A Startisan’s Guide to Employing Consultants…

To spend or not to spend…that’s the question.

I’ve been very fortunate that I have sat on most sides of business: I’ve been a buyer, I’ve been a seller, I’ve been a retailer and I’ve also been part of a start-up business. So I do feel fortunate enough to have quite a rounded view.

This post looks into a really tough question that faces all startisans: how should I spend my money?

You’ll find when you start your business that you won’t face a shortage of outlets for your cash and there will be a metaphorical queue at your metaphorical door of ‘consultants’ who can design a plan tailored to your needs (for an extortionate monthly retainer without any guarantee and a complicated set of T’s and C’s). So how do you start to sort through all the white noise and discover what is (non) essential?

I am fully aware that this post may seem hypocritical, as I consult, but I can hold my hands up in earnest and say that I will not be able to help every business. It’s just not possible. It really depends on what the individual business needs; by which I mean: where are you on your journey? what’s already in your tool box? where’s your destination?

Where are you on your journey?

Everyone has their own analogy but I think of a business owner as a parent; scared, unsure and learning on the job but the pride and feeling of accomplishment returns the investment ten fold. Now, to continue with my analogy, you cannot expect to apply the same parenting techniques to a baby as you would a teenager – you’d get some very embarrassing results if you attempted to carry an angst-ridden teenager through Manchester town centre in a papoose!

So the first thing you need to ask yourself is where are you at on your journey. If you consider yourself a startup or even pre-startup there’s little point in investing in a CRM consultant, that would be a little premature. However, you may decide that you need a branding expert to ensure you’re setting off in the right direction.

What’s already in your toolbox?

Now, the first point to note is that entrepreneurs are not good at everything. I don’t care what you say, they’re not. Even the most successful have strengths and weaknesses. However, the most successful entrepreneurs are very good at knowing their strengths and investing in their weaknesses. Conversely, it would be a monumental waste of money to outsource something that you consider to be one of your strengths.

So, early on in your startisan journey, you need to establish what your strengths and weaknesses are to make sure you’re only investing in weaknesses. There is no one better placed to sell your product than you, it’s impossible for anyone to be more passionate about your brand.

I have, unfortunately, made the mistake of employing someone to sell my brand for me early on in my business’ life and it ended badly. I have spent the majority of my professional life in either buying or selling functions so one thing I do know is how to sell so this should have been the last thing I looked to outsource. I believed that having the sales generation looked after by a third party was the right thing to do as it would allow me ‘to think bigger things’. Well, they were rubbish! These agencies promised me the world, as any good salesman would, and delivered nothing. Lesson learnt!

Where’s your destination?

This final question depends on the strength of your brand and your self-awareness of what you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t know the answer to this then I’d definitely recommend working with someone that can help you find your place. If you do then this will help you determine what sort of help you require.

So that’s a brisk walk through my thoughts on the use of consultants in start-up businesses. I have worked with consultants in various walks of life and have found that they are all very good at identifying issues and the solutions will spookily match the consultancy’s specialism. However, I often c0nsultants like getting career advice from a teacher at school – unless you want to be a teacher they’re not going to be much use!

That being said a good startisan will be aware of their shortcomings and seek out the right person to help so I am, contrary to the tone of this post, an advocate of investing into outside advice. Just be confident in what you do and fight the temptation to be bowled over by a sharp-suited, silver-tongued sales patter. Your brand deserves better than that.

Northern Munkee.