When I’m talking with small business owners and they find out I’m a consultant, I often get the same question: what types of things can consultants do for small businesses? When I suggest ways that they can benefit from bringing in outside expertise, these ideas are usually met with positive responses. Many times, however, these things hadn’t been considered because business consultants aren’t on the radar of a lot of small businesses. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful to share some of these ideas for small businesses.
Small business owners and their employees tend to wear many hats. There’s usually not enough time in the day to give all aspects of the business the proper attention. Plus, it’s impossible to be an expert in everything, especially as technology and social media continue to grow at such a rapid pace. For these reasons, most small businesses are already outsourcing key services to the experts. You wouldn’t think twice about hiring an accountant to do your taxes or payroll, an attorney to draft legal documents, or a web developer to create your website. However, as I’m being told, many small business owners don’t think to turn to consultants for help in other areas. Here are a few to consider:
1. Information Technology: Just about every business uses technology in some way. It simply could be using email to communicate with your employees and customers or using business productivity tools for word processing, meeting calendars, or electronic document storage. You may use programs that help you operate and drive your business, such as a Point of Sale (POS) system or a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. Your business may need to be mobile so you use iPads or other tablets. In whatever way you use (or plan to use) technology for your business, you’ll likely need some support.
If the need is purely technical, such as fixing a piece or hardware or installing a network, then an IT professional is probably what you need. However, a business consultant could be more versatile in helping you evaluate solutions for your business. For instance, if you need to implement a business productivity program, a POS system, or a CRM tool, a consultant can help you identify your specific business needs (i.e., your requirements), evaluate software options to find the best fit, and even help you implement the program.
2. Marketing: When a small business is running full steam ahead, one of the easiest things to put on the back burner is the marketing. Businesses that don’t have a dedicated marketer on the staff (and few small businesses do) often resort to having the business owner or a manager performing marketing activities in their “spare” time. And by this I mean typing a Facebook post while scarfing down a sandwich and taking out the trash. At this point, a sound marketing strategy goes out the window and you end up marketing without a purpose.
A marketing consultant can help refocus your marketing and ensure that you’re consistently executing on your marketing plan. Find an expert that is up to speed with the latest in online and social media marketing. The consultant can help you move from just having an online presence to the point where you’re effectively marketing through these channels, engaging with potential customers, and converting leads.
3. Operations: A great way to have a positive impact on your business is to optimize your operations. This can encompass a wide variety of things. More efficient processes can make your employees’ jobs easier and reduce opportunity for error. Improving your customer support model can do wonders for customer satisfaction. Finding areas of unnecessary operational spend obviously helps the bottom line.
A consultant can help you evaluate your business operations. Someone who’s experienced in process improvements can look at various aspects of your business to find areas for improvement. They can assess things like employee hours and scheduling, inventory management, your sales process, your customer support, and more. The consultant may even find ways in which technology solutions can create the desired efficiencies.
4. Personnel: Bringing in a consultant to work with your personnel doesn’t mean calling up the Bobs to lay off employees. There are a number of ways to invest in your people to create a high-performing, motivated workforce. This includes providing skills training, offering management and leadership training, incorporating performance management and incentives programs, aligning your personnel with your business goals, and guiding employees during times of change.
There are many business consultants that are skilled in supporting the “people” side of your business. Look for consultants with expertise in training, leadership, change management, communications, and organizational alignment. They can help you address the areas that are most critical to the success of your business.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on small businesses working with consultants. Do you have any experiences you’d like to share?