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    When to Seek Outside Advice

    By: Jeff Gau
    October 6, 2011

    We all get calls from “consultants” offering to “help us out.” Like many leaders, my first thought used to be “Well, I think we’re already doing a good job at that.” But that changed about four years ago when a decision was made to engage a consultant that provided benchmarks, transparency and expertise to significantly improve our company’s performance.

    While it’s common for businesses to seek outside advice, it’s often limited to lawyers and accountants. At Marco, we’ve made the commitment to use a variety of consultants to improve our business because we now have a track record of success that supports that decision.

    A Substantial ROI
    It all started from a very good experience with a consultant who gained our trust and delivered tangible results. In 2007, we hired Jerry Newberry, a service consultant in the copier industry with a company called BEI Pros, to help us become more efficient and profitable in delivering professional services to our clients. Marco was performing below industry benchmarks for profitability, and Jerry had a solid reputation for achieving service operational excellence during his 24 years at Global Imaging Systems and Xerox.

    I still remember when Jerry presented his proposal for consulting services. I was taken back by the price and told Jerry, ‘If you’re so confident that you can achieve those kinds of results, why don’t we split any profit improvement 50/50.’ He smiled and said ‘You can’t afford it.’

    He was right. I am glad he didn’t take me up on my offer because the efficiency gains Jerry helped us achieve has been six figures on an annual basis and totaled over a million dollars in the last few years.

    After that experience, we had the confidence that consultants could improve our business and we could benefit from their services.

    Third-Party Factor
    From strategic planning and LEAN quality improvement to sales and marketing, Marco looks to consultants to help us achieve short-term projects and long-term strategic initiatives. I’ve learned that you do not need to hire all your talent. Consultants can be an extension of your team and provide the level of specialization you need. The best part? They are accountable to results and you only hire them when you need them. And, if they don’t measure up, you can move on.

    So how do you know when to bring in a consultant? We typically decide during our annual planning process as we identify initiatives and strategies for implementation in the next fiscal year. I know we often possess the skills internally, but sometimes we need a third party to bring transparency to the project and hold us accountable. Here are some of our triggers for bringing in consultants:

    • We’re not sure how to approach the task.
    • We need transparency. There are too many sandboxes or silos around the initiative and we need a specialist to remove the personal emotions that could stand in the way of choosing the best path for our company.
    • We don’t have time.
    • The opportunity cost is high. Businesses often underestimate the cost of having an employee or internal team work on an initiative. We’ve found it could cost us more to do it ourselves than involve a third-party.
    • We don’t have the expertise.

    My advice to leaders is to consider consultants as a potential resource to help improve your company’s performance. A component of our success has been the use of third party specialists to augment our staff to help achieve profitable results. In my experience, if used correctly, consultants can be a real asset in the success equation.

    Topics: Consultants
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