11 Questions to Ask a Business Consultant

There are several reasons why large corporations, small businesses, or even a solopreneur would hire a business consultant. 

Hiring a business consultant can be very expensive, but highly rewarding. Consultants provide invaluable services that include the following: 

  • Providing expert advisory, mentoring and assistance in a specific market
  • Assessing risks and identifying problems
  • Providing leadership or support to existing staff
  • Planning on new initiatives
  • Providing objectivity in decision-making
  • Training employees
  • Refining the organizational model
  • Developing a feasible business plan
  • Networking with potential clients and influencers

It’s easy to find a business consultant. There are more than 600,000 management consultants in the United States alone. Here are some of the ways you can find one:

how to find a business consultant

Are you searching for a business consultant who can help you overcome the biggest challenges your business faces on a regular basis?

Make sure that you hire a reliable one, to say the least, lest you commit an extremely costly mistake.

If this is the first time you have considered hiring for this role, it is important to be clear about your standards and requirements, as well as what interview questions you would need to ask.

The following is a list of questions you need to ask in order to know if the consultant is the right fit for you and your company.

questions to ask a business consultant

1. How Many Years of Experience Do You Have?

Most people would say that it’s not about quantity, but quality. However, this isn’t always the case particularly if you want to ensure you hire the right consultant among several options. 

The length of someone’s experience will tell you more than just the number of years, but also the following:

  • The consultant’s firm resolve to stay in this specific field for a long time
  • Proficiency with the technical know-how and dynamics of consulting
  • Exposure to several networking activities with people from all walks of life
  • How lucrative the job is for the consultant to continually want to be in this business

Most importantly, how long one has been in the industry implies that a consultant has learned several lessons and has been refined over the years. 

tenured consultant

2. Do You Have Client Testimonials?

Business people offering services are only as good as their client’s feedback. 

It is great to get “good” feedback from clients where they thank you for helping them out. It would be nice to know they’re willing to make themselves known as one of your clients. However, it is way better to hear them say how you specifically helped them.

Asking for any client testimonials to back up what your business advisor claims is a really good way to know whether you have found a reliable consultant fit for the job. The more specific they are in their testimonials, the better for you as a prospective client.

The information you can get from these testimonials might just be the deal-maker in case you’d still have doubts.

3. What Kind of Assessment Do You Plan on Conducting?

An evidence-based evaluation of the current standing of your business will only be possible with a thorough assessment. 

Never rely on your points of view alone because they could be biased or judgments lack a tangible basis.

Among the different types of assessment a consultant must conduct are:

  • needs assessment
  • organizational assessment
  • operational assessment
  • individual assessment

Knowing ahead of time what kind of assessments a consultant is planning or capable of doing can help you prepare ahead. There are assessments that can be too intrusive for you so you can discuss that with your consultant. There are also assessments that need across-the-board participation so you can disseminate information to your departments about what to expect once you onboard your consultant.

consulting services

4. Are You Easily Available Even During Weekends?

Ideally, you would want to work with a consultant who can respond to your emergency phone calls or emails during weekends. Who wouldn’t? 

However, the key to a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship between the consultant and you is a clear understanding of and respect for one’s availability.

It is best to ask this question upfront especially if the nature of your business is around the clock. The tricky part though is that you also have to set fair expectations with regard to the availability of your prospective consultant and how much time he would be willing to spare. 

After all, how a consultant values time is also a reflection of what kind of a business person he is.

availability of a consultant

5. How Much Is Your Consulting Fee?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consultants make an average of $150,000 per year (or $62.93 per hour). 

Below are the fee methods and the percentages of consultants who favor these methods (Source: Consulting Success).

As a client, you want to know if your consultants are overpricing or not by comparing the asking fee with the others in the market. This will also help you plan your budget early on. Knowing how much to pay and when to pay during the interview process is an important part of setting proper expectations.

Generally, consultants charge based on any of the following pricing structures:

  • Hourly rate
  • Daily rate
  • Monthly retainer
  • Project-based rate

The rate also depends on whether the consultant would be working with you office-based or not. Others would go for hiring an office-based consultant.

This option provides maximum efficiency in terms of time and money since you can easily assign your consultant other tasks or ask for insights in a snap thereby letting you have more time on other important areas of your business.

6. Have You Already Authored Any Book?

A book gives a consultant authority and bolsters his credibility. 

You can see through what kind of consultant one is through his book. Often, a book will give you an idea about the consultant’s strategies and approaches towards certain problems.

If the book is a hit, then it makes you become even more confident about working with the consultant.

Also, if you haven’t written your book yet, your prospective consultant can even help you and guide you through it. This is a bonus benefit you will surely want to explore soon.

references for consultants

7. Are You a Member of Any Professional Association?

If you hire a consultant who currently works under a consulting firm, they are most probably affiliated with an association of their own.

Affiliations matter because they serve as the references for the consultant’s character which is necessary for background checks.

