The Consultants to Avoid and How to Choose the Right One

I’m a consultant and I love my career. I’ve built it upon providing clients with valuable knowledge and advice, and I work hard to leave them in a better place than before they engaged me. I’ve always said that if I do my job properly they won’t need to hire me again. I know a lot of consultants and 99% of them are amazing people who are passionate about their work and serving their clients. However, the sad reality is there are a very small percentage of consultants operating out there that give us all a bad name. Navigating the landscape of consultants can be overwhelming. Some are goldmines of expertise, while others are pitfalls waiting to gobble up your time and money. Here’s a guide to help you discern between the two.

These are the types of consultants to avoid (how many do you recognise?):

1. The “Know-It-All”

This consultant claims expertise in everything. If you need someone focused on your specific needs, steer clear of these generalists.

2. The “Smooth Talker”

Impressive at first, but dig deeper and you may find they’re more style than substance. A great pitch doesn’t always translate to great results. Watch out for these people who will make promises they simply can’t deliver.

3. The “Clock Watcher”

Time is money, but this consultant’s focus seems to be more on billing hours than delivering value. Always charging and charging and charging without delivering anything. They will even charge you for delays they cause.

4. The “Ghost”

After the contract is signed, they disappear, leaving junior staff to do the heavy lifting. You’re not getting the expertise you paid for. Make sure you include provision in your contracts with them that require your permission for this to happen.

5. The “Pressure Cooker”

This consultant pressures you to make quick decisions, often using scare tactics. Good advice shouldn’t feel like a ticking time bomb.

6. The “Imposter”

This consultant tells you that they have certain expertise about a topic to get a contract with you when in reality they don’t. They are going to charge you fees so that they can learn the topic (which of course they then sell to other clients) – so essentially you pay them to become a novice while they continue to convince you they are experts.

7. The “Cash Vacuum”

This consultant always finds ways to keep charging you more and more. This is the consultant that will do an ‘independent’ audit or assessment of your organisation, then miraculously make recommendations for improvement that they can charge you for. Or this consultant will tell you that you need to pay them more than agreed to get the work you thought you were getting in the first place.

Have I missed any?

Here are some tips for choosing the right consultant:

1. Do Your Homework

Research their credentials and client reviews. Look for case studies that demonstrate real-world results. Are they passionate about their area of expertise? Do they value delivering real value to you? Spend time with them getting to know them.

2. Ask for References

Talk to previous clients about their experience. Were their expectations met? Was the consultant attentive and adaptive? Look online for comments from others.

3. Set Clear Goals

Make sure everyone is on the same page about what you want to achieve. Document this clearly and get full agreement. Make sure this includes a full description of the work or services to be provided and a full quote or itemised estimate for the fees to be paid.

4. Test the Waters

If you want to, it’s perfectly fine to start with a smaller project to evaluate their capabilities. See if they are what they claim to be.

5. Assess Compatibility

A good consultant should not only have the skills but also fit into your company culture. You don’t want someone with great experience who rubs people the wrong way – no one is going to respect them or listen to their advice.

6. Keep Using the Good Ones

If you find a good consultant, or group of consultants (what is the collective term for a group of consultants?), feel free to keep using them. If you trust them, their knowledge, and have a good working relationship with them you shouldn’t take the risk of ending up with a consultant you don’t value.

Ultimately, choosing the right consultant can add real value to your organisation and help you achieve your goals faster and more efficiently. By being aware of the red flags and doing your due diligence, you’ll be better equipped to find someone who delivers client-centred value.

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