A second piece in a mini series looking at why businesses don’t engage with an external consultant, or in larger business cases a non-executive director.

Last weeks article was written from the basis of fact. I have seen many times over the effect of change on a business, both positive and negative, both proactively managed or avoided and reacted to. If you missed it there’s a link at the base of this article.

This subject is different. This is more of an educated guess. No-one has ever told me directly that I couldn’t help their business because ‘it doesn’t suit’ an external consultant getting involved. However its’s often written over their faces. I can see the internal questioning happening right in front of me as business owners ask about what I do, or I present my recent experiences at a networking event. Questions such as

“Where would I even start? What would we do first? Where would I find the time? Can I be told what to do? What does he know about my sector?”

And many more I’m sure….. Many times when I introduce what I do and see these questions and more flashing through the eyes of the person in front of me their points may be legitimate. I, (and other consultants) may not be able to make a difference. However in many cases I am sure we can. If given the time we can explain where and how we start. What our usual process is and why that may work, or indeed need tweaking to be successful. So let’s look take a quick glance at that process. How and where do I start with a new or prospective client.

Their goal. What do they want from their business, and over what timeframe. My twenty years or so in management have shown me there is actually no right or wrong answer here. Some business owners are ambitious, others focus on their work / life balance a little more. Understanding their goal is not judging it.

Their history. Where have they come from? What are their core skills and experiences? What has the business achieved already, and why? What are their greatest challenges, both now and in the foreseeable future?

What’s their plan? How are they going to get from where they are now to their goal. How are they getting on so far?   Whats their motivation to act on this?

None of the above is in great depth. As yet I’ve not started on the specifics of the business. Finances, sales channels, people, marketing, competitors etc. My experience tells me the person is more important than the business at this early stage. Many business owners aren’t certain about their goal, or can’t articulate it, and similarly with their plan. This is not unusual in smaller businesses. It is not unusual for a simple conversation over fifteen minutes to break down barriers and provide some early ideas of the benefits having relationship with a consultant may bring. Goal setting and starting to work towards a plan are two of the most common requirements working with smaller business owners.

One of a consultants greatest single values to smaller business owners is simply getting them focused on working on their business and aiding this process with critical thinking and ideas. As a small business owner myself one of my challenges is spending time on the development of the business, thinking strategically and future planning. The small business owner is often focussed on delivering the services the business provides. This is a major reason small businesses hit ‘that’ glass ceiling and end up in a perpetual circle bouncing from challenge to challenge.

However it is important not to forget that different business owners needs from a consultant vary. Some require mentoring and support. This itself should not be undervalued. Here are a couple of ways this approach benefits consultants clients.

We’ve all heard the saying “it’s lonely at the top.” Why is that? One reason is responsibility. Running a business, especially with employees is quite a responsibility. This effects different people in different ways both physically and emotionally . Another is decision making. There are many decisions business owners cannot talk through with a team due to potential impact, privacy or perhaps even pride. Having a third party to critically analyse or even just ‘vent’ too is a powerful asset to many, not only easing stress but often helping critical decision making processes.

Others business owners are looking for specific support such as sales growth, help with HR issues and objectives, input into operational processes or managing the effectiveness and value of their supply chain. It is very apparent to me is that these needs change over time and vary from business to business. One thing that has become clear to me over the years is although the needs and priorities vary there are very few businesses I have come across that wouldn’t benefit from a good external consultant. It’s far more often that the barrier to providing the support is the owner themselves. Do they have an open mind? Can they accept the opinion of a third party? Are they open to accepting there may be a different way to doing things? Are they prepared to explore the possibility?

So the short answer to the question I pose at the top of this piece is actually “It depends on you, the business owner.” It is rarely I come across a business that wouldn’t benefit from some external support (from the right person) but far more often I see a business owner not considering it, or ruling it out too early. If you are a small business owner, take cost out of the question for the moment and ask yourself a  simple question.

“Are my actions and behaviours maximising the potential of my business? ” If you’re not certain it will cost you nothing to seek a conversation with someone who may offer you advice and support that makes a dramatic positive impact on your business, and of course your life.

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Change; friend or foe click here