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The Role of Consultants for Every Business Stage

Every business owner and executive comes to the realization and fear that they don’t know what they don’t know at some point in the game.  To leap beyond this fundamental hurdle, wise leaders lean on experts to help fill in the gap.  Experts such as CPAs, attorneys, bankers, mentors, and consultants are routinely sought by successful business owners for guidance, advice, and support that can be promptly made effective.  Gaps in business are essentially analyzed to determine the best, quickest, simplest, or most cost-effective solution, which is then developed and finally implemented by consultants in various niches every minute of the day.
Consulting is a big industry for a reason. Businesses have a high risk of failure. Failure is easy, and failure is hard.  With the assistance of a consultant, businesses have a much better chance of survival.  Let’s take a look at how consulting can work at every stage of a company.
Start-up / Pre-revenue
This stage of a business is filled with passion and dreams.  The owner is typically a technician within the industry breaking free from the constraints of their boss or is a dreamer of great things in general.  Problems arise when the many components of running a business the right way interfere and bog down this solopreneur. Seemingly simple, but highly important, responsibilities such as accounting, operations, and marketing can quickly overwhelm and lead to failure.
Bringing in a consultant at this stage or prior to start up can save the solopreneur from a tremendous amount of stress. The consultant can walk the owner through the hurdles of business with ease and experience.  Establishing systems, creating procedures, and building plans for sales and marketing will prepare the busy start-up for successful growth through to the small business phase.
Mom & Pop Shop
Mom & Pop Shops are what we refer to small businesses with 1-25 employees.  This may be a small generational business or a growing start-up that is hiring friends and family to help get the job done.  One day, the goals become too large and the owners take on more than they can handle in an effort to grow.  What these owners don’t realize is that they need to have defined systems in place, along with communication, leadership, and a growth plan to move beyond Mom & Pop Shop status to Small Business status without suffering collapse.
Small Business
The small business typically has 1-100 employees which may also include many family and friends.  Some systems are in place, yet there lacks organization and communication leading the owner down a path of “too many chiefs” or not enough oversight.  At this stage, business owners may discover they have a lot of people doing the same thing, no formal processes and a lot of fires to put out.  Stress once again takes hold of the business owner in a way that may make them question closing shop and going back into the workforce.
Consulting at these stages require in-depth analysis of where the company currently exists on the spectrum and identifying gaps in the foundation of the organizational structure.  Analysis will require a look at financial performance, operations workflow and processes, systems integration and utilization, human resources suite of knowledge and procedures, centralized standard operating procedures, marketing plans and strategy, and more.  Analyzing each component of the business will bring to light top layer and secondary issues that the consultant will prioritize to match urgency and effective organizational modeling for proper implementation.  Business owners should expect this process to take some time, but in the end the business will operate like a well-oiled machine ready for growth.
Mid-size Business & Enterprise
The Mid-size Business has successfully identified the needs of a growing business. Most companies of this size (101- 999 employees) and of the Enterprise size (1,000+ employees) have established policies and procedures, human resources, systems integration with maximized utilization, and have a plan to move forward.  These areas will experience ongoing expansion enhancement over time.  Mid-size companies will start to departmentalize and create an executive team for improved oversight and strategy development.  Problems Mid-size companies face are keeping everyone working toward the same goal, communication, effective leadership and management development, mergers and acquisitions, continuous improvement of systems and operational workflow and recruiting for longevity all while staying on top of their next strategic move and pacing change.  Enterprises continue to refine and silo roles within the company; however they experience many of the same issues a mid-size company does.
At Mid-size and Enterprise level, Consultants are brought into a company on a project basis and will be focused on a niche of service.  This is when the: Branding Consultant is brought in to develop a brand or revitalize a brand for a segment of the business; Lean Specialists are brought in to examine one segment of the manufacturing process; System Analyst is brought in to create functional APIs to connect the 25 software programs used by the company to prevent errors and reduce time wasted on duplicating entries; and possibly, Coaches are brought in to develop a mid-level management team.
There is a need and a place for Consultants at every stage of business, even before the first signs of failure.  Bringing a Consultant into the company earlier in the process will make the transition to the next big step easier and the long-term outcome of the business much better. Although business owners may have a difficult time justifying the cost of consulting, especially if funds are limited, the desired end result has greater potential to be realized in a shorter timeframe.  Companies that have successfully worked with consultants see the value of their work in the overall success of the business and often retain consultants for future projects.
About the Author
April Salsbury, MBA is the owner of Salsbury & Co., a business management consulting firm.  After growing an organization from 15 employees to 100 employees and seven locations, including international distribution and working in legislation for industry oversight and accreditation, she believed her experience as a CEO and a “builder” could help small business owners avoid certain hurdles and gain valuable insight.