Can a business consultant really help you overcome your business challenges?
This is the $64m question and the one that holds most people back from making the decision to hire a business consultant, coach, advisor, and mentor, or any other term that may be created in the future.
Perhaps it is the fact that there are too many descriptions of what will always in my world, fall under the category of business advice.
The subtle differences come down to the actions that are performed and largely defined by who performs them.
I, for example, help companies by:
- Mentoring — from the perspective that I have been in their shoes, felt their pain, and understand the challenges that they are likely to face.
- Coaching — I help them get from where they are to where they want to be and for me, because of my ability to mentor them.
- Consulting — I can use specific areas of my expertise, such as my understanding of risk, technology, sales, and marketing to provide strategic advice and implement knowledge-transfer programs to key personnel.
And of course, it all centers around giving advice.
So a business consultant can definitely help you overcome the toughest of business challenges, but I would make sure you delve a little deeper than the terminology that is on their website or business card, to make sure you fully understand their true areas of expertise and capability.
Now it comes down to the “how” part and I am going to make this specific to my views of the real challenges that businesses are going to face and from my own real-life experiences and the experiences of those people and companies that I help today.
There is one thing that you must take into account, in my opinion, when dealing with any form of a business consultant.
You must ensure that the consultant understands the inter-relationships between the business functions — sales, marketing, finance, risk, technology, customer service, and administration/support.
This is essential as it is important to understand the impact on cash flow when trying to grow sales, for example, or the real, tangible customer benefit of that proposed new technology investment.
You cannot be one-dimensional in a multi-dimensional business world…especially as a business consultant.
There will be examples where you will hire specialists, such as an international taxation consultant, but the chances are these will come via a financial specialist in the first place.
The 5 listed below are in no particular order, so let’s begin.
#1 — Cashflow
‘Cash is king” as the saying goes and it is the #1 reason why most businesses fail even profitable ones.
A profitable business on paper doesn’t necessarily see those profits turn into cash if their credit management procedures are not up to scratch.
I know this from personal experience and when I have grown my sales too fast!
Yes, it is possible to grow too quickly and it is termed “overtrading,” where you simply don’t have enough cash or resources to support the growth…and it can ultimately lead you to business failure.
There are specialist business finance products that you can use to help you in a high growth period for example, or if you foresee one and take a look at this article — “Business Finance: Your Ultimate Guide For Private Companies.”
Aside from when you are trying to grow your business, there is the simple matter of having enough funds to support day-to-day activities, such as funding the purchase of stock and hiring key employees, for example.
It also doesn’t matter whether you are running a traditional brick and mortar or fully online business, cash is cash and one dynamic that could start to hurt you in the online world and even though you are more likely to be paid upfront for your products and services are refunds — customers are easily able to lodge disputes with their credit card companies or claim back that mone-back guarantee, so having cash upfront, does not give you a license to spend it!
How a business consultant can help:
- They can provide a thorough and commercial review of your business plan, to identify problems that business owners cannot see — a good consultant will be able to very quickly spot the “gaps” and that is because they have experienced the same in their own business lives or careers.
- They will examine your credit management policies and procedures and make sure you are working with and extending the right credit to the right companies — they will also bring an outside perspective to the table, as well as impartiality.
- They may remodel your cash flow and produce a twelve-week “rolling” cash flow that will be more dynamic and will highlight critical points much earlier.
- They will look at risk factors to the industry, your business sector as a whole and help you to create a risk management plan.
- The right business consultant will have also faced their own share of cash flow problems and will have navigated through them — this is probably their greatest asset.
#2 — Hiring new staff
This was my own biggest challenge over my thirty-five-year business and entrepreneurial career.
Getting the right people on-board is a huge challenge and it is one that you will constantly face, whether you grow your company or not.
People change just as much as companies and here it is about understanding the hearts and minds of your employees and being able to spot subtle changes in the mood and behavior of your staff will give you a chance to stop good people leaving because they feel unappreciated and also to spot the beginning of something bad.
Staffing proves even more critical as you grow and despite me owning a specialist staffing company, it was a huge problem for me…and you may ask why?
There were two key reasons here and the first was that I was far better at recruiting and finding talent for others…and way too impatient to hire, regarding my own staff…and…it is extremely difficult to know the “who” part of each person.
This is where I could have done with a good business consultant.
There is a saying…” you hire people for what they know and fire them for who they are!”
Hiring people is a continuous process as is the internal development and management of your employees and in today’s economy, the average employee needs far more skills than ever before and this requires cross-training and upskilling.
As we are moving firmly into an online world, then the issue is compounded by the fact you are much less likely to meet your staff in person — the rise of the outsourced worker is only going to continue and here you have to be extremely careful.
Plus, we are in an era of increasing automation in order to improve efficiencies and reduce costs…but you need to strike a balance between technology and people, which will be a growing challenge.
A good business consultant will:
- Put themselves in the position of your customer to first help you decide of the type of person you need to hire — too many business owners see the hiring process from only their own perspective and outside staffing and recruiting agencies are not your customers.
- Help you define your company culture — this is essential as it must be one that works internally…but with the customer firmly in mind.
