Executive Summary: Once the decision is made to engage a consultant, choosing the firm to assist you can be one of the biggest challenges. Consider asking key questions to flush out the quality and value of the service.
What sort of consultants are we talking about here? Although many of the questions in the next section could be asked of your attorney, accountant, or insurance agent, here we speak of construction consultants such as claims professionals, business advisors, management consultants, or even schedulers.
Questions to ask your potential consultant. Many consultants are hired based on word of mouth. This is a great way to find a consultant – simply trust the advice of someone you trust. Absent a reference from a friend or colleague, consider asking these questions in your interview of a potential consulting firm:
- Have you ever lost money on a job? This question should be adjusted for the industry, but in construction I like to ask it. Anyone who tells me they’ve never had a job lose money is full of shit. Or they haven’t been in the industry long enough.
- Have you ever had my job? It’s like the UPS model. UPS starts everyone on a truck delivering packages. If this “expert” is coming in to help you, they ought to have sat in your chair before, or the chairs of the folks (s)he is trying to help.
- Do you peer review your work? Finding error in work product provided by the consultant is frustrating and bruises the credibility you’ll have of the professional services provider. Ask if a second pair of eyes reviews deliverables before they go out the door.
- Do I benefit from your travel program? Consultants spend a lot of time in the air and in hotels spending money you’ve paid them. Are you, the client, benefitting from their Miles Program? Whether you believe you, as the client, should benefit from this or not, it can be interesting to watch the response.
- Have you done work of this magnitude? Reviewing the company’s resume is one thing, but doing small jobs versus big jobs is a question of capacity of staff as well as skillset. If you’re a billion dollar company and the consultant has never seen a project over $10 million, it may not be a good fit.
- Who is my lead consultant/main contact? Although communicating with the consultant team can be of benefit to the client, at the end of the day, it is beneficial to have one person to go to to get an answer – let him or her go get the answer for you.
- Do you provide weekly updates? On longer term assignments, it’s good to have weekly updates from your consultant. It keeps the consultant on their toes. It assures you they’re working and gives them a chance to ask for guidance. It also allows you, the payer, to know weekly what expense you’ve incurred.
- Do you bill weekly? Weekly bills don’t have to be paid weekly. But you getting them weekly allows you to keep any eye on your budget.
- Do you have any references? This is an obvious question, but necessary to put on the list. The advantage here is you get a candid answer from a previous client when you do your check-up; the downside being the client turned you on to, likely, a very happy client (not a client that went wrong).
Questions to ask yourself. You should have a feeling of their competence once the interview is over. And maybe you even have a feeling of their integrity. There’s only one question you then need to ask yourself:
- Do I like this person? You’re going to spend a lot of money, and time, with this person and their firm. You should like their demeanor and personality.
If you like to swear, chew tobacco, and drink beer and they’re appalled by it, it may not be a good fit.
My story. I’ve hired consultants, and now I am a consultant. I asked a lot of these questions. And the consultants I used time after time were not only competent, they were people I liked. So, I believe in each of these items above.
As the person doing the hiring, I’ve failed before on not checking references. Take the time to do that.
As the firm being hired, I try to keep the client in the loop on our progress. I like them engaged in what I’m doing. I also make sure I’m only charging time when we’re working. I’ve had more than my share of attorneys charging time while on the plane – gimme a break.