5 Best Practices for Working with Consultants

By January 12, 2016Blog

Whether you are hiring a creative consultant for the first time or you’ve been at it for years, here are some important considerations for creating a strong working relationship. This list is not exhaustive, but it includes some vital points that are often forgotten in the rush of everyday work. It’s important to stop occasionally and check to make sure you’re keeping best business practices in mind for today’s workflows and treating your vendors with the respect they deserve. Following are five guidelines for organizations to keep in mind when working with outside contractors….

  1. Remember: Garbage In = garbage out. When delivering content to a designer, clients should take care to make sure it has been polished and edited. A designer will work to faithfully reproduce your text in a design — whether the final product is a brochure, advocacy report or white paper, or a website or blog post. It is in everyone’s best interest to make sure the content has been proofread and edited for style and accuracy before passing it along to the designer.
  2. Time is an essential part of any project. Proposals are often written with specific time horizons in mind. A project estimate will always take into account the amount of time estimated to complete the project and how quickly the work needs to be done. It also will take into account the anticipated start date. Even if a project isn’t particularly urgent, proposals are generally based on assumptions that the work will begin within 30 to 60 days (and a proposal will have an expiration date in it, which should not be ignored). Beyond that timeframe, assumptions used in modeling the project pricing could be outdated. A firm may no longer have access to a particular subcontractor, or they may have taken on other work in the meantime that would stretch resources beyond the capacity to serve you well. Also remember that a delay in starting the project generally means a delay in the delivery date. In a situation where the start of a project is delayed, but the original proposed delivery date must still be met, clients should expect pricing to adjust upward accordingly to account for a compressed timeline for the work.
  3. Appoint One Internal Contact, but Provide Access to Top Decision Makers. To be effective, design and marketing consultants need to have access to top decision makers. In many cases, the work being proposed will be essential to the organization’s core mission and messaging — insulating the consultant from the key decision makers will result in frustration and miscommunication. If the executive suite has veto power on the project, then members of the executive suite need to be involved in the process to avoid heartbreaking setbacks in creative work. Input should be collected from these top decision makers early in the process and key presentations of work should include these decision makers so that the consultant can receive immediate, unfiltered feedback. That said, it is also important to appoint one key internal contact for generating assignments, requesting proposals, and providing feedback when the consultant is not on site. This helps people within the client’s organization to understand the volume of work that is being requested from the consultant. It also streamlines the flow of information, reducing inconsistencies and confusion in communications between the client’s organization and the consultant.
  4. Recognize the Expertise You’re Paying For. Your design and marketing consultant should be a close partner in your work and these individuals will often bring decades of experience to the table. They should be afforded the same professional respect that would be extended to other professionals in your business network like lawyers, board members, or sponsors. This includes logistical concerns like making sure payments are rendered in a timely manner and respecting a consultant’s office hours. It also includes showing that you’ve absorbed the consultant’s input and reflecting their recommendations in any work product developed in-house in conjunction with the project.
  5. Let your Consultant Do What they Do Best. As an extension of the previous point, clients should resist the urge to present the design or marketing consultant with your own solutions when providing feedback. Instead, present the challenges that have been perceived in the work presented and leave it at that. The consultant will take it from there and provide an array of solutions that address the perceived challenges. A good consultant may ask for input to help clarify the direction for new solutions, but don’t expect that input to be the final word on the matter. Creative work is often seen as “fun” to those who are asked to work on projects with creative consultants, but it is real work that takes time, understanding, and experience to solve specific challenges while also speaking in an appropriate voice to your organization’s audience and avoiding cliché. In the end, share the perceived challenges with your consultant and try to avoid dictating solutions so that you are gaining the full benefit of your consultant’s experience.

These guidelines can help your organization’s work run smoothly with various kinds of consultants. That relationship is a two-way street, however, and you should expect a similar level of consideration from your vendors. Check back next week for 5 hallmarks of a responsible consultant that will help you evaluate the consultant’s prospects from the outset.

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