So you want to work with a consultant…

| by Leslie Starsoneck

Why read a post by a consultant about working with a consultant?  Because in my experience, things go well, or go south for the same few reasons.  Here are five things to talk about in our first meeting to increase the chances of a successful engagement. 

1)   Let’s talk about why you need a consultant

  • If it’s because… Your donor/funder tells you that you do and they are willing to pay for one, it’s especially important for both of us to understand why you need one.  A lack of clarity will plague our relationship and won’t allow us to develop a concise scope of work that will benefit the organization.
  • If it’s because… You don’t have time to do the work, make sure you do have the time necessary to identify, engage, communicate, and hold us accountable.  We don’t want you to outsource your organization’s decision-making authority about the work product because it’s faster to let us do it.
  • If it’s because… You don’t have the expertise to do the work, be sure you have adequate resources to judge our expertise in the sought-after area. Board members and their contacts can be a good source for this information.

2)   Let’s define the scope of work together

Ultimately, we will embed the scope of work into our agreement.  It will include terms of payment and deadlines, so it’s important to get it right.  Let’s work on things we can detail like:

  • Deliverables. What are the activities and outputs you are looking for? If you’re looking for “recommendations,” are they encased in a written report or presented to the Board, staff, or both?
  • What are the series of milestones that we are going to be expected to meet?
  • You can leave specifics about the approach up to us, but let’s be cautious to not be so vague that we end up developing the scope of work for you.

3)   Let’s talk about a specific timeline for activities and deliverables 

  • When should or can we start the work?
  • Does the work need to be coordinated with board meetings, retreats, or other events? 
  • How long do you anticipate the work taking?  We can evaluate how long the work should take and propose specifics, but you should have an idea of the degree of effort so that you can make judgements about cost.  And speaking of cost… 

4)   Share some information about the budget

  • It helps us to understand what sort of budget you have available so that we can propose a feasible work plan for you to consider.  Identifying a range can accomplish this. When you begin reviewing our proposal, if it is on the high end or beyond your budget think about it as an investment versus an expense.  Ask what’s behind costs if you don’t understand them.  Trust that during a good engagement, we will create valuable outputs for the organization.

5)   Let’s talk about your consultant criteria and your next steps

  • Have you decided who should develop and/or review the criteria?  If the work product will be considered by the Board and will impact staff, include both.
  • Does your funder anticipate any involvement in choosing the consultant?
  • Review our client list to understand potential expertise in your area of work, and who to talk to about our work.
  • If you are talking to our firm, is there a particular person in the firm that you are hoping to work with?
  • When you talk to or meet with us, are we easy to talk with? Is there good chemistry?
  • What do you want to know from our references?  You should ask about deadlines, deliverables, expectations, and resolving challenges.

When a consulting engagement is successful, organizations win (and believe me, we feel great when the product is a good one and we have helped an organization succeed).  Thinking through these details ahead of time can position everyone for success! 

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