At some point in time, most business owners have wondered whether they should hire a consultant. Sooner or later, you must grasp that you can't do everything on your own — or that your own knowledge and experience isn't quite sufficient to address the many challenges and opportunities facing your organization. That's when you need to consider whether or not you should bring on someone with specialized skills in long-range planning, more efficient project management or other key operational areas.

Here are tips for assessing your business needs and determining when to hire a consultant:

Start by Seeking Out the Expertise of Your Family and Friends

Smaller businesses may have resources that they can call upon, without the need to engage a consultant. If you have a specific problem, discuss it with knowledgeable family members or friends and see if they can provide a helpful solution. You may find the answer you need by reviewing your situation or get confirmation that it's time to bring in someone with expert knowledge and experience.

Think Carefully About Your Specific Needs

Hiring a consultant on principle alone may not be the most cost-effective strategy for your business. Here are three examples of scenarios in which you may want to enlist a consultant's expertise:

  • Your competition is outpacing you.
  • Your business needs a brand overhaul.
  • You need outside help with IT, public relations, human resources, finances, marketing or graphic design.

The right consultant can bring a fresh perspective to a challenge that you might not have otherwise considered.

Perform Your Due Diligence

Every business that's considering hiring a consultant should conduct some due diligence beforehand. If you have a candidate in mind, you should leverage your online community (for example, LinkedIn) and ask if others have used this individual's services. Another effective approach is to ask your community for referrals to qualified business consultants. You'll be more comfortable talking to someone who comes highly recommended.

Look at Both Your Short-Term and Long-Range Needs

For some short-term situations — such as upgrading your IT capabilities or getting valuable tax advice — hiring a consultant on a short-term basis might make good business sense. Once the objective has been met, you and the consultant can part ways on good terms. For longer-range needs, there's an advantage to bringing in a consultant for a more extended period of time.

Be Prepared to Take Action

Perhaps the most important indicator of when to hire a consultant involves the timing and execution of a proposed strategy. The key is garnering resources and readying your team to act on what a consultant has to say within an appropriate, time-sensitive period. Executing an expert's recommendations in a timely manner offers the best chances that your business will actually benefit from what might be expensive advice.

Look closely at your skills — and those of your team — and then determine whether you need the help of an outside expert.

Tags: Hiring operations Outsourcing