Looking for a small business strategy – to continue your small business success, to secure your small business future, or to pull your small business out of a slump? Be sure you know what to look for! The words consultant, trainer, advisor, and planner may sound like different shades of grey to you, but Google any of those terms, and you will begin to notice some subtle differences as you sift through the results. Clarity counts when hiring a business advisor (or consultant or coach or trainer or planner)…

Businesses who use these keywords usually know the functions are not the same in their world. Most respect the differences and take pride in a true functional identity. Others try to appeal to everyone. The savvy business owner knows that clarity about the outcomes, as well as clarity about your expectations of potential business advisors make a considerable impact on the success of any project. If you’re careful to understand the differences among the different types of providers, such clarity can save you considerable time, energy, and money by helping you select the one that is right for the job at hand.

Consultant: Consultants usually contract for the short-term and price the contract by time commitment and project expectations. A small business consultant may work on site and face-to-face. Small business consulting service is often project driven, and this requires detailed short and long-term goals. The Consultant will work hard to define metrics you want to achieve as well as the deliverables you want him/her to contribute. The Consultant will design a contract that s/he knows can be delivered at the risk of refund or cancelation. Pursue small business consulting if you feel your need is specific, measurable, and doable in a reasonably short time (3 to 6 months). Refine your search to find someone who is expert, experienced, available, and accessible.

Coach: Coaches are usually behavior oriented. You’ll want a Coach to help you with personal communication, delegation, employee evaluation, and team-building skills. Small business coaching is a collaboration between coach and small business owner to share a structured process with specified goals. Expect a Coach to bring his/her personal experience, work performance, and training to lay groundwork for self-directed learning and personal growth. Collaboration assumes the owner has a feel for his/her weakness and welcomes the support. Coaches might require a period of observation and interaction with you and your employees; they are likely to prefer a tight timeframe, as it is not to their advantage to overstay their welcome; and, they want you to accept a template that will allow you to score your improvement.

Trainer: Trainers are behavior-oriented as well. You can buy self-help training off the shelf at any bookstore. However, some training requires the presence and input of professionals. Training essentially implies an intention to change behavior, e.g., customer service, phone, and direct-marketing skills. Trainers bring the printed and audio-visual materials and the platform skills to make a measurable difference. The cost may be prohibitive when you compare it to sending your employees to one or two-day workshops, but the difference impacts your bottom-line.

Advisor: Advisors have a less formal relationship. You may want to contract for the short-term with Advisors on specific areas of expertise, such as taxation, human resources, real estate, investments, etc. You can keep this relationship casual by mining your network of peers and employing a little quid pro quo. But, if you feel you need the advice on a long-term and consistent basis, seek a qualified Advisor to contract with on a retainer basis.

Planner: Planners are business process engineers. Their look at small business planning is horizontal and spreadsheet directed. They like flow-charts and linear plans. They can look at investments, sales, profits, personnel costs, etc., and demonstrate where you are and where you going. Their organizational charts can highlight weaknesses or indicate trends. They can leave behind programs that you can carry forward on your own. Some cannot get past their paradigms, though, and are at a loss for solutions to problem areas.

Now, there are a handful of experienced experts out there who can put all these strategies together. Interview the candidates you are looking at to see how they can blend these distinct mind-sets, but first, be very clear in your own mind about the value you expect from such a relationship. Such clarity will help ensure that you get the results you are paying for…


By Steven Schlagel