Among others, the following are the advantages you can get when a consultant belongs to a reputable association:

  • You can get access to the tools and resources your consultant exclusively has through the organization
  • The consultant undergoes continually grows under the guidance of his senior consultants
  • There are networking opportunities that will help link your business with others

Consulting Success has curated a list of consulting and business associations you might want to check out:

8. What Has Been Your Biggest Success as a Consultant?

Success stories never fail to inspire.

Asking a consultant about his most successful ventures and experiences will inspire you towards your own success. Not only that, but you will also learn the consultant’s:

  • list of accomplishments
  • strategies and specialties
  • values

Why values? The consultant could talk about a particular professional feat he has recently achieved, a company problem he has solved, or a management conflict he has resolved. Depending on the consultant’s answer, you would know which matters to him the most. 

  • Is it his own professional achievement or a contribution to a company? 
  • Has it been a long time since he did something significant?
  • Does he have the motivation to solve problems?

You can be more specific by expounding the question in terms of:

  • nature of the task
  • goals set
  • actions taken
main services of a consultant

9. What Has Been Your Biggest Failure?

In the same way that you would like to know what a consultant’s biggest success is, you would also like to know what he considers his biggest failure – you get to know more about the consultant’s strengths and even weaknesses.

You should be interested to know how the consultant was able to turn things around.

This is a tricky question because you could either see if a consultant is resilient enough to bounce back right away or if he is able to assess every situation with enough objectivity to always have a takeaway.

The question is often followed by “how did you deal with it?”.

The answers to these questions will help provide hindsights into what challenges took place and if you ever face the same business challenges, you could tell if a consultant has learned the lessons necessary for you to avoid or solve a problem.

business successR

10. Do You Use a Formal Program to Help Your Clients or Do You Come up With It as You Go Along?

This question is just another way to ask the following questions:

  • – Are you prepared as a consultant to train? 
  • – Do you have the necessary tools and resources?
  • – Can you outline your own training programs?
  • – Have you thought about equipping us with the possible challenges that will come our way?

The answers to this question often come in a form of a business proposal or portfolio where a client outlines what he can do for you. However, you would still want to ask this question vis a vis any document the consultant presents.

11. Are You a Specialist in Your Area?

There are several types of business advisors or consultants. While there are certain specializations that overlap like how management consultants can overlap with operations advisors or even strategy advisors, not all specializations match with what you could be looking for in a consultant.

A consultant could profile in several specialties but this question clarifies how confident a consultant is in his area and whether he could back it up.

For instance, you could be looking for an IT consultant. During an interview with someone applying for this role, you would like to know if the IT consultant can handle strategy, procurement, or even management other than being an expert at structuring IT systems.

This question will also help you distinguish instantly during an interview which candidate can bring more to the table among the others, thus narrowing your list.

Once you search for “business advisor”, “management consultant” or a relevant term, you can gather a couple of dozen professionals offering one-off or ongoing services. But how to vet them?

Here’s my own simple checklist I use before reaching out for help in a niche area.

It reflects the feedback I receive from my own clients, too.

Can Business Consultants Genuinely Help?

There’s an untapped market for advisory services out there. I’ve met dozens of business consultants and advisors over the past 6 years – but it’s almost impossible to find them online (unless they network in the same circles you do.)

If you look up car rentals, real estate deals, or insurance plans, the first 10 results will be businesses offering the types of services you need. More importantly, the market is so saturated that you need to be really specific (including area and other filters) to sift through the portfolio of available companies.

Ever tried to look up “business advisor” online?

Here’s a snapshot of the first ten headlines Google returns at the moment:

  • What is a business advisor and how can you hire the right one?
  • How to become a business adviser
  • Business advisor job description
  • Business advisor: job description, requirements and career information
  • Business adviser job profile
  • Who is a business advisor?
  • How to use a business advisor for your startup
  • You should be a business advisor
  • Get the right advisors for growth
  • 4 key qualities to look for in a small business advisor

Did you notice that NONE of the results here is a service offered by an actual advisor?

I’ve spent a lot of time researching “competitors” to uncover lead generation pieces and landing pages that prospects look for. When you discard the enterprise-grade consultancies like Deloitte or Accenture, it’s almost impossible to find advisors via standard practices.

So it turns out that most advisors don’t promote their services actively and only rely on their internal network. The caveat here is: everyone can become an advisor and claim they’ve done miracles – but it’s hardly anything you can prove yourself.

trustworthy consultant

Most advisors niche down into several types of advisors and focus on their corresponding core skill set.

As a client, I’ve also used advisors for specific skill sets: management, sales, marketing, finances, legal. Your best bet is finding a skilled consultant with a successful track record of working with similar businesses to yours.

Considering they’ve already faced the same challenges, your relationship may thrive.

However, there are two important aspects to consider:

  • Finding a great consultant or advisor is really hard and requires some due diligence.
  • Building a relationship based on trust is crucial. 

If you disagree with your consultant from the get-go, it’s not necessarily their fault. However, if you leave a meeting with homework, you have to follow it closely – that’s the only way the business strategy will be put to a test.

And if you want to explore a consulting relationship with no strings attached, set up a quick call with one pain point you want to dive into today.

Your thoughts?