Small business owners are accustomed to making all the decisions about their companies, as well as overseeing all aspects of business development and daily operations. However, they sometimes may not see the "forest for the trees" — meaning those issues that only outsiders can objectively observe and understand.
One solution is to obtain small business consulting services, either from a firm or an individual consultant. Time and time again, I’ve heard from founders that by clearing out those "trees," a consultant helps a small business focus more on growth.
How do consultants most commonly help small businesses?
As a startup, you may only need help with certain key areas. That means hiring one or two part-time consultants rather than bringing on a full-time consulting firm to provide comprehensive guidance and small business tips. Here are some common areas where consulting services provide a significant benefit.
1. Business development and planning
Whether you just launched a startup or have run your own business for years, the path to reaching that next level of growth may not be clear.
Working with accredited small business consultants, a small business owner can get help selecting the best business model for specific products or services. Qualified consultants can also assist with building out a business plan, which can boost fundraising and help with launch and growth processes.
2. Business strategy
A small business consultant can also serve as a brand strategist. One of the most challenging aspects of owning your own business is knowing exactly how to help your business grow, develop, and mature.
For example, should you expand your business domestically or go beyond that and set up shop in other countries? Does it make sense to add more product lines or partner with another brand? These are the types of questions a business consultant can help you answer. Beyond helping you map out your small business growth journey, a consulting firm can recommend specific tactics to achieve those objectives.
3. Sales and marketing
A consultant who specializes in small business marketing and sales can provide direction on creating a marketing plan, including how to approach social media, influencer marketing, SEO practices, sales tactics, and content marketing.
It helps if the consulting practice is knowledgeable about your industry or niche and understands which tools, platforms, and tactics work for your target audience. They should also have a successful track record in campaign creation and management.
4. Human resources and staffing
Talent acquisition and human resources issues have become more complex and critical to a business’s success. The talent pool isn’t always as big as you might desire, so it helps to work with a business consultant with the connections and talent referrals to fill your organizational gaps in skills and experience.
These days, HR also must contend with other complex issues, including how to correctly address inclusion, diversity, sexual harassment, and new types of benefits, plus new workplace policies involving remote work, telecommuting, and freelance talent.
Since this function of a small business has become increasingly complicated, a consultant adept at understanding the issues and potential solutions helps your company manage with much-needed efficiency.
5. Crisis management and problem-solving
Some of the most experienced small business owners I’ve known weren’t prepared for all the unexpected (and even expected) situations and problems that arose over time.
The pandemic is a dramatic example of the kinds of situations that may appear out of nowhere, leaving you at a loss about how to properly manage the crisis and sustain your business. Other examples might involve a security breach (more on that below), a natural disaster, an industrial accident, customer injuries or illnesses from your product, and more.
While you will never be fully prepared for every possible crisis, a business consultant who specializes in crisis management can help you address the issue. If nothing’s happened yet, count yourself lucky but know it’s only a matter of time.
A business consultant can also help you address contingencies by preparing a business continuity plan, noting your vulnerabilities and suggesting ways to address them before disaster strikes. This type of proactive help will better position you in the event of another year like 2020 (not that we want one!).
6. Financials and cash flow
From small business accounting processes to high-level financial and cash flow analysis, business finance can be a complex topic. Many small business owners tend to wing it when it comes to this part of their business.
That’s what I did until I realized I needed to hire a certified public accountant because I was spending more each month than I was earning. But I didn’t have the perspective to make smarter business decisions while spending less overall. Adding a CPA removed many of those headaches.
Certification provides the necessary credibility so you can trust a consultant to delve into your financials. They can point out where you may need to rethink spending while also providing tips on creating an emergency fund, retirement accounts, and better tax planning processes.
7. IT and security
Another critical area of your business is information technology and security management. From an expansive online presence to the need to do remote work — combined with an increase in data breaches — it’s more important than ever to be aware of your IT systems.
You and your business can incur considerable fiscal responsibility should hackers steal customer data. You also need to know new data privacy regulations, including those from the European Union, since your business could attract customers from around the world.
A business consultant who specializes in IT and security could help you fill the knowledge and skills gaps you have in this area and assist you in protecting your own data and that of your customers. In the process, you can ensure your hard-earned revenue doesn't go to fines, penalties, and lawsuits over security breaches.
How to determine if your business needs a consultant
There’s a lot of assistance available to help your startup or small business. That's helpful to know, but do you actually need a consultant right now? Here are some signs that indicate it's time to bring in an expert.
Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been in business for years, you may feel stuck or lost. The map you’ve been using for your growth journey is blank, with no designated destinations, signposts, or even an endpoint.
The many hats you’ve been wearing have served you well, but as your business has evolved, you realize some skills are missing. These skills gaps are now starting to affect business performance and adversely impacting your competitive advantage or increasing your business risk.
You know that stuff that hits the fan? Well, that happened, and now you don’t know how to solve the problems. They won't simply go away if you ignore them. This crisis may be impacting your bottom line, brand, sustainability, or all of the above.
Calling all consultants (or maybe just one)
The good thing about small business consulting is that you can find many subject experts to help you with one or more specific areas. From security and strategy to financial planning, you can find a business consultant for every need. Now is the time to reach out and get the help you know you need.
Not sure where to look? Start with other entrepreneurs like yourself for referrals. Check out professional networking sites and online directories for consulting firms and specialists as well. Once you find the consultants who fit your needs, you’ll not only see the forest for the trees, but you’ll be able to grow it, too.