Many organizations we have worked with over the years as individuals have struggled to understand when to hire a consultant. Business people, in particular, are often loathe to hire an outside consultant as it can make you look weak to management (or so you might think).
So how do you know when it’s appropriate to try to leverage some outside help to solve a problem?
Below are three scenarios in which hiring a consultant is probably a good idea.
Scenario 1: You Need a Fresh Take on an Old Problem
One of the best reasons to hire a consultant is when you have exhausted solutions to a problem within your organization.
Thinkers from the social sciences have defined certain types of problems as “wicked problems:”
A wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems.
A good example of a wicked problem in digital marketing and UX is customer segmentation. Whenever you try to develop a new product, message, or deliverable, you may find yourself struggling to understand exactly who you are trying to reach. Are you trying to retain existing customers? To reach new ones? To leverage certain channels over others? What kinds of experiences do customers expect? How can you best develop and deliver these experiences?
You may have even done some initial surveys, focus groups, or other forms of market research to try to better understand your customers. Every time you identify the needs of one customer group, you feel like you’re neglecting the needs of another. You’re left unsure who to target and how best to target them without alienating others.
If it does, you might need someone who can see problems in a way that is different from the way you’re accustomed to seeing them. If you’re not used to thinking of your products or services as digital experiences, for example, you might want to hire a UX consultant. If you’re not used to thinking of marketing from an inbound perspective, then you might want to hire someone who is a talented digital marketer.
Scenario 2: You’re Getting Outpaced by the Competition
Many of the clients who have come our way over the years have simply felt overwhelmed. They are often aware that their position within their current market is being threatened by competitors. They are also often unaware of how to successfully adapt to these threats.
One of the most disruptive forces from our perspective, for example, is the introduction of new technologies. New social media platforms are born on an almost daily basis. Website aesthetics and features seem to shift faster than seasons. Mobile continues to change the way we think about how customers search, access content, and make purchases online. What was innovative a year, or even six months, ago may now seem dated to customers.
If you feel like you are struggling against a relentless sea of new challenges that you feel ill-equipped to face, you might look to your competition first before hiring a consultant. How are your top 3 competitors dealing with these challenges? Are they doing a better, or worse, job than you are of dealing with them?
Having answers to these questions will be a godsend to any consultants you do end up hiring, but will also help assure you that such an expense is a necessary one.
Scenario 3: You Can’t Afford to Hire a Full-Time Employee
One of the most overlooked reasons to hire a consultant is that we are often cheaper than hiring a full-time employee. The going rate for a solid, full-time UX designer starts at around about $70,000 per year, for instance, and can easily go as high as $115,000 a year. There’s a reason why people who are really good at solving a specific type of problem are paid so well: they are relatively rare within their specific industries.
Recruiting talented full-time employees can also be costly, especially if you’re not sure if your problem is a recurring one or a one-off. If you’re a large organization, you might have priorities that make it difficult to justify creating an entirely new position, team, or department when your primary objectives lie elsewhere.
At the other end of this spectrum, if you’re a small business owner, you might be looking at dollar figures like those above with mild-to-extreme sticker shock. In this case, you might consider the cost to your organization of not solving your problem. If the cost of not solving your problem is greater than the cost of hiring a consultant, then it’s a fairly simple calculation to decide what to do.
There are also lots of firms out there who will work with any budget. Consulting agencies live and die on our ability to attract, and retain, clients. Chances are there is someone within your professional network already who can help solve your problem at a price point you can afford.