Working with Your Consultant to Get the Best Results

Written by Cecilia Sepp on June 25, 2019

If you’ve never worked with a consultant before, or rarely worked with one, you may be wondering why you might want to do so when you may have the ability to complete a project on your own. The reason you would work with a consultant comes down to the best use of your resources, which are time and money. Consultants are an important part of your outsourcing plan because they bring experience and knowledge that enhances what you already have in-house.

Perhaps you don’t have the experience for a specific project, or you feel uncertain about starting something with significant risks and you really need another opinion. It could even just come down to the reality that you just don’t have the time, knowledge or skills required to successfully do the planning or execution. This is when you want to seriously consider working with a consultant.

Consultants also bring an objective and clear-eyed view of your organization and its needs. This by itself is a valuable exercise for evaluating your needs. The benefit of working with consultants, especially those who are knowledgeable about and familiar with the association space, is that they understand how your organization generally works and all the different demands you have on your time and your budget. A consultant with association experience also understands the intricacies of the many relationships that comprise your organization’s world.

There are a few things you should keep in mind for a smooth process. Here are my tips on how to work with a consultant:

  1. The Proposal Process is the starting point. Working with a consultant usually starts with a proposal. To avoid any confusion, let me point out just what a proposal is: it is a starting point for a conversation. That’s it. It’s not a contract or agreement, so if you want to change that proposal, or you have questions, go ahead and talk with the consultant because an experienced professional consultant will work with the client to create the project plan they need to achieve their goals and desired outcomes.
  2. Don’t be afraid to tell a consultant what the budget is. This makes the entire process work better. I know many clients are reluctant to reveal their budget, but it’s the best way to do it if you want to gauge how realistic your expectations are. As the client, you can learn very quickly if you are under budget for what you want to accomplish, over budget, or if you need to rethink your project. Also, telling a consultant your budget gives you a good idea of what types of questions to ask. For example, if you tell a consultant that your budget is $50,000 and they come back with a budget of exactly that amount, that’s definitely a starting point for questions. You can also learn a lot by talking to them about your budget and what they will provide. Keep in mind a quality project with professional consultants is an investment.
  3. Make sure you are communicating well with them. Answer their emails, return their phone calls, and answer their questions because they are simply trying to do the best job they can do for you. That means giving regular updates, having detailed conversations, and collecting all the necessary information to make suggestions. If your consultant is coming to you with a question, it is because they want to ensure they are delivering that quality outcome you are seeking.
  4. I also strongly encourage you to build long-term relationships with consultants. Long-term relationships with consultants are beneficial and grow in value because they will get to know you, your staff, and your volunteer leadership, leading to a trusted relationship with a professional that delivers what you need when you need it.

Working with Consultants is a great way to increase productivity, add valuable knowledge and expertise to your organization, and to build a professional relationship with someone who understands 501(c) organization business management and will provide you personalized service.