Managing expectations when hiring a consultant

Posted Mar 17th, 2013 in Entrepreneurship

Managing ExpectationsManaging expectations can be a challenge when hiring an outside consultant or agency to help with your marketing/communication initiatives.

First determine what you would like the consultant to do. Maybe it is just on an advisory basis, maybe it is to help manage your social media initiatives (because we know how much time that can take) or maybe it is to help develop a marketing strategy to support your business goals.  For whatever reason it might be, make sure you and the person(s) you hire understands what you expect from each other. 

Before you sign the dotted line on your contract, make sure you get to know your consultant to go over what you hope to accomplish by hiring them and an understanding of how they do business.  Expertise is very important, but getting along with each other's 'style' of doing business is just as important.

Three main points to manage expectations to help you and your consultant have a mutually beneficial relationship is to

  • have a plan
  • communication is key;
  • make sure you follow up.

Steps to managing expectations during your work together

Have a plan 

Know what success look like to you.  Take time to really think about this, and review with your consultant to help guide you through this process if you need to.  Make sure you both agree on the scope of work that needs to be done.  Write it down, sign and date it.  Outline SMART objectives that can be measured and evaluated based on your vision of success.  How will results be measured?  Ask if this is not presented in the initial project plan. As well, you will need a timeline in place that clearly sets out milestone markers and the final deadline.

An action plan/critical path is helpful to keep everyone organized and accountable.  Here is an example of an Action Plan Template [1] (downloaded from Microsoft Office and customized)

Communication is key

  • Don't assume anything
  • Err on the side of over communication
  • Methods of communication - what works best for you?  (i.e. email, text, phone.)  How quickly do you expect a reply?
  • Availability -  If deadlines are to be met, it is both the responsibility of the client and the consultant to make themselves available to work on tasks and be available for meetings.
  • If you have a consultant on retainer, know how many hours you have them (week/month/year).  Ask how much lead time you need to give them before a deadline.
  • Never assume!  If you don't know something ask.
  • LISTEN - Consultants need to ask the right questions to really understand what the client wants to achieve.   Clients/Business owners, in this rapidly changing world of technological capabilities, changes in the world of marketing/communications is changing just as quickly - methods and best-practices.  It is the job of your marketing/communication consultant to stay in the 'know', so listen to their advice.  Any question about their advice, ask them to explain WHY they are suggesting something (white papers, industry best-practices, statistics, etc are available).

Follow Up 

  • Regular meetings, updated action plans, and milestone reports should be done
  • Measure and evaluate your efforts, so you can use the 'lessons learned' for the next project
  • Final evaluation report should be included in all project plans.
  • Consultants, check in on your client in 3-6 months to see how they are doing.
Business owners, these are only a few things to expect from your marketing/communication consultant/agency, but it is a start.  Remember, it is a two-way street.  Keep the communication pathways open between you and your consultants.  

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(added March 18 2013)

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