If you’re going to engage a consultant, you want to get good value, so don’t leave it to chance. Here are our top four strategies to get better value from your next consulting project.
#1 Get familiar with the marketplace
Think about when you are buying something for yourself. It might be some new clothes or a piece of furniture. You could ask friends for recommendations. You might stalk some options online, check out the company’s website and social media. Perhaps you follow them even when you aren’t in the market for that ‘thing’ because you like to keep an eye on their ideas. You could subscribe to their email list and check for specials (and get insights into how they do business). When you are getting closer to being ready to buy, you might browse their store and get to know them and their products better. You might make a smaller purchase to check for quality and suitability before investing in something more substantial.
The same approach can be taken with consulting. You might even consider developing a consultancy register of ‘go-to’ businesses that you’ve established some level of rapport and trust with. Consultancy work is generally an important investment for an organisation, so it’s important to make sure that you know the values and approach of the consultancy team. Even if you aren’t ready to buy ‘right now’, having an idea of who is offering particular services and what their specialities are means you can approach the best options for a quote, rather than starting cold with someone who might not be a great fit.
#2 Be clear about what you want
Carefully consider what you need from the project and create a really clear brief regarding your requirements. Think about the result you want at the end and work back from there to determine what you need the consultant to deliver. The saying, ‘compare apples with oranges and you’ll get a lemon’ is definitely true when you’re evaluating quotes and all the responses use a different format, so use the request for quote (RFQ) as a place to define how you want the quote structured.
If you don’t have an existing template for requesting a quote from consultants, we’d suggest something along these lines:
- Introduction – High-level outline of the proposal you are requesting.
- Background – Outline the history of the project and why the need has emerged.
- Scope of requirements – Explain precisely what you want delivered (you might not cover HOW they are to be achieved but you should explain WHAT you want delivered).
- Deliverables – List the tangibles you want delivered (i.e. reports, plans, drawings).
- Timelines – Provide advice on when you require work to be commenced and completed (make sure you have allowed enough time to assess proposals and award the contract prior to the proposed start date). Note any critical dates the consultant should be aware of (for example, that report needs to go before council which meets on third Thursday of each month and reports must be submitted 14 days prior to the meeting).
- Fees and Charges – Outline how you want the consultant to quote so you can compare each of the quotes ‘side by side’.
- List of Relevant Documents – List any relevant documents/reports/plans and provide them as an attachment or website link.
- Assessment – Explain how the quote is to be presented (so you can compare ‘apples with apples’). A common structure is:
- Detailed Methodology and Gantt Chart
- Organisational Background and Experience, including similar projects
- Key Personnel
- Contact and Submissions – Explain who to contact for information along with the close time and date for proposals and the method/s for submitting these.
#3 Think through your budget and pricing requirements
You need to know your project’s probable cost before you go out to market, so you can be comfortable that you will be able to afford to proceed. If you haven’t commissioned a particular type of work before, it’s worth getting some ballpark figures from some reputable consultants so you know what can be achieved with your budget.
When you develop the pricing requirements in your RFQ, try doing a test-run to see if it’s realistic to complete as a consultant – we have seen some quote processes where it has been virtually impossible to accurately use their method of pricing. Some examples of how you might ask for pricing:
- A lump sum fixed fee inclusive of all travel, accommodation, printing, sundry costs, administration and overheads, and all incidental costs. You can also ask for a breakdown of hourly rates in the event of additional, out of scope work being required.
- A breakdown of the elements of the project where it is multi-faceted or where you want to see the cost of ‘doing the work’ compared to the cost of travel.
- Hourly rate basis with a cap price.
#4 Commit time to the project
Going out to market and awarding a contract is only the first stage of getting value from a consultant. Some organisations seem to feel that once they’ve signed the contract, they can take a back seat and focus on other work. If you are going to invest in a consultant, you need to allocate time to work with them on the project.
What does that mean? Surely the consultant is the one doing the work? At an organisational level, you are going to need to make time to meet with the consultant on a regular basis to check they are on track with your objectives, as well as providing them with vital information they will need to do their job. The organisation is often the gate-keeper to information and resources the consultant needs, so if you are slow at responding, you’ll make it difficult for the consultant to do their job. A clue for ensuring you get good value in the future – be a ‘good client’ (i.e. responsive and engaged) and the consultant will be keen to work with you again; be a ‘difficult client’ (i.e. slow to respond, not forthcoming with vital information) then you’ll find the pool of consultants willing to work with you dwindling (or their prices rising).