Most Costly Business Mistake: 6 Red Flags to Look for When Vetting Consultants

There are few business mistakes that are as costly as hiring the wrong consultant. Because when you accidentally hire the wrong consultant, you lose the time they wasted leading you in the wrong direction, plus it can cost you a fortune in time and energy to make up for the ground you’ve lost.

And yet, despite taking every precaution, sometimes it still happens. You get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach midway through that tells you, “Oh, this is not going the way I thought it would.”

If you keep an eye out for these 6 red flags to look for when vetting consultants (and as you start to work together), you should be able to head trouble off at the pass — and save yourself a small fortune in time and money in the process.

1. Does your consultant seem to know more than you?

And we don’t mean in the “I-know-your-business-better-than-you-do” kind of way. If your consultant is a condescending know-it-all, that’s just annoying and no good for morale. They may also be covering for a lack of knowledge somewhere.

But if your consultant has answers you don’t have — or that would take you weeks or months to get on your own — then you have chosen a good consultant. The whole point of hiring a consultant is to bring in someone who fills in gaps in your own knowledge and skill set, as well as to provide you with an objective outside perspective. You want to feel good about the knowledge and experience your consultant brings — not diminished or ridiculed by it.

2. Is your consultant also a good teacher?

At some point, your relationship with your consultant will end or taper off as you need them less. What is your consultant leaving you with? Besides the project or product you both agreed to, a good consultant ideally should leave you with more knowledge than when you started.

When you ask questions, how does your consultant answer them? Is this person cocky and condescending? Or do they take the time to explain things in a way that you can understand? Will you be able to apply that knowledge later? A consultant who is also a good teacher will positively impact your business for years.

3. Does your consultant really hear you when you speak?

Is your consultant truly listening to you when you ask questions or raise concerns, or are they dismissive? Listening doesn’t mean they’ll always agree with you, but they need to hear what you’re saying. And if they disagree, they need to explain why they see things differently, so you can discuss it. If you decide to change your mind and go with what your consultant advocates, you should feel comfortable with why their decision is better and not feel bullied into it.

4. Does your consultant disagree with you all the time?

You don’t want to hire a “yes” person who tells you what you want to hear, but you don’t want someone who disagrees with you all the time either. Someone who is adversarial and is quick to shoot down your and your team’s ideas probably isn’t listening enough (refer to the previous point). Look for a balanced, free flowing exchange of ideas with plenty of give and take as a sign that you have healthy communication between you, your consultant, and your team.

5. How much experience does this person have in your industry or a related industry?

Sometimes, experience is absolutely necessary. For example, when working with healthcare, finance, or other specialized industries, having someone who understands special federal regulations and the nuances of sharing private information can be critical. On the other hand, outside perspectives can be good, too. Sometimes, people outside your own industry can see things that those already entrenched in your field don’t see any more or take for granted. You want someone who can give you a fresh, objective perspective but is either already familiar with special regulations and needs within your industry or who can get up to speed very fast.

6. Is the right work getting done, and are you confident in the final product?

How confident do you feel in the final product or the path to the final product? Are things clicking? Does the amount of hours seem to match the output that is happening? If you see progress, and you can see where the final destination of your work is leading you, then you’re probably on the right path. However, if work doesn’t seem to be getting done, things don’t get finalized, and you are unsure of the direction you’re heading in at any point, you need to stop and re-evaluate not only where your consultant is leading you but the consultant, too.

By asking yourself these 6 questions and thinking about these 6 red flags to look for when vetting consultants, you should have an easier time evaluating consultants when you are first considering them and as you start to work together. Even if you start working together and find things getting off track for any reason, remember that you can get things back on track with proper communication — or simply find another consultant who is a better fit for you and your company. Better to cut your losses and get yourself back on track than to lose even more by going down with a sinking ship.