This article first appeared on American Express OPENForum
Hiring a professional coach or consultant to help you get a new or better result from your business is often a very good idea. Many times a fresh set of eyes and ears can bring new perspectives to problem solving. In some cases, simply adding a level of accountability and someone to kick you in a focused place can be enough to help fuel the attainment of your objectives.
However, calling yourself a coach or consultant is not much harder than making a trip to the print shop to add the title a business card. So, on top of doing a bit of research to see if a coach or consultant has the goods to back up the sales pitch, I’d suggest you also consider these five, not so obvious, factors.
1) Are they strategic thinkers?
Business owners are tacticians for the most part. They want to know what to do next and are more than happy to jump into the next new Twitterlike tactic at the behest of the next Twitterlike tactic expert.
If your prospective coach or consultant isn’t talking about strategy, setting baseline objectives and asking tons about why before ever suggesting how, then you better raise the big fat red flag. Strategy before tactics is a mantra for success.
But, don’t be fooled by the instant “we know what strategy you need” approach either. The right business strategy is as unique as you and comes from asking the right questions and listening – look for a coach with big ears!
2) Do they have the right kind of experience?
One question that business owners almost always pose when interviewing a prospective consultant involves past experience: “Do you work with other companies in our industry?” It’s an obvious question, but mostly it’s the wrong question. The problem with specialists in your industry is that they can be closed minded to innovation. “We know how everyone in your industry does it and that’s what you’ll get from us.”
The greatest source of strategic innovation resides “out there” in businesses totally unrelated to yours. If you’re an accounting firm a consultant with experience working with creatives could be the best thing that ever happened to your business. I’m not suggesting some knowledge of what you go through on a daily basis and a track record of results is a bad thing, but if your goal is to differentiate then look for some different thinking and experience.
3) Do they employ a process framework?
Business is pretty much business – systems, people and processes all working together to create customers and profit. Many business owners are convinced that their business and experience is so unique that they must have custom solution, drawn up from scratch for their business alone.
In my experience, a coach that can deliver a proven process for leveraging results far better serves a business. By using a framework and set of tools that have been refined over time a business can often get faster and more affordable results. A consultant that uses a consistent set of tools, combined with the skill to tailor them to a specific business environment, should be able to define the precise scope of work and expectations for all involved. This framework approach should come with a fixed and definable cost as well. Beware of the bill as we go hourly approach.
4) Can they demonstrate documented results?
Asking for proven results in the form of success stories should be a given, but in the haste to hire some help, this one gets skipped in favor of the “nice looking website” approach.
Make certain your prospective coach can show you very specific results, the kind you are looking for, from work with past clients.
Here’s my belief – consultants and coaches that are obsessed with tracking and reporting results are usually obsessed with getting results. Ask for case studies and past client references with an eye on learning about how a consultant works and how they get to the results you are after.
5) Do they have a network of relationships they can share?
I think that one of the things that makes one coach or consultant a better value than another, regardless of fees, is their network.
A coach that has built relationships with “best of class” providers, mentors, advisors, and strategic partners is probably more prepared to serve your long term needs and make introductions to the kinds of resources and people that can impact your business in ways that no PowerPoint deck of good ideas ever will.
When you do your due diligence, add an assessment of networking skills and mentality to the list.
The five items above can form the basis of your interview process, regardless of the type of provider you are looking for.
Hiring a coach or consultant to help you reach your business objectives is an important step, take the time to find the right match and you may uncover one of the greatest hires you’ll ever make.