How to Select the Right Business Consultant for You

August 03, 2017


how to select the right business consultant for you

Business owners frequently suffer from loneliness. The responsibilities of running an organization can weigh heavily, especially when there are challenges to address. Who does an entrepreneur turn to for advice?

Two Legs of the Stool
Some areas are obvious. Attorneys and accountants are the go-to sources for legal and financial questions, but there is a third area outside their expertise -- daily operations. I’ve worked with many law and accounting firms, and I can’t say that they are any better at running their businesses than others.

Most entrepreneurs avoid burdening their families with business problems. That is probably a good idea. An Inc. Magazine study from a few years ago found that when an owner shared a problem with his or her spouse, the overwhelming majority forgot to share when the problem was fixed! The spouse continued to worry about the issue long after it had passed from the mind of the owner.

Friends who don’t own businesses are little help. Most believe that, as an owner, you have greater control of your life than other folks. You command your own hours, the checkbook and the people who work for you. What could be more enjoyable?

Business associates are usually kept at arm’s length. You are asked “How is your business doing?” The answer comes in a standard range between “Just fine thanks” and “Great!” Few of us want to fuel gossip in the marketplace that might get back to customers, vendors or competitors.

The two legs of the stool, legal and finance, leave unaddressed the need for expertise in marketing, sales, hiring, motivation, process improvement, systems, information technology and strategic planning. Fortunately, there are a number of sources for confidential advice on the more nuts and bolts issues of running a business.

Business Consultants: The Third Leg

Business consultants make a living from selling their operating expertise. Unfortunately, there are no clear national standards, such as passing the bar or CPA exams, to indicate a minimum level of qualification. A consultants may be the most knowledgeable person in his or her area, or someone that is merely between jobs.

Check the consultant’s bio for certifications and education. Ask for references from companies that are similar to yours in size and industry. Most of all, be careful of the “generic consultant.”

The generic consultant can do anything you need. He will agree to help you with strategy, executive recruitment, branding, exit planning, sales incentives and corporate culture. Even the very few professionals I know who may be qualified in each of those areas wouldn’t dream of presenting themselves as consultants in all of them.

If you are seeking broader experience in multiple areas, consider joining a business owner peer group. Many trade groups and industry-specialized consultants run groups of non-competing companies in the same field. National organizations, such as The Alternative Board®, Vistage® and C-12® have groups run by trained facilitators. Others, such as EO or YPO, help put members together who run their own meetings.

Your employees and friends may think that you know everything about running a business, but you know that isn’t true. The third leg of the stool, business expertise greater than your own, is what will take your company to the next level.

A Business Owner's Guide to Benchmarking

John F. Dini

John F. Dini is a consultant and coach to hundreds of business owners, CEOs and Presidents of companies with over 11,000 hours of delivering face-to-face, personal advice to entrepreneurs. He is the author of three business books including Beating the Boomer Bust and 11 Things You Absolutely Need to Know About Selling Your Business, now in its second edition. He is a serial entrepreneur, but prefers the term “chronically unemployable.” John holds a BS in accounting from Rutgers University, and an MBA from Pepperdine University, and has six additional certifications in exit planning, business brokerage, behavioral analysis, medical practice management, facilitation and coaching. John writes numerous articles on small business topics for newspapers, magazines, and in his own blog at He speaks frequently to business groups and national associations, and is a 15-year member of Jim Blasingame’s “Braintrust,” appearing regularly on “The Small Business Advocate,” a nationally syndicated radio program, as an expert in the issues of business ownership. His latest book, Hunting in a Farmer’s World: Celebrating the Mind of an Entrepreneur, has won recognition including “Best Business Book” at the New York Book Festival and the National Silver Medal for business books from the Independent Publishers’ Association.
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