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What is a Business Consultant?

What is a Business Consultant? . / Credit: Business Consultant Image via Shutterstock

Business consultants provide management consulting to help organizations improve performance and efficiency. These professionals analyze businesses and create solutions while also helping companies meet their goals. Business owners should consider hiring business consultants when they need help or perspective on their chosen path or need a catalyst for change in their companies.

There are a number of reasons why business owners should consider hiring consultants:

  • Expertise in a specific market
  • Identify problems
  • Supplement the existing staff
  • Get the ball rolling on change
  • Provide objectivity
  • Teach and train employees
  • Do the "dirty work," like eliminating staff
  • Revive an organization
  • Create a new business
  • Influence other people, like lobbyists

The first step for any business consultant is the discovery phase, where the goal is to learn the client's business. A good business consultant takes the time to learn as much as possible about the business, from the owner and employees. This can include touring the facility, meeting with the board of directors and employees, analyzing the finances and reading all company materials. During this process, the business consultant will uncover the details of a company's mission and what operations are in place.

Once an in-depth understanding has been developed, a business consultant has entered the evaluation phase, where the goal is to identify where change is needed. This includes identifying the company's strengths and weaknesses, as well as current and foreseeable problems. These can include problems already seen by ownership and management, and new problems seen thanks to the business consultant's objectivity. A business consultant should also identify opportunities to grow business, increase profits, and boost efficiency. [Related: SWOT Analysis: Examples, Templates & Definition]

In addition to identifying these problems and opportunities, a business consultant should also develop solutions to problems and plans on capitalizing on opportunities. Perhaps a company has a particularly strong sales department but weak marketing department; this is an opportunity for the company to increase marketing resources and capitalize on the sales staff. During this phase, it's important for the consultant and the company's employees to maintain open and clear communications.

It's important for an owner to take the business consultant's advice at this stage as constructive criticism, and not as a criticism to how the owner has been doing things. The business consultant brings objectivity and a fresh viewpoint, whereas the owner is personally close to the business. The owner should certainly have feedback and provide opinions to the business consultant, who should take the owner's reflections and revise plans as necessary.

Once the owner and the consultant agree on a plan, the consultant should enter the third phase of consulting, which is the restructuring phase, or the implementation of the plan. In this phase, the consultant is to build on assets and eliminate liabilities, as well as monitoring progress on the plan and adjusting as needed.

Finding the right business consultant may be the most difficult part for the owner or management. The consultant should have a passion for their work, a drive for excellence, and an eye for organization and detail. It's important to find a consultant with expertise in your industry or with the kind of problems that your business faces. When hiring a consultant, make sure they have solid referrals and offer these skills.

Anyone can call themselves a consultant, but it takes a combination of many skills to make for a good business consultant. It's also important to make sure that they have any necessary certification, depending on your industry. You should vet the consultant through their website and materials. Look for professional images and well-documented information about their services. It's a good idea to request examples of past successes and to speak to those businesses.

Business consultants are not necessarily cheap. But the feedback and planning they provide can help increase business and boost profits in the long run, while also helping ensure future success by eliminating problems and identifying opportunities.