A Beginner’s Guide to Hiring Consultants Online

Where to find qualified consultants

The choices keep multiplying as the popularity of freelancing grows among professionals leaving the corporate world.

More and more online staffing & freelancing platforms are sprouting up all the time, from all over the planet. A few months ago we wrote about McKinsey & Company’s report on the explosive growth of platforms that facilitate hiring for short or long term engagements.

So, given that the possibilities are growing exponentially, it’s no longer a question of finding a resource to hire consultants online, but rather selecting the right resource from a multitude of choices.

Consultant superstores: There are huge online hiring platforms where you can find almost any kind of working professional for hire. These include sites such as Upwork, Guru and Freelancerwhich can be great resources for finding marketing consultants, writers, web developers and graphic artists. Consultants of all experiences and pricing levels can be found on these sites, along with crowdsourced reviews and ratings.

Boutique platforms: Some platforms are more specialized – both by types of consultants and types of employers. If you’re in the finance industry and you need a consultant with financial expertise you can find platforms like Graphite, which offers instant access to vetted former CFOs and investment bankers. Simplicity Consulting supplies marketing talent on demand to high tech enterprises. Workmarket is another resource for finding professionals that support B2B business needs.

Tips for selecting the best consultant

Ask them to answer 2 – 4 general questions based on whatever is the main task or set of tasks you need help with. Try to do this without revealing your whole business model; see note about the NDA, belowOne DON’T: It’s unreasonable to ask for detailed or highly specific answers to the questions you’re seeking help with. A good consultant will see through this device and segue back to asking about your readiness to engage, wondering whether you’re shopping this work around just to pick some brains for free advice. A less experienced one might give you full answers  – but why would you want a less experienced consultant?

Ask to review their portfolio, or links showing their past work.  If you’re not using a crowdsourced review platform, ask for references.

Once you’ve established their credentials and experience and found a few candidates who seem qualified, you have to trust your gut to an extent.

Make it personal. Understand how the culture and goals of your company may impact the working relationship with anyone you hire, and try to find a compatible fit so they don’t predictably clash with other team members.

Make sure your potential hires are a benefit, and not a liability. Too much hand-holding, and the value of your consultant goes way down. A great way to hire virtually is to assign jobs to candidates and see who can accomplish them with minimal support and teaching. You can also start with a small freelance project before committing to a longer-term hire.

After you hire: how to manage a consulting contract

Protect yourself with a solid contract. Some consultants use their own contract forms, but most often the employer provides the contract. Be sure to review your consulting agreements, adding or customizing sections as needed, and include a detailed Scoping section that outlines the work and deliverables. Whenever you communicate something important pertaining to a project deliverable, either do it in writing or confirm later with an email or preservable chat message.

Set up milestones for payment. Even if it is an hourly contract, reasonable deadlines should be set for project deliverables. Have a contingency plan in case the consultant doesn’t deliver on time or within the promised scope of work.

Get yourselves in sync. Ask about the systems the candidate uses to stay organized and run the candidate through your own systems to make sure they are familiar with any platforms they’ll be required to use while working for you.

Set expectations before you start. Is this hire for a project, a set number of hours, or a full-time role? Make sure you agree on specific deliverables and deadlines from the beginning.  Review work product regularly, and schedule regular check-ins to discuss progress.

Don’t forget the Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA). Before you reveal much about your business plan, initial market research, or other sensitive information you’ll want to have your consultant sign one of these, which promises they’ll keep anything you tell them confidential and out of the hands of potential competitors. Some employers hand out NDAs to all consultant candidates before they’ve even made a selection.

Graphite has sample consulting agreements and NDAs that you can download and use for free, as well as more best practices tips for maximizing the value of any consulting engagement. We’ve also made it easier to rehire a consultant you’ve used in the past, with a simple click. It’s all there once you have a free account at www.graphite.com.

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Greg Andrade

Greg Andrade handles Graphite's marketing and communication programs. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he worked in corporate marketing for 15 years before turning his focus to virtual marketing consulting for startups and global businesses.

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