Executive Suite: 7 Things You Need to Know About Consultants

Clearly, I am biased on the subject of printers using consultants. After all, I have consulted in the graphic arts industry for decades. With that in mind, however, here are few points you may find helpful on the subject of consultants.

1. When should I use a consultant?

The short answer is when you face a substantial problem for which you have no ready answer. That could involve sales development, building a management team, hiring the right people, or even turning the ink from red to black. Most owners know when there is a mountain out there that they are not comfortable climbing alone. That is the time to call a consultant.

2. Aren’t consultants expensive?

They are very expensive if you don’t get your problem solved. Look at it this way. You are probably not employing full time or long term. So, in actual dollars, the consultant may be a bargain—less expensive than hiring another full time employee to throw at an issue. The question you must ask yourself is how much would it be worth to solve Problem X?

3. How do I negotiate with a consultant?

Try not to pay by the hour. Pay by the project. That way you aren’t worried about sticker shock when a bill comes in, and the consultant doesn’t have you hawking him right down to the time he (or she) spends in the restroom. Also, you might want to have him focus on a limited project to see how he does. If he delivers, you will want more.

4. Should the consultant be from the industry?

Yes. You do not want him (or her) to learn the printing industry on your time or dollar. Put it this way: If you have a skin problem, would you go to a general practitioner or a dermatologist?

Someone from the industry will understand your problem instantly and probably has encountered it before. Also, you will feel more comfortable because he is from the same world as you.

5. How do I choose the right consultant?

Don’t just hire someone. Interview him first. From there, you want to keep a couple of things in mind. Be sure the consultant is someone you like and in whom you feel a sense of confidence. If you do not like the consultant you will not be totally honest with him, and that will make him less valuable. From there, communication will erode and you will have wasted your money.

If you lack confidence in him, you will also tend to second guess him excessively. Worse, perhaps, you will not do what he recommends. That is another loser.

Check him out with other companies that may have used him. Owners will usually be quite candid on that one, as there is little legal danger in talking about 1099 type people.

6. What should I expect?

Expect to change something. Consultants are there to fix a problem and that means the company will have to change something. Simply having him there for a bit changes nothing. It is like the physician who writes a prescription that you do not use.

7. Example

I have done many performance audits—spending a day or two looking at a company from top to bottom on site for an owner who wants to improve his operation or repair an issue. Upon completion of my investigation, I give the owner or CEO my “diagnosis” and “prescription” (recommendations), verbally and in writing.

If the CEO takes them seriously and works at them conscientiously (whether he wishes me to help him further or addresses matters himself), he is usually happy with what I have done. However, if he thinks that the mere presence of an “expert” for a day or two will be the elixir for his operation, he will not be satisfied.
So yes, good consultants can be gold. They are also economical because, again, you are spending a limited amount of money one time to solve a substantial problem. But be sure to interview them, check them out, and be ready to listen and act.

Dr. David Claerbaut has spent more than 25 years consulting in the graphic arts industry. You can reach him directly at 702-354-7000 or email him at drdavid@fcbb.com. Learn more at MyPRINTResource.com/10746916.