How consultancy helps businesses move forward
A Little Understood World
Though business consultancy is much appreciated in developed countries, the same cannot be said for many developing countries. Many people (including business owners) do not understand the role business consultants play and how they can take advantage of them to move their businesses forward.
Consultants provide a link between theory and practice. There are many things that are learnt in school but only fully manifested through practice. Having indulged in many years of study and research, consultants have a good grasp of the theory which is the fundamental upon which many business decisions and processes are anchored. Apart from that, consultants have dealt with many businesses and diverse situations providing them with a deep understanding of business not just as learnt but also as
I can define business consultancy as provision of expert, objective, evidence based advice to enterprises. Expertise is derived from training and practical experience. Ordinarily, the more advanced the training and the longer the experience, the better the expertise. Objectivity is largely tied to absence of conflict of interest. Evidence is all about research. No amount of training or experience can replace the need to conduct research on the subject upon which the advice is sought.
Theory versus Practice: Both are Important There are people who think that theory is superior to practice or vice versa but there is no truth in that. Theory is derived from research and also from practice. The power of theory in terms of informing practice can’t therefore be underestimated.
On the other hand, practice enriches theory because the world of business is dynamic and pervasive. There is no sense in spending years cracking a business challenge when an expansive body of research exists to provide actionable leads. It is often said that only a fool learns from his own mistake.
Business owners need to understand that as the scriptures say, there is nothing new under the sun. Your current challenges for instance have been faced before and overcome even though some may have succumbed to them. The outcome of those who faced the challenges before provides a rich reservoir of wisdom from which to draw in tackling daily business challenges.
Role of consultants in business practice
The role of consultants is not to spoon-feed or babysit businesses but to empower them in making the best decisions that can place the business in a better position. I have deliberately avoided saying right decisions because people have come to accept that there are no right decisions (only the best apply) under the circumstances concerned.
Decision making is the most critical job description for entrepreneurs. In the end, your business will be the sum total of the decisions made over the years. Granted, a wrong call is not a preserve of small enterprises – even big businesses make costly mistakes because it is never easy to interpret and predict the business environment.
Consultants help businesses make better decisions by conducting research and drawing from experience learnt over the years. The term evidence based decision making should never become a cliché. It is a phrase with heavy implications.
Consultants bring in an outside-inside look at the business and moderate extreme positions that an entrepreneur may take on the strength of uninformed, misguided passions and ambitions for the enterprise as opposed to sound information. Entrepreneurs are not always known for level headedness. An entrepreneur has a clear picture of the final product in terms of vision for the business but often a dim view of the intricate details.
This lack of attention to details and the ensuing inability to connect the dots has resulted in fatal business moves. The upshot of it all is that businesses with high chances of succeeding end up in the corporate grave yard. Bright ideas are dimmed by incompetence and amount to nothing.
Elaborate ambitions are reduced to mere statements laced with good intentions yet embroiled in perpetual barrenness.
Consultants provide a much needed reality check by offering independent, informed and objective input into decisions. They do not make decisions for entrepreneurs. On the contrary, they provide informed options from which the entrepreneur is to choose. Consultants provide sobriety amidst the hurry to decide. They offer a reasoned judgment and illumination in the heat of the moment.
Based on my experience in this business, there are many occasions you snatch people from being consumed by the fire of misguided ambitions and unfettered passions.
The hefty cost of incompetence
Consultants do not come cheap. That is why many small enterprises avoid consulting in the name of cost cutting. Ultimately, they lose a lot of money. There is nothing more costly than an incompetent decision. A consultant may cost you a lot, but he may give you ideas that you will benefit from for many years to come. The outcome of consultancy thus can be likened to a gift that has long term benefits. It may be expensive to purchase but its value in the long run far outweighs that. Unfortunately, we are a country that likes shortcuts and short-circuiting the due process often with disastrous consequences.
It is imperative that entrepreneurs appreciate the value of knowledge. A good education can never be fully valued and so is good consultancy. Its impact will continue to be felt long after the payment is forgotten.
Choosing the right consultant for your
What appears to you like a mountain may be a mere anthill to an experienced person. When I first saw a guy typing without looking at the keyboard, I thought I was staring at a genius. How else could this marvel be explained?
Many years later, it occurred to me that what appeared as the work of a genius was just the stuff of experience. This underlines how valuable experience is which is well captured in business consultancy. Consequently, consultants with many years of experience command substantial billing rates. Experience is therefore a key factor in evaluation of consultants.
Consultancy is neither a career nor a profession. One develops in the field over time and does not have to necessarily train in it for from the onset. This is something that should always be borne in mind before engaging a consultant. Career business consultants are quacks.
A good business consultant will show serious effort in understanding a client’s business.
In addition, he will insist on a participatory process whereby the client is fully engaged throughout the assignment. This ensures not just a deeper understanding of the outcome, but also enhances its ownership by the client. When clients feel a strong sense of ownership, they are more inclined to implement the consultant’s brief saving it from being consigned to dusty shelves, where it is likely to gather even more dust.
When to engage a consultant
As pointed above, consultancy services aren’t cheap in the short run. Thus consultants need not be engaged for routine decision making. On the contrary, they should be brought on board for strategic high impact long term decision making processes and planning.
All the same, an entrepreneur can find ways of working continually with a consultant as a business adviser. This is because in as much as a document may be prepared, its implementation will always have unique challenges. The entrepreneur on such occasions should be in a position to solicit quick advice from the consultant. Thus the relationship is not a one off and consultation is not an event but a process. It is a relationship, not a transaction.
This could be a good time to assess your business. As the year ends and as you plan for the next one, it is good to look into aspects of your business where you may need help in processing your ideas and packaging them appropriately for the journey ahead. It could be the time to firm up your strategy and document it so that everyone in the business is reading from the same script.
Entrepreneurs are usually people of strong resolve and sometimes they may think that asking for help is a demonstration of weakness. This is not the case. No man is self-sufficient and constant consultation is a good business practice. If you have been stuck for years without much progress or breakthrough, then it is about time you sought and took appropriate advice.