When should your startup hire a consultant?

Two businessmen looking over a document with a laptop nearby.

Often the last thing on an entrepreneur’s mind is spending the scarce budget on external consultants. The mindset of those running a small business is often that it’s better to get everything done in-house, saving money and doing a ‘good enough’ job, with tasks and projects going to whoever has the best-fit skill set.

This is the reality of running a small business, but there are key moments in a company’s growth when hiring exactly the right consultant for a short period of time can make great business sense.

At MBA & Company, we provide consultants for the smallest startups through to multinational companies, and we’ve identified three key moments in a company’s life when an external consultant is likely to add the most value to a business.

1. Developing your strategy

Unless you’re running a lifestyle business, at some point you’ll need to develop a coherent strategy for growing your business. This is particularly true if you’re reliant on external investment, as your backers will want to see that you have a pragmatic plan and reasonable chance of delivering a return on their investment.

You’re likely to know the industry you operate in very well, but having an external consultant with significant experience in your industry can help you plan more effectively, avoid common industry pitfalls and identify exit opportunities for the future. Often an old-hand in your space will be able to make useful introductions, and they’ll certainly help you to plan the future of the business with the benefit of having seen it all before, from the inside.

 2. Improving efficiency

Your business is a series of processes, most of which have probably developed organically as the business has grown. They could probably all be more efficient – CRM, sales process management, fulfilment and marketing are typical areas where you could save money or increase revenues (or both).

In a small business where there may not be very experienced people running these areas, or where a couple of people are running all of them, it can be beneficial to have an external consultant identify areas where the business could be more efficient. Hiring department heads may be well outside of the budget, but having a consultant spend a couple of days learning about your business and delivering recommendations could pay for itself in no time at all.

 3. Expanding into new markets

As your business grows, you’ll almost certainly want to provide a broader range of products or services or expand your existing proposition into new markets. These are both times when it can be costly to make poor decisions; there are risks from the cost of entering new markets, and from taking the focus away from the areas that currently sustain the business.

A market research consultant can help you identify the most attractive markets to go into, whether changes would be required to your existing product or service, and identify the key players and competitors that you’ll be going up against. Best of all, they can do this without any preconceived ideas that might exist within the business, and provide you with an objective assessment of the opportunities.

There are many times when an external perspective, a specific type of expertise or a wealth of industry experience can help you to develop your business. Today the services of external consultants are not just for organisations in the FTSE100 but are available on-demand, and from just a few hundred pounds.