- Prepare job specifications and again, from the customer perspective — I have seen so many business owners define job roles “in their own eyes” and not from the point of serving the needs of the customer.
- Sit in on interviews and give impartial advice.
- Help with performance reviews.
- Help cross-train and upskill your staff.
#3 — Having the right sales and marketing strategy
This is a critical area for entrepreneurs and businessmen alike — especially if they do not come from a sales background.
The current economy is both uncertain and volatile — as I point out in pretty much all of my articles and that is because you have to be able to pivot your business in a heartbeat.
The world of selling has changed and we are now firmly in a buying culture — buyers are far more informed and aware of the sleazy sales tactics that sadly still exist and it is vital that your business is tuned in to the buying economy.
I believe that the two most important functions for businesses in the future will be marketing and customer service as is clearly demonstrated in the online world.
And whatever your business, you must have the right strategy to enable you to move forward…profitably.
There is a lot we can learn from online businesses — the power of copywriting, which to me is the online version of the salesperson, the importance of a functional website that becomes the hardest working salesperson if it is designed correctly and the fact that online entrepreneurs are not frightened to get it wrong, change tactics and start again.
Traditional businesses, in my opinion, should mirror their online counterparts as much as possible and see how much of their processes and procedures they can automate.
Put office-bound marketers in front of clients and you will see a whole new understanding of sales.
Make your salespeople come up with creative ideas and campaigns…on bootstrapped budgets and they will start to appreciate the pressure of marketing.
Get your customer services people to do both!
This is where a good business consultant can come into their own:
- They are outside of your business and will be able to provide you fresh thinking.
- They will be able to instantly spot the flaws in your current sales and marketing strategy and provide the solutions.
- They will be able to think disruptively but with your client’s success as their main goal — your client’s success provides yours!
- They will make your entire sales and marketing function more efficient, profitable, and more sustainable.
- They will create future-proof sales and marketing strategies.
#4 — Technology disruption
There is no shortage of technology in today’s business world and we have only just begun.
You only have to take a look at the simple mobile phone, which not so many years ago only allowed the user to make a simple voice call…and charged them for the privilege!
Fast-forward to today and you have a computer in your hands that you can run a business from…and many people do.
Behind the technology that you see and use, is a vast amount of research and development powering the next generation and this is where many entrepreneurs can get caught out — myself included and I worked in the technology sector!
It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of technology and to let your ego overrule need, simply because you had to be seen to have the latest device.
And that for some is the same today.
I have a simple philosophy on this one and that is to only use or invest in technology that will give your customer a direct benefit.
That may well need you to not upgrade to the next and latest device…or to stay with some platforms that have proved to be efficient and reliable.
I have seen people invest in entire enterprise systems that were totally unnecessary for their business, but were showcased to their clients to prove they were “technology savvy and ready.”
Clients don’t care unless it gives them a benefit and one that will reduce their costs!
The good news for entrepreneurs and businessmen is that there is a huge desire for everyone to release some form of disruptive technology in the hope that it will be taken up by the masses and their companies bought out.
For the larger tech corporations that we are all familiar with, then you can see how fast they are updating their devices.
You have plenty of choices and there is no need to rush — take your time.
Finally, there is a drive toward automation and this is a reality today, so don’t ignore it as it will, if used in the right way, have the capability to seriously improve your efficiencies and streamline your costs.
So how can a business consultant help?
- They should be tech-savvy in the first place.
- They will be able to look at your business from the customer end and advise you which technology will provide a direct benefit to your customer.
- They will keep your “technology ego” in check.
- They will be technology impartial and make sure that you invest in the outcome, maximize your security and not simply be enticed by the brand.
#5 — Geopolitical issues
At the time of writing this, we are trying to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic that has effectively put the world on lockdown for the last 3 months, and already there is talk of a “second wave” of the virus, that will affect us even more.
Most businesses were and still are adversely affected by the pandemic and whilst there was no way of forecasting the event and therefore to prepare for it, valuable lessons will have been learned in terms of overall vulnerability.
I can guarantee that all businesses will change their outlook of the business landscape from now on and I am sure many will be doing everything to ensure their operations are running as efficiently and as lean as possible.
How can a business consultant help?
- They will have a handle on all geopolitical events and understand the impact on the global economy and be able to relate it to your specific industry.
- With this understanding, they will be far more capable of providing a risk assessment to your business in the long, medium, and short term.
- They will encourage you to take action long before a problem is likely to occur.
- Most importantly, a good business consultant will provide a firm opinion and stick to it without being influenced by you as a client.
Of course, these are only 5 of many challenges that businesses will face, but I have tried to make these both personal to me because I want to share real business experiences rather than classroom ones and I am also looking to the future, which is why I talk about geopolitical factors.
Perhaps these will be the real challenges to overcome, but…we have to carry on and ensure we do the best we can.
I have always relied on outside help in my career…and sometimes too much!
You can become too reliant on coaches, consultants, mentors, and other advisors, so be wary.
The best business consultants will know when it is time to step away and regardless of the fees they are receiving — this is a rare breed as you can imagine…but they do exist.
If you want to talk to me about any aspect of your business, then please get in touch and I will be glad to help!
Last modified: September 8, 2020