Q: I’ve been thinking about using a consultant to help me with my business. How do I know if one is qualified and what are some advantages of using a consultant?

A: The field of consultancy is a wide open field without regulation. One day it will be regulated but until then to find a qualified, legitimate consultant that can help with your business look for qualifications. Those include certifications, a high level of education, prior experience in a professional services firm, a solid client base, a specialist not a generalist, a thirst for knowledge, a gift for teaching, a decade or more of industry experience in the consulting area, a systematic approach, and a high hourly rate.

The following are some advantages of using a trained professional consultant:

Consultants have an independent viewpoint.

Consultants tell the truth without worrying about long lasting consequences. Some owners are not prepared to hear the realities of their businesses. Near midnight after assessing the business of a client, I sat with him to recap my findings. Finding number one, two and three were unpopular. I could see my client getting agitated, squirming and turning red. I stopped the recap and looked him straight in the eye. After a long, uncomfortable pause I told him, “This may be the only time I’m going to meet with you. I’m not looking for a contract or more work. I’m going to tell you the truth and whether you want me back is irrelevant. You hired me to give you advice and I’m going to give it. Your decision making and behavior are producing poor results and behaviors in your business.” He sat back in his chair and starred at me. “Good thing you explained”, he said, “I was just getting ready to punch you.” There was plenty of work to follow [Example used by permission]. A great consultant will never be afraid to tell a client what he/she needs to hear even if that means getting fired. The consultant’s job is to present data and remain independent.

Consultants will help improve your business.

Because a consultant has a rich history in your industry, a wide client base and a narrow focus, a consultant can perform an assessment, help with organizational strategy and structure, make recommendations to processes to improve productivity, and help you implement recommendations. Professional consultants have tried and true practices and processes and will have worked with businesses that are likely further along, more productive, or have better systems or organization than yours. The result is often an expanded view of the business with much more upside than originally imagined.

Consultants bring best practices, are specialists and can solve a specific problem.

Consultants practice their trade much as a CPA, an Attorney, a Physician or any other professional. Many needs in a business come and go and having someone on staff to address all emerging issues requires a broad staff. A consultant can fix problems by assessing and scoping a work plan, focusing in on the highest and best work and motivating and inspiring the organization. Perhaps you need help managing a labor or product cost issue or need your menu engineered or new menu items developed. Maybe your lease is coming up for renewal or your business has grown to the point of expansion or you’re having an employee issue. Perhaps your market share is slipping and sales are declining. Using a consultant specialized in these areas will more than pay for itself. Consultants are hired to increase revenue, reduce cost, bring organization or change, or drive strategic development and using one will likely be less expensive in the long run than hiring employees.

Most importantly to make the most of your consulting experience, define what you want to use a consultant for.

Without a defined scope of work you’ll waste time and money, with it you’ll save both. There is an old saying, “If you think hiring a professional consultant is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur.” Save yourself some money and hire a professional consultant.

For more information on improving profitability and driving sales, contact AMP Services at rbraa@ampservices.com. Rick Braa is the founder of AMP Services, a Seattle restaurant accounting and consulting firm specializing in helping companies grow profitability.