of course walking the dog.  She lives on Saltspring Island and is a leader in the live/work revolution.

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Choosing the right consultant

I wrote before in defense of consultants.  Today’s post is about choosing the right consultant.  I am the right consultant for some, but not others.  Maybe I’ve got the skills, but not the right style.  Maybe I’ve got the reputation, but not the experience.  Maybe you just don’t trust me, because we’ve just met and you think consultants are smarmy.  The type of relationship will fall somewhere in between life partner and car dealership, give or take a few degrees of opinion.  How do you go about choosing?  Until e-harmony comes up with a “consulting” match service, you might have to do it the old-fashioned way…

Trust – you’ve got to trust that the consultant is going to provide you with their best advice.  So, meeting them and talking to them is kinda important.

Reputation – ask around – have others worked with this person/firm and if so, what was their experience?  Just because you’ve seen their name all over the place, doesn’t mean that they are good or more importantly a good fit for your organization.

Experience – look at the whole of their experience – in today’s world, people move in and out of organizations and they may have spent time “internally”.  One thing many people have said to me, is that they appreciate a consultant who is honest and says “no” to requests that they feel they are not qualified to do and recommend someone else for that work.

Size/scope of work – sometimes you have a small piece of work and can engage an independent consultant/contractor.  Other times your needs are larger and you need a firm with depth (or a well-connected independent who can help broker your needs).

Role – are you looking for a contractor for the individual piece of work or would you like to build a longer term relationship?

Style – do you need someone who is going to take the bull by the horns and tell you what to do?  Or, do you need someone who is going to involve you in the process and collaborate.

In fact, it’s a lot like finding an employee.  So, don’t just treat them like a commodity – buying a surveying service or training product – these folks are part of your talent ecosystem…


Holly MacDonald is an independent consultant with well over 15 years of experience in the learning & development field.  Holly is a bit of a techno-geek and can often be found playing online.  When she steps away from her computer, she spends time outside: hiking, kayaking, gardening and of course walking the dog.  She lives on Saltspring Island and is a leader in the live/work revolution.