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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Consulting: Which way to turn

I'm sure most contractors (and for that matter, publishers like me) would not mind earning $250 an hour or more as a consultant. It's pretty good money for sharing your knowledge, insights, and experience.

The question of course, is it worth spending that kind of cash especially when things are tight and your business is faltering?
The answer, of course, is "it depends".

If you are fortunate enough to find an honorable consultant who minimizes his time waste and knows how to help you solve your problem, the hourly fee is not only reasonable, it could be your wisest bargain.

But you can also get caught in the trap of paying large dollars for self-serving advice, or boilerplate business management stuff you can pick up just as well by reading a few books or attending a local community college course. Finally, if you are lured by a big name expert, you may be shunted to a "coach" who has been trained in that guru's systems, but lacks the brains or independence to actually understand your business.

Consulting, after all, comes in many models. There is nothing wrong with a consultant having an agenda -- as long as you know it correlates with your best interests.

For example, Michael Stone in his latest newsletter outlines what he thinks are the essentials in choosing a consultant especially if you are a smaller scale or residential contractor. His advice is unabashedly self-serving, but there is nothing wrong with that -- he is marketing his own services, and they are undoubtedly worthwhile. I recommend him. I'm confident, that when you write the cheques for his $1,000 for four hours service, you will receive far more than that in value -- and you may solve your crucial problems, quickly.

Can you obtain the advice you need for less money?

Sometimes free consulting is part of a package to serve the interests of marketing a particular product or service.

Here, I make full disclosure. We sell advertising, and promote editorialized advertising features in regional and national (see The Design and Construction Report) publications.

I started this blog two and a half years ago when I realized our business was falling into the trap of some scuzzy publishers who, using relationship and supply chain methodologies, were roping subtrades and suppliers into advertising costs for editorial features, but giving them nothing in return. It didn't feel right to me, so I sought to share everything I knew about marketing with our advertising clients.

Since we charge between $285 and $485 for a small ad, the blog seemed a good, fast, and inexpensive way to deliver this client service. (Of course, all clients can call on me for personal advice and guidance; thankfully relatively few take up the offer, or I wouldn't have time for anything else, but the service is always there for them.)

Meanwhile, I researched success stories, best marketing practices, and achieved certification through the Society of Marketing Professional Services (SMPS), while contributing on the editorial board to the associations' national magazine, The SMPS Marketer. In other words, I've achieved the level of expertise to be a valid consultant for the construction industry, at least as far as marketing is concerned.

While we don't charge $250 an hour -- and often our services are provided to you without any cost at all -- we still make money in the process, and that is fine, because when the dust settles, you (and your suppliers) will achieve more value than you invest.

I know of a few other businesses which provide this type of service. Consider Jon Goldman, for example, whose business markets promotional items and campaigns. You can elect to purchase his services or not, but he offers really useful ideas and insights in his marketing materials.

I'll conclude this posting with a thought: Could you be an expert consultant in your area of knowledge and experience? I hope so; after all, you should be really good at what you do to be n business, especially in the current economy.

Can you leverage this knowledge and insight into your marketing strategies, perhaps by contributing and speaking to relevant community and business groups or associations, and writing articles, starting a blog and expressing your thoughts?

Will sharing your expertise this way help you in your marketing? Absolutely.

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