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Monday, May 16, 2011

To consult or not… that is the question!

Periodically there is a surge of popularity in hiring on “Business Consultants”.  It would appear the trend is on again, as in the last 2 weeks I have had several people reference to me the fact that they are planning to work with a Business Consultant.

Whenever someone makes this comment I involuntarily cringe. In truth, it’s an unfair reaction. It’s much like saying because Lawyers in general are stereotyped; all lawyers must be the same. Or because someone has a tattoo they must be a bad ass (I have two by the way). None-the-less, I get real nervous for small businesses when they announce their plans to work with a Business Consultant.

I understand the reasoning all too well – I’ve hired two different ones on different occasions with different businesses and have met with several over the years. Their fees were all well into the multiple thousands.  However, I had the benefit that most businesses don’t in that in both cases I had the opportunity to “trade” on the services and as such wasn’t out-of-pocket the “cash”. But even so, in both cases I swore I’d never do it again. Through my experiences I learned several things and I’d like to share some of that knowledge with you in the hopes of helping you make more thoroughly informed decisions.

Most important is to understand what exactly the role of a Business Consultant is.  There are many different types of Business Consultants and they do not all cover the same types of services.  So if you decide to take the step to work with a Business Consultant, it’s important that you have a clear idea of what you are wanting the Consultant to do for you. 

Because of the nature of my business and how broad based the Business Consultant industry is, let’s just have a look at it from the angle of advertising and marketing.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind if you go the route of a Business Consultant for help with your advertising and marketing is that their fees, in the majority of cases, will not include the development or placement of your advertising and marketing. So make sure that you specifically ask about this. Several thousands of dollars spent to have someone tell you that you should be developing a website, social media, print ads, radio ads, print materials etc is a lot of money that could be put into the development and implementation of those forms of advertising.

Now on the other hand, if the Business Consultant you are thinking of working with will be helping you to actually develop your marketing materials, then great, that is a much different story.  Or another avenue might be a Business Consultant whose service is to teach you “how” – again, terrific.  In my experience, these types of Business Consultants are the rare gems we all hope to find. 

So in these cases what you want is references. You want to see real live proof of what they have already achieved for other businesses and you want to hear what the opinions of those other business are. If you’re thinking of going with someone new in the industry who doesn’t have the references yet, that can be ok – just be sure you are paying a proportionately lower fee because of the lack of track record. Don’t forget, just because someone says they can help you develop your advertising, or just because they know the ingredients necessary for developing good advertising, doesn’t mean that they can actually do it for YOUR business.

We’ve covered this before in previous articles and if you’ve been reading my articles, you already know all the pieces needed for effective advertising (the grabber headline, the compelling offer, the customer benefits and the factual statistics). But does that mean that you know “how” to create these pieces? In my experience, the professionals that know how to create these pieces are primarily the “copy writers” – these are the people that know how to put the right words together to cause your ads to be truly effective… whether offline or online, in print or on air – words are words and at the end of the day having the right words is what matters most. 

Roy H. Williams, is a very reputable expert in the world of marketing and advertising. The following is an excerpt from one of his recent articles (in some cases there simply is no point in trying to reword something that is already perfectly worded):

I've never met a business owner whose advertising failed because they were reaching the wrong people.

Advertising fails when people have

1.     no knowledge of the offer. The ad is easily ignored.
2.     no interest in the offer. The offer is (A.) irrelevant or (B.) misunderstood.
3.     no trust in the offer. The claims made in the ad are not credible.

These problems can be solved by

1.     getting the attention of the people with words and phrases that are new, surprising and different.
2.     offering the people what they want to buy (instead of trying to convince them to buy what you’d like to sell.)
3.     supporting your claims with examples that agree with the experiences of your prospective customers.

Target the ‘right customer’ through your ad copy, not your media selection. Reach as many people as your budget will let you reach repetitiously, regardless of their age, sex, or income bracket. Choose words, phrases and points-of-view that will resonate with them. Do this and you will be amazed at how many different people suddenly become 'your customer.'

Basically, if you do decide to go the route of a Business Consultant it’s because you want answers to questions and you want to see results. So when interviewing Consultants, make sure that they can clearly outline for you exactly what you are going to get for every dollar you spend, exactly what questions they are going to answer for you and what results they expect you to see.  I’ve just seen it happen so many times when businesses end up spending thousands of dollars on a Business Consultant and end up with more questions than answers.  Please understand that I am not saying all Business Consultants are bad or a waste of money – I am simply cautioning you to be extremely diligent in your research and interview process – and if something doesn’t “feel” quite right or if they take on a highly “sales” type approach with you, be extra careful.

If what you really need is someone to sit down with you and walk you through the steps you need to take to put your marketing together, the components you should be including and how to go about getting it all developed, give me a call. This is a service I’m happy to offer. I have the tools, background, experience, knowledge, resources and connections to bring it all together and I can guarantee that my fees will be 25% to 75% LESS than someone who has hung their shingle as a “Business Consultant”.  It’s not a service I widely promote because it is time consuming and many of the businesses I deal with are working with budgets of a few hundred dollars, not several thousand – but if it’s time to buckle down and get serious about your marketing, I can get you to where you want to be.

1 comment:

  1. I just wanted to add a little note here. I had a friendly call from a concerned follower regarding this post after reading my reference to the fact that I had conducted business on a "trade" agreement. Just to clarify, over the years I have conducted several business dealings by "trade" agreements. Many people use this method as a means to save a few bucks on their taxes - each to their own. However, I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to my accounting and books. As such, every "trade" deal I have ever made follows the same paper trail as my cash deals. The reason I use "trade" agreements and find value in them is when it is a mutually agreeable scenario between two businesses who likely would not have been doing business together otherwise. It is also a great way to minimize the impact on actual "cash flow". Rarely will I agree to a "trade" with an existing, cash paying client - afterall, revenue into the business is the primary goal. But there are definitely certain scenarios when it can be beneficial in obtaining certain products or services that may not be in the current cash budget.

    But I personally recommend that anyone who chooses to work with "trade" agreements does so in a responsible manner. After all, what you may save in a few bucks of taxes may not be worth it in the long run. Instead, I recommend doing your research and having a strong understanding yourself of the vast amount of tax benefits available to business owners. At the end of the day your bookkeeper or accountant may not be aware of everything in your financial activities that will qualify unless you've thought to tell them about it.