I had a good meeting awhile back with Brian Gramm from Milo Belle. (If you aren't familiar with Milo Belle, they hang out in the GRC space as well as offer a CFO for hire service, which Click Rain utilizes.) Anyway, Brian said something that stuck with me. He talked about the fact that in an economy where jobs are hard to come by, fresh college grads are a plenty, and experienced executives are having to dust off their resumes, everyone becomes a consultant. No one puts "In Between Jobs" in their LinkedIn profile but rather, they become "Consultants" while the job market stays soft.
This is not intended to be a post that bashes consultants. Quite the opposite, rather, as Click Rain does a fair amount of consulting and (we hope) bring a lot of value to our clients via this service. As the number of consultants continues to grow in tandem with the unemployment rate, it's important to realize what factors make someone qualified to hang the consultant shingle. Specific to our industry, here are three key guidelines to help separate the online marketing consulting wheat from the chaff.
Look for a demonstrable track record of success. Numbers, ROI, growth in key business areas, the change in established KPIs, increase in online leads/sales... data supporting the consultants claims is key. Organizations should throughly vet potential consultants on MEANINGFUL results they've helped achieve. This seems obvious, I know. Always ask for client references and results from any consultant...the proof is often in the pudding.
Be wary of the self-proclaimed expert. I recently came across a Twitter bio that said "I am one of the top social media consultants in the world." Really? Often times when you have to tell people you are an expert, the greatest, a guru, etc., you probably aren't. Hanging out on Twitter or Facebook does not make someone a social media consultant any more than watching Judge Judy makes you an attorney. Oftentimes, the self-proclaimed expert can leave behind a huge bill, a crappy online roadmap, and a management team left with a bitter taste for digital marketing.
Focus on the relationship. Successful consultants take a vested, personal interest in their clients that carries on long after the last check is signed. They want to see their client succeed, and will go to any length to make that happen. They throw themselves into creating solutions that solve the business problem at hand and create a framework for ongoing success. To that end, the relationship between client/consultant is as important as the technical skills the consultant may possess. They become colleagues, partners, and often times, friends. If you are comfortable on both a personal AND professional level with the consultant, chances are they feel likewise... and consequently, they will go the extra mile to ensure success.