Finding the Right Expert Advice
Topic: Entrepreneur Evangelist | Comments (1)
One of my single biggest frustrations is talking to entrepreneurs and hearing horror stories about having their websites built. I hear them all the time: an entrepreneur pays someone a ridiculous amount of money for five static HTML pages that he/she cannot update themselves, and then disappears, never to be heard from again.
Even worse is when I hear this story and then look at the website, only to discover that it’s hideously ugly, has absolutely abysmal SEO potential and looks like it was built in Frontpage in 1999.
Yet, without fail, I hear this story — or some version of it — at least twice per week. And it drives me batty. Some people are just inexcuseably unscrupulous. Most solopreneuers or small businesses do not need a fancy site, but they need one that they can manage themselves. And yet I rarely see “web consultants” do a proper job of educating their clients on how to get what they truly need, vs. just what a consultant can sell and crank out quickly.
Heather Nolte discusses this same issue on StartupNation’s blog, in her post called, “Can a Consultant Save You Cash…and Heartache?” Like me, Heather recounts how invaluable a good consultant can be, if inserted into your business at the right time.
So, how do you know if your consultant is the right person or just the person who happens to be right there?
Don’t Marry the First Girl You Kiss
An old cliche, to be sure, but beware of this trap. It’s far too easy to be so intimidated by a topic that we grab onto the first person who appears to be able to solve it, but try to resist that urge. I met with a man earlier this year who had been sold on the idea of a whole web package for an insane amount of money. By the time I met with him to discuss what the consultant had proposed, it was too late. The client had swallowed the consultant’s story about what he needed, and they were off to the races.
Shop around. Ask for references. And then, when talking to references, ask them who else you should talk to (these are called second degree references and are often the best sources of information). And, when in doubt, reach out to your network — LinkedIn is especially good for this. Tell people you are interested in contacts that they can personally vouch for. You may be surprised how many of them have recommendations.
Teaching vs. Doing
There are some things in our lives that we simply need to know how to do; there are others that are such rarities or specialties that it is unreasonable to expect us to do as well as the experts. In business, this is even more common. Finding the line can be hard, though. And one of the true hallmarks of a good consultant is that they can tell you where the line is in their field.
For instance: A roofer is not going to suggest that you scramble up a ladder to climb out on your roof and re-shingle it after a storm knocks a tree branch down. However, a good roofer should show you how to watch for the signs that re-shingling needs to be done. He should also give you advise about surrounding tree branches, storm conditions and other things that are reasonable for you to keep an eye on.
Finding a consultant who can DO is important. But finding one who can teach you what you need to do is critical. So be sure to ask, “What do I need to know how to do to make this work/keep this working on an on-going basis?” See what they say. If they say, “Nothing.” be a bit wary and confirm that with a few other sources. Very few things are truly maintenance free.
In a world of democratized data, real time communication and personal branding, there is no reason in the world that you shouldn’t be able to spend a couple of hours worth of research, doing a bit of homework before you start meeting with prospective consultants/vendors. Before you start talking to individuals, find the industry experts in the field, the thought leaders, the authors and the business experts who service that marketplace.
Things like Google Blog Search and Twitter Search are amazing sources of information, and with a few key searches, you should be able to find out who the most reputable leaders are in almost any industry, and get a little bit of background so that you don’t walk in to meet with a consultant cold. You do not need to be an expert, but you can’t be blind, either.
Always remember: this is your business. You can’t expect anyone else to be as concerned with it as you are — and that concern starts with making sure that you are prepared to ask good questions, and not pay the wrong person the wrong amount at the wrong time for the wrong services.
Alora Chistiakoff is an entrepreneur, blogger, content strategist and project manager who has been developing online business and technology for startups for more than a decade. She co-owns The Indigo Heron Group, Inc., a content strategy firm in Austin, Texas.