Photos by Hillary Ehlen
Bringing on a business consultant may be the smartest move you make
Business consulting is a broad term. How do you know when you need to bring a consultant in for your business? What do they even do? This misunderstood industry is often overlooked because so many have these same questions. We sat down with five business consultants in the Fargo-Moorhead area to learn more about their unique career path and how they work, sometimes together, with industry leaders across the region to find solutions and create new ideas for you and your growing business.
What is the process when you start with a new client?
Amanda: I come in and I get to know you to see if we’re even going to be a fit. It’s really a casual conversation where I can ask questions and they can ask questions. It’s not me with my powerpoint and my portfolio sitting out there. It comes from a place of trust and no BS because that’s not who I am. So if that’s what a client is wanting, I know right away that we’re not going to be a fit.
Kirsten: My process is pretty similar in that I love to have that first meeting be a lot of questions and get-to-know-you. I will even tell people, milk me for as many ideas as you can get in that first meeting because there’s just more. So let’s just keep talking because once they get to know how I think and how I connect the dots between the things that they’re talking about, it creates a comfort level that makes readiness for that next step.
Andy: I have a list of questions that I go through right when I meet them so I can get my information from them and then I listen to what they want and if it’s something that we’re going to work well together on, then it continues. A lot of people who are starting businesses, they are more scared about the basic things to get ready and having people like this makes it very easy to move forward.
Patrick: Most of the time when people approach me with questions, it is usually all about fundraising. And they’re usually the same questions. And they’re usually the same frustrations. It’s 20 minutes of “Okay, what is the issue?” and 20 minutes of therapy while they just kind of down load everything. They will probably take a deep breath and go, “So that’s kind of where we are” and we kind of reverse engineer the thing. I’ll give out every solution possible. I will tell you, here is what you need to do, here is how you need to do it, here is when you need to do it, I will give you every single piece of information that you need to do be successful just because I believe that a rising tide helps all ships.
You talk about renting the professional or the expert so that you don’t have to bring them on full time. How long does that process, or the “renting period” typically last?
Amanda: I have been in business for six and a half years now and some my current clients have been with me from the beginning. So it really depends. I have clients where they have one person internally and then they tap into my knowledge and talents in a way that supports that person. Some have two, and some have zero, so I’m doing everything, the graphic design, the writing, the PR, the media buying, all of it. So I think you say it’s rental, like an hourly rate or project based, but my goal is to always have it be a long term relationship.
Paul: The first four clients that I started with, I’m still with and it’s now been five years that I have been a full-time consultant. So, these are relationships that I don’t want it to end! Other clients, for example: if someone hires me to manage their event, I’m there for the duration of that and then out. So, for certain clients its project/contract based and others its very much a relationship where I’m lucky enough to grow with the company and brand.
Andy: You tend to get tossed things that weren’t originally on your ballot when you were running and all of a sudden you are now working 40 hours a week when you told them 20 and you’re getting paid the same. In the end, you need to be able to review it and be able to show them that you completed this while doing this and you can usually up-sell yourself to do more things but it all comes down to that relationship basis. If you can create a friendship with those people and they trust you, by the round of those first go of projects that they give you, you normally can keep those people for life.
Paul: It’s sometimes challenging because we’re essentially going in and trying to fit into an office ecosystem and be a part of a team, while often being a temporary team member. When we’re only there sometimes less than five hours a week, or completely digitally, it can really be challenging. Sometimes I do have to get a little firm and say “Hey, I want to work with you, not against you. I’m here to lend my expertise in this specific area. So, let’s collaborate and let’s communicate.” That’s why I like doing things like coffee, discovery periods, and meetings initially, before signing on with a client. There are certain cases where I know I won’t be a good fit. When I do sign on with a client, I have to fulfill their goals while becoming part of a team.
