Whether you are a start-up or an established small business, you are likely to come across a challenge that requires outside input at some point in your business’s journey.
But consultants are expensive – for most SMEs, too expensive, so here are some alternatives that can help you out of a hole, without breaking the bank.
SMEs tend to employ people with a range of skills so that they can grow within their roles and fill gaps that appear as the company grows and develops.
This lack of a formal role can be a great asset and means that, generally, everyone is working towards common goals, pulling together and driving the company forward, often with greater job satisfaction for the individuals.
However, this does not always serve you as well when the business is confronted with a serious problem.
While most SMEs have the breadth of skills needed to keep things running day-to-day, they probably don’t have the depth of skills needed to overcome larger challenges. It’s also unlikely they can afford to employ a full-time specialist.
Turning to a consultant
This is the point at which a large number of SMEs will turn to a consultant. Indeed, SMEs in the UK spend a massive £60bn on professional services per year. Unfortunately, much of the spend is wasted, for reasons including:
- Although it’s likely a consulting firm has seen the issue before, the complexity of advice, level of experience and cost is often disproportionate to the needs of the SME.
- A small business owner may be required to adhere to a minimum fee/contract length for advice that they may not have the expertise to put into practice, even though they only really need a couple of questions answered. In fact, according to research, SMEs in London paid management consultants an average of £12,600 for 10 days’ work.
- Consultancy firms often use senior team members to manage their teams and send out their junior team members who have less experience and knowledge.
So, if you have hit a hurdle, what can you do to secure appropriate advice, preferably without spending fortunes, to avoid becoming one of the statistics cited above.
1. Draw on your existing staff resources
We know your staff is keeping everything going day-to-day, but it might just be that they could also turn out to be a fast, inexpensive and – most importantly – effective source of advice.
The chances are your team members will previously have held various roles in different-sized organisations and in different sectors.
Perhaps you hired them for their expertise in strategy but that doesn’t mean they don’t have experience of sales or marketing or have insight into that IT issue. So why not gather the whole team together for some blue sky thinking and / or to brainstorm?
Because your staff already know your business intimately, it will save time explaining the background to an issue from the inside-out, so there’s no need to bring them up-to-speed. And it won’t cost you extra.
In order to get the most of this, do be mindful that they have a personal investment in their own projects and sections of the business, so they may be a little too close to recognise the problems or too attached to existing processes to consider challenging them.
2. Talk to your personal network
This is where LinkedIn can really come into its own. More than any other social media, the business focus of LinkedIn makes it a great place to ask about professional issues. Try having a trawl through your connections and messaging people that seem suitable.
Also, don’t overlook your more personal network; family, friends, old acquaintances from university and school, business contacts you’ve stayed in touch with over the years. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that one of them has an answer for your challenge.
These are all people you know and who know you and we are always happier to help out someone we know than someone we don’t. They may also know someone within their own network that can help. This route could end up far cheaper than hiring a consultant.
On the downside, they might not have a lot of time on their hands and could be slow to reply or unable to focus on your situation. Asking people you know to do you a favour means you can’t exactly make too many demands.
3. Try expert networks
An expert network is a company that connects businesses with relevant experts from around the world. All you need to do is explain your situation to the expert network company and they will then look through their books to find an appropriate expert to connect you with.
You get a guaranteed response and, as there’s a financial incentive to help, expert networks are very reliable in terms of putting you in contact with someone. You’ll receive a fairly rapid response and can quickly jump on a call to discuss your issue.
However, these calls are far from inexpensive. You could pay expert networks up to £1,000 an hour for advice, without knowing how long it will take to find a solution. There’s also no way to personally vet the expert. You do have to employ somewhat blind faith in the network company.
4. Look for a consultant with a difference
Despite the merits of the options outlined above, the potential pitfalls have resulted in a number of disruptive services becoming available, which allow businesses to post their challenge to a network of experienced consultants with no charge.
The said consultants can then pitch a short summary of their proposed solution. At that point you can discuss it or try it out without committing to anything. If your business subsequently decides to explore the solution further, you can book a call with the consultant.
The ability to review responses before committing to a consultant means you can find someone you feel is a good fit. You can decide which of the consultants has the relevant level of experience and offers a solution you understand.
You can even do some testing of the suggested solution before you speak to the consultant, meaning you can give feedback and work from that position when you do make contact.
Additionally, since the network is for expert consultants from a variety of fields, you have a one-stop-shop for all your challenges or a multi-faceted challenge requiring more than one consultant.
Yes, calls can be expensive – in the region of £250 an hour. However, you only pay for the amount of work you need. Do also bear in mind that this kind of consultant may have a full-time job and you may not be able to meet them personally or expect them to start work immediately.
When considering any consultancy option, the responsibility for assessing solutions and the risks will still be yours. It will also fall to your team to implement the solution. A consultant will only be responsible for their area of expertise, it needs the whole team to make any business successful.
Whichever of these suggestions you decide to pursue, with the right advice at the right time, you are highly likely to find a solution to any challenge, allowing your business to continue to thrive without risky debts or overheads.
About the author
This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Mirel Baila, co-founder of Consulthon, a UK Management Consulting Expert Network. The platform offers businesses access to a wide range of skills, in a variety of sectors and countries.
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