Getting the most from your consultant

March 15, 2008

If you’re thinking of engaging a consultant for your next PR campaign or other communications project, make sure you have the time and resources to take full advantage of the service. Wait, you might be thinking, I’m outsourcing the job because I don’t have the time and resources to get it done in house. While that may be true, hiring a consultant still means you have to keep track of the project and provide the consultant with the information and internal resources necessary for him/her to get the job done.

A few times in my communications consulting practice a project has been stalled—sometimes for months—because I am waiting for my client to provide me with background information, interview time or some other piece of work they need to do before I can complete a project.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been on the client side and I know that the endless demands of the job don’t always allow you to get things done when you’d like to get things done. Sometimes missed deadlines are unavoidable. I also suspect that consultants are just as likely to stretch out deadlines. It can happen on either side.

The thing is, when a project stalls, it loses momentum and it’s very difficult to pick up the project after weeks or months of dormancy with the same enthusiasm and focus one had at the start. Although I try my best, I’m not sure the project is getting my best effort. This is especially true with large, complex projects. It’s sometimes difficult to pick up the thread after a long stall.

So, what can you do as someone outsourcing to a consultant, to make sure the project runs smoothly and with minimal interruption?

  • Recognize that although you’re hiring a consultant, you will still have to devote some time to the project. Make sure you’re prepared to do that before you start.
  • Make sure the consultant is clear about what will be required on your part. She should lay this all out up front including what you can expect from her.
  • Your organization and the consultant should be clear about setting realistic deadlines in order to keep the project flowing.
  • Assign follow up tasks to specific staff members right from the start so that you aren’t scrambling to find someone to take care of a task right before it’s due.

If you work at an organization that has outsourced frequently, I’d love to hear some of your best practice ideas for keeping these kinds of projects moving forward. If you’re a consultant, I’d love some tips that have helped you keep the work flowing with your clients. Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

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