If your business growth has hit a plateau, it might be time to bring in a consultant.
A consultant brings an expertise, a focus on one area of your business that is difficult to match inside your organization. A consultant also offers an unbiased view of the inner workings of your company; much like hiring a therapist helps you see your marriage in a different light, hiring a consultant can help you see your business (and its strengths and weaknesses) in a different light.
There are as many different kinds of business consultants out there as there are types of businesses. What one should you hire? You should hire a consultant that specializes in the type of help that your business needs most.
Here are some types of consultants that might help bring your business to the next level:
Social Media: Be wary of people who call themselves Social Media Experts and look instead for Social Media Consultants. What you want is someone who will help you to integrate Social Media into your existing marketing and customer service efforts, not take over your Social Media accounts for you. Ideally, every member of your organization should understand how your company is using Social Media to further your business goals.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): There are many thousands of SEO consultants on the web; some are legitimate, some are only thinly disguised crooks. While there are short-term SEO tricks that can garner you a #1 position in a Search Engine, these tricks never last very long; instead of focusing on short-term gain, look for an SEO consultant who wants to build an SEO strategy that you can use to build good long-term Search Engine traffic.
eCommerce: Selling online requires a lot of different pieces to work together seamlessly – sales copy, shopping cart, merchant account, order fulfillment, customer service – if any one of these pieces doesn’t function correctly, the whole system can crash and cost you money and time (not to mention, angry customers!). Getting your eCommerce site up and running is much easier if you have a consultant who can help you through the inevitable challenges that ensue. However, be wary of eCommerce solutions that require you to remain married to your consultant! Your consultant should encourage you to take responsibility for the eCommerce part of your business once set up.
Copy Writing: The words that appear on your website or in your marketing materials MATTER. The difference between so-so copy and outstanding copy can often be as simple as tweaking a couple of words or moving things around a bit. Having a professional, experienced copy writer creating your copy can increase sales dramatically. One of the best ways to use a Copy Writer is to do a rough draft of your copy in house, then send it out to the copy writer for refinement.
Market Research: Understanding who your market is is the key to serving them better, and serving them better leads to increases in sales. In the past, market research required a lot of time and money to do well. With the advent of Social Media and online surveys, it is now easier than ever to use market research to grow your business. Look for a consultant who can integrate market research into your existing business practices so that you have a steady stream of updated information to use in your business.
Marketing/Advertising: Marketing is vital to the health of your business, for without it, your business will stop growing and will eventually die. But marketing is a complicated process, with lots of moving parts. Print, direct mail, pay-per-click advertising, website copy, email promotions, newsletters…. there’s enough to make your head spin! A marketing consultant can help you to plan a consistent and thoughtful marketing campaign that will make the best use of ALL of your resources.
If your business is very new, or if you are overwhelmed with many different issues that need addressing all at once, it may be best to hire a more general business coach or consultant. This way, you have one person who can act as a project manager to get your entire business on the right track. One of the best places to find these kinds of consultants, and for free, is the SCORE program at the Small Business Administration.
Consulting fees vary widely, as do results, so to find a consultant who matches what your business needs and can afford. Be wary of results that seem too good to be true; they often are. Look for a consultant who candidly talks about ROI, or Return on Investment, and includes both best case and worst case scenarios. Most important, make sure your consultant understands the type of business that you are in. The advice you get might be rock-solid, but if it just isn’t applicable to your business model, that good advice becomes as good as useless.