Top tips for working with a business consultant

Aug 24, 2017 | Blog

A few years ago I attended some pre-dinner drinks with my husband; he was chatting away with a well-known MSP and unfortunately, just as I joined the conversation the topic turned to the MSPs dislike for the consultancy profession!

“A business consultant will just borrow your watch and tell you the time…they’re just a bunch of greedy parasites…” were just a couple of the choice phrases!  My husband, highly amused, proceeded to introduce me to said MSP with a rather droll, “Gaynor, perhaps you might like to tell my old school chum what you do for a living…?”

Worse still, they sat me next to him at dinner….

On reflection his reaction was not unique and does summarise what a lot of people think. However, what does make me squirm is when someone makes a sweeping statement about consultants when they have never experienced working with one before. We would never berate a professional sports person for having an entourage of coaches and specialist advisers, yet we expect business people to float through a 40 career never seeking any sort of professional advice bar the brief annual conversation with their accountant.

I am aware though that the consultancy profession doesn’t help themselves either – I have spent hours at networking events meeting coaches, mentors, advisors and consultants without really understanding what many of them do. I ask questions and find myself none the wiser as they spout out meaningless jargon, using lots of turgid, gobbledegook management speak while I lose the will to live.

So my top tip for someone looking to engage with a business consultant is simple… clarity.

  • Do you want an advisor to give you the answer (consultant) or for someone to tease the answer out of you (coach)?
  • Do you want a quick intervention that is undertaken on your behalf (consultancy) or would you rather do it yourself with someone there supporting you through the journey (coach)?
  • Do you want someone who has been there, done it and got the badge to bounce ideas off (mentor) or are you looking for someone to help you learn a particular skill (trainer)?
  • Similarly, if you are looking for a coach then what type? A business coach? An executive coach? A team coach? A confidence coach? A personal coach? A career coach? A motivational coach? The list is endless.

The price spectrum runs from “cheap as chips” to “off the scale” but price is no guarantee of service – to reiterate, clarity is essential.

I once had a client who said she wanted a business coach then got frustrated because I wouldn’t give her the answers… yet that’s not what a business coach does. So be really clear. If you don’t know what you need then ask around, find someone first and foremost that you like and feel you can trust, and then trust their expertise.

I often invite new clients to try me out and trust the process. So I usually suggest a small initial project with a clear beginning and end, for an agreed fee – something that allows me to get inside the business and see what I can find out and what I suggest we can do together.  The client gets to have a look at my work and I get to look at them and their business – it’s important that it’s a two-way process where I look at the client and assess whether I can realistically help and make a difference.

Also, beware of those consultants and coaches keen to get you on to a retainer too fast. They need the work. Equally don’t expect them to do stuff for free. You wouldn’t walk into a shop, take something off the shelf and walk out without paying – so why would you expect a professional business person to do the same? In my book, free work equals work you don’t really value.

It’s about you building a relationship of trust, getting something you really want – whether that be making more profit, selling your business for a stack of money or being able to see more of your kids. One of the most rewarding pieces of work I undertook recently was to help one of my clients take a 3-week holiday, leaving his mobile phone in the safe during the day. I helped him create that time away; he didn’t worry about his business because we’d sorted that… it made me feel really proud and he achieved the result he wanted.

Now that’s what I call a success.

Business strategy expert Gaynor McIntyre has over 20 years of consultancy and business coaching experience.  To discuss your business needs and goals and how our Strategic Planning service can help you call us on 01383 721421 or email

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