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how to choose a consulting firm

by Paul Allen - July 2016 3 min read

I like to think of consulting firms like golf clubs or power tools: you need the right one for your specific needs or things can go very "wheels off" very quickly!  I mean, you wouldn’t use a driver when you’re on the green would you?  Or in creating the perfect meal, understanding the right heat, right pan, and specific ingredients is crucial.

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Not everyone needs a Big 4 firm every time. And not every need can be solved by choosing the lowest cost option available - sometimes you need someone who can actually think through problems and provide strategic value. You have to find the right tool for your specific situation, and that takes some thinking.

There are a number of alternatives to the standard Big 4 consulting firms. Unless you’re bound to the big names by investors or the stock market, you don’t necessarily have to go that route.

Whatever you do, don’t get caught up in price.

Like anything else in life, you really get what you pay for. Good consulting services do not come cheaply. On paper, consulting firm rates may seem higher than what you’re willing or able to pay. But how much does turnover cost? How much time will it take to train multiple people if a cheaper vendor doesn’t give you any continuity? Sometimes cheaper “fixes” will yield longer-term costs that have a much more negative effect on your business than just biting the bullet up front. 

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Where to find a good firm. 

If you’re a company who’s growing quickly, chances are you’ve got a good relationship with a commercial banker or audit firm. These are great places to find referrals to consulting firms. Any firm you hire, though, needs to be able to work well with your commercial banker and your audit partner. The audit partner/commercial banker/consulting firms are the arms and legs you need to help you as you grow or work through this growth. If one of them isn’t in sync, you won’t be nearly as effective.

The marketplace has changed.

I think a lot of people don’t realize that the marketplace has changed. Many firms have had positive working relationships with the same old consulting partners for years. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but there are newer, more agile consulting firms on the market now (like Embark!). If you review your needs and a Big 4 consulting firm is necessary, more power to you. But don’t be afraid to shake things up – never let yourself get stagnant!

So what does a good consulting firm need from you?

It’s vital that the consulting partner you choose really understands the overall strategy behind where you want to take your company, and this project specifically. It’s also important that a consulting partner understand your culture, and how they will fit in. If the consulting company you’re speaking with isn’t asking those questions, they might not be the right fit for long term success.
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