If you own a small business, you probably have the need to hire service providers from time to time. These people may be temporary helpers for a large project, or they may provide ongoing services to help you get your product out the door to your customer. Or perhaps they offer you professional services like accounting or legal advice.
Whatever your need, if you find yourself signing on the dotted line to contract services, you’ll want to ensure a successful relationship. Most of this success is dependent on setting appropriate expectations up front and then managing the relationship with a good communication plan.
We have all had the experience of starting a relationship, and making the assumption that the person or entity we are engaging will do what they say they will do, on time, and on budget and that they will provide adequate information. We dive in with high hopes, only to find that our idea of good performance and open communication is totally different than what the other person or company had in mind.
Here are a few things to consider as you begin your relationship with the consultant. If you take the time to plan and prepare, and to set expectations with the consultant before you begin the work, you will have a much more successful relationship.
- Develop and use standard forms for progress reporting. Be very clear about your requirements. Don’t assume the consultant knows. Write everything down and meet with the consultant and their staff to be sure that all questions are answered before they start the project.
- Assume that your consultant is part of the team and do not leave him/her out of meetings and information exchange.
- Stay in touch and ask questions. Encourage the consultant to do the same.
- Include timelines, goals and schedules in your contract so that the consultant understands her/his commitment.
- Provide space in your facility for your consultant to work, at least one day a week, if possible.
- Be sure you know the identity, skill set and credibility of the people your consultant will provide on your project. Sometimes, the company will impress you with their knowledge, but they will plan to send in junior associates to handle the job after the contract is signed.
- Get references before you sign the contract and ask the consultant’s previous clients about how they work, how effective their communication is and how well they interact with client staff.
- Agree on the frequency of progress reports, and status meetings.
- Provide samples of reports or files used by other consultants that you felt were particularly helpful.
- Remember that the consultant may be representing you in some meetings and exchanges. Be sure you share the same values and you understand how the consultant works before you sign the contract.
- Be certain that your consultant has a complete list of resources and contacts within your organization so that he/she knows who to call when they need information.
- Ask the consulting company about their problem solving skills and about contingency planning. Remember, things rarely go as planned and you want to know that the consultant can handle issues and keep things moving.
If you plan appropriately and ensure that you and your consultant have a common understanding of the work to be accomplished, the way in which you will work together and the frequency and detail you expect in communication, you will be much happier with the relationship and the work product the consultant provides.