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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Finding the Right Consultant

by Shel Horowitz

Anne Weiss of TLD Consultants, and one of her clients, Robert Adelstein, CEO of Metal Dynamics, told Family Business Center members how to find a consultant.

Why use a consultant? According to Adelstein, he needed an outside viewpoint. "I was interacting with my son as my son, not as my sales manager. He had been too close to the relationship to view it objectively. "Using consultants has made a huge difference."

But, cautioned business owners in attendance, only use a consultant if you've made "a decision to change the way you do business" and are ready to consider the consultant's advice. Otherwise, all you will do is fight against the consultant's recommendations. One attender joked that a consultant "lives 50 or more miles away and tells you what you already know."

Weiss echoed the idea that the client must be ready. "It's good to feel a painful itch" and be uncomfortable with the status quo. "The consultant can do