Patrick: We’re so obsessed with making them successful. The best thing knowing we can come in and help, and it makes them feel good having somebody with our experience in their corner. Clients know they can lean on us and ask us some pretty serious and pointed questions and that they are going to get some really comprehensive answers. The advantage of hiring a consultant is that honesty.
Paul: We are not “yes people” or your typical employee.
Patrick: We are “yes we want you to be successful people.”
You Might Need A Business Consultant When…
Amanda: If you get to a point where most of your meetings are ending in frustration and you go back to your computer not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing or working on or what the goals are, that’s when you need to be looking at bringing in a fresh perspective.
Patrick: If you’re in a meeting, or you’re in an office where you say something and you know it’s going to help your organization but nobody seems to be listening to your great suggestion. It might be OK to get somebody else outside of your organization to tell your leadership the exact same thing.
Kirsten: When you’re not sure what to do or if everything is a priority, having someone to come in and help you with asking a few deeper questions about what’s really important can help put things in perspective.
Andy: If you have your husband, wife, your brother’s kid who knows how to use Facebook and you say that it doesn’t work for you, you probably need to hire a professional to come in and help you with your marketing.
Paul: If you believe that having a quality and effective event/ marketing plan or business strategy shouldn’t be a luxury, but rather a standard part of your business.
So you’re consultants. How do you find the line of how much you do for them and how much you train them to do?
Kirsten: My goal 100 percent is to train people to do their own thing. So from a social media perspective, I believe that our best social media voice comes from people in the organization who authentically care about the people that they’re serving. It’s always going to be better if you can see the faces of people you’re going to meet when you go to apply for a job there or if you’re working with that group. I believe that it is 100 percent better if we just teach people to see the moments that are content in their world and how to use the tools of social media to engage with the people that they care about.
Amanda: I am working with a client right now where they need somebody internally. This could potentially mean no work for me next year, but I am OK with that because it is equating to the success of their organization. I am referring them people, being a part of creating the job description and so on. So, to me, that is saying that I did my job well while I was with that client, even if it doesn’t mean forever. It is super important for me to take care of them long term
Kirsten: There’s always more. There’s always the next thing. So I try not to worry and be so concerned about sticking with the thing that we’re doing right now because there’s always the next idea or the next thing they want to accomplish. As long as that last interaction was good then the next thing will come.
Andy: We are also all creatives. We have thousands and thousands of ideas. The reason that we are good consultants is we don’t just fix problems, we create additional revenue streams. We come up with ideas that while we’re fixing what we’re supposed to be doing, we generally have other ideas that are being pitched so as we’re finishing a project, the next step is laid out so the train tracks just continue as we move forward.
Patrick: I personally like to get into the dirt a little bit with them and kind of help them navigate these really small baby steps to get them going. Get clients used to the grind of picking up a phone and starting to cultivate donors or schedule meetings to make asks. Doing it with them and kind of helping them craft some of that stuff really helps motivate them. It becomes tactical more than it is wishful thinking.
What do you think would surprise people most about your job?
Paul: I love the pressure, the constantly changing environments, flexibility and the opportunities. You can have a very successful, rewarding career doing this, if you know how to manage your time, have a good work/life balance and know when to say no. As long as you’re organized and a follow-through type person, it can be a fun, rewarding journey.
Amanda: I am friends with almost all of my clients on Facebook but I still get to be my true, authentic self. I’ve had people who are like, “Oh, I can’t believe you posted that. (For example, me with a scary looking beauty mask on). What is your client going to think?” I guess if someone doesn’t like me for being me then we probably shouldn’t be working together because I’m not out to judge my clients. In fact, I encourage them to have more fun, while staying true to themselves and their brand.
Andy: So many people are brought up in the square box of you have to be employed, you have to have a W2 and you don’t. You can be a very successful person who may not work 9-5 sitting at a desk. You may work 20 hours a day, but you’re working on your terms and you get to do what you want to do and work with who you want to work with and the most rewarding thing is that you pick your circle and it’s so much fun to do it every day.
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