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How to Choose the Business Consultant or Mentor Who’s Right For You
business consultant

How to Choose the Business Consultant

Steve Jobs. Indra Nooyi. Anne Mulcahy. Everyone’s got their business role models – the people they look to for inspiration as they work day after day in the trenches of running a small business. However, your business role model probably wouldn’t make the best business consultant or mentor. Just as the world’s greatest footballers rarely transition into managers. 

They say it’s lonely at the top, but sometimes, it’s lonely at the bottom. Small business owners need someone in their corner – an experienced, deal-hardened expert to advise, support, and shepherd you through the growing pains of building a small business.

That’s a business consultant or mentor.

However, the problem too many small business owners fall into is they pick someone totally unsuited to their business or personality. It’s not just about their accolades or experience but how well they match your business needs and vision. 

In this guide:

What is a Business Consultant or Mentor?

what is a business consultant

A business consultant is a seasoned professional hired to provide expertise, guidance and advice to help your business manage the stages of growth and development. Bringing a wealth of experience and fresh perspectives, consultants help small business owners overcome many of the same challenges they faced on the road up. 

They’re an invaluable tool. However, some people feel like hiring a mentor or consultant is cheating. There’s a lone wolf myth surrounding the great business minds of our age. People mistakenly believe that the Mark Zuckerbergs or Elon Musks did it alone. 

Do you know who Mark Zuckerberg’s mentor was? Warren Buffet. 

There would be no modern-day Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and more without Buffet’s expertise and guidance shepherding Zuckerberg into the tech mogul he is today. Interestingly, Buffet isn’t in tech – demonstrating that mentors and consultants can come from wholly unrelated fields of business and still impart wisdom. 

What Does a Business Consultant Do?

Seventy-six per cent of people say that mentors help their growth and development. I mean, who doesn’t want to learn from someone wiser, more experienced, and more successful than them? And yet, only around a third of people have a mentor.

Why? People could be scared to ask a mentor for help. However, that doesn’t explain why more people don’t turn to business consultants. The answer is simple: they’ve got no idea what they do.

Let’s fix that: business consultants wear many different hats. Usually, they’re selected for specialised knowledge or skills not otherwise available in an organisation. Some, however, serve a more general purpose, advising on personal development and business goals. 

You’ll often business consultants:

  • Analysing business practices: They assess current practices to identify areas for improvement or optimisation.
  • Developing strategies: Consultants help in formulating strategies for growth, efficiency, and problem-solving.
  • Offering expert advice: They provide specialised knowledge in areas like finance, marketing, IT, and human resources.
  • Implementing solutions: Consultants often assist in the practical implementation of their recommendations.
  • Training and development: They can offer training to staff to improve skills and implement new processes or technologies.
  • Providing an outside perspective: A fresh, unbiased view can reveal unseen opportunities or issues.
  • Facilitating change management: Consultants guide businesses through transitions, ensuring changes are smoothly integrated.

Business Mentor vs. Consultant: What’s the Difference?

small business consultant

Business mentor vs. consultant. Until now, I’ve used the words pretty much interchangeably. So, is that true in practice?

Not necessarily. 

Business mentors aren’t professionals in the sense that advising other businesspeople is their job. Instead, they’re a trusted advisor, primarily offering guidance and support based on personal experience and insights. Mentors usually work through relationship-building, offering advice, sharing wisdom, and providing moral support. Moreover, business mentors aren’t paid – they’re just paying on the same favour someone once paid them. 

On the other hand, business consultants provide specific, targeted advice to fix business problems and upgrade operations. Consultants are generally hired for their expertise in a particular field, such as finance, marketing, or strategy. The consultant analyses your business, presents solutions, and helps implement key changes within the business. Unsurprisingly, the consultant’s role is more transactional and project-based. 

In short, while mentors nurture your growth with wisdom and support, consultants drive business success with targeted expertise and action plans.

6 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Consultant or Mentor

business consultant do

Don’t just pick any consultant or mentor. When choosing your business consultant or mentor, asking the right questions is imperative. Here’s a heads-up on what to consider:

  • Do they have experience in your type of business?

More applicable to consultants than mentors: If you’re asking a consultant to solve a specific problem with your business – a marketing catastrophe or sales inefficiency – it’s a lot easier if they know your industry inside-out.

It’s not just about their advice but about them knowing the hurdles and hiccups specific to your field. So, grill them about their experience with businesses similar to yours. It’s a bit like finding a mechanic who knows your car model like the back of their hand.

  • What is their track record and experience?

Time to do some detective work! What have they achieved in the past? Don’t shy away from asking for the nitty-gritty on projects they worked on. You want to know they’ll fix your problems or provide solid advice. 

Asking for client testimonials is one of the simplest ways to gauge a person’s success. Read about what they did, how they acted, and any other details. You can always ring or email their previous mentees if you can’t find testimonials. Find out what they were like to see if you’ll get along and if they’re an asset to your business. 

  • Do you like their style?

Talking about vibes might seem wishy-washy. It’s not. Check if you’re on the same wavelength in terms of how they communicate and handle problems. Are they more of a laid-back, coffee-shop chat type, or all about the boardroom and PowerPoints? If their style feels off, it might not be the right fit.

With a business consultant, it’s slightly less applicable. However, it can still be relevant – no one wants to follow the advice of someone they dislike. If you’re a casual, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person and they’re super formal, it might feel like wearing a suit to the beach. 

  • Can they solve your problem?

Here’s where you lay your cards on the table. Share the specific challenges you’re facing and see how they react. Do they come up with clever solutions, or do they just nod and smile? You need someone who can not only understand your problems but also roll up their sleeves and help you dig out of the trenches.

Mentors won’t solve all your problems for you. But they should be there to offer sage advice and wisdom. Otherwise, what’s the point? Meanwhile, a business consultant should be “go, go, go” from the off. It’s their job to get stuck in, tinkering with every aspect of a problem until they’ve found a viable solution. 

  • How do they describe themselves?

Listen to how they describe their own skills and approach. It gives you a good sense of what they think are their strong points. You want someone who’s confident but not over the top, and their description should match what you’re looking for.

My golden rule in life is that the people who talk loudest usually have the least to say. Little dogs bark: big dogs don’t need to. That being said, part of business is still self-promotion. Just ensure you’re weeding out the grifters from the seasoned business consultants. If someone’s always bigging themselves up, it’s often a red flag.

  • What is the expected time commitment and availability?

Time is a precious thing, right? So, you need to know how much of it they can give you. Discuss their availability – are they a night owl or an early bird?

Some people prefer an informal arrangement. If you’re friends (or friendly) with your business mentor, you might organise a drink or meeting to discuss your progress. Things should be more formalised with a business consultant – agree on a regular schedule. 

Closing Thoughts

what does a business consultant do

Ready to take your retail business to new heights? Join the Resilient Retail Club’s Retail Business Mentoring program! Whether you’re just starting out or looking to scale up, our expert mentors are here to guide you through every challenge.

You’ll get one-on-one sessions with me (or a member of my team), helping you pioneer practical solutions to your problems and giving you tools and templates as you build your product business. 

Don’t miss this chance to transform your retail dreams into reality. Sign up now and start your journey to retail success with the Resilient Retail Club!

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