Scientell’s clients have included all tiers of government; universities and research centres; industry and NGOs; academic associations and professional societies. After completing almost 100 projects, we have learned a thing or two about the all-important consultant-client relationship. Importantly for this article, before founding Scientell Simon Torok and I worked at senior levels in science agencies where we contracted dozens of consultants. We’ve looked at consulting from both sides now.
So, what steps can you take to maximise your chances of success when employing a consultant? Here are nine questions to ask of yourself and your potential consultant before you sign them up.
- Do you know exactly what you need from the project?
If you don’t, how will the consultant? Establish your objectives, including precisely what your end product(s) will look like, and what needs to be in – and out – of the job. This can be part of the conversation with a consultant – if they are good, they will turn what you want into what you need.
- Define your audience
A campaign for multi-million dollar funding will be very different from an internal awareness raising project. And don’t just call the audience the ‘general public’; there’s no such thing.
- Establish a realistic budget
I can deliver you a 2-minute video for $50 or for $50,000. The latter will be more impressive than the former. What quality do you need? The answer to this question will be driven by your audience and objectives.
- Who from your organisation will participate in the project
It may just be you. If it is a team, decide who will be the prime contact for the consultant and ensure that the contact has the knowledge and authority needed to drive the project.
- Check your employer’s rules and processes for engaging consultants
The larger your employer, the more rules they will have. Government agencies usually require three quotations for jobs above a certain amount, and go to tender for larger amounts.
- Has your potential consultant completed similar work?
A friend of mine in IT used to claim to prospective clients that he could do whatever it was that they sought. Then, if he got the job, he’d have to figure out how on earth to actually do it. Best that you are not paying your consultant for on-the-job training. Check examples of their work. Speak to their past clients.
- Will the impressive, engaging, knowledgeable person you met actually be doing the work?
Or will it be the novice, poorly paid staff member with next to no experience.
- Does the consultant really represent good value for money?
I once employed a company that undercut their competitors by thousands of dollars. But their work was so shoddy that I had to hire an editor and spend hours myself rectifying their mistakes. Cheap and quality rarely co-exist.
- Consider telling the consultant your budget range.
Doing so can avoid misunderstanding about the size and scope of your project. See the earlier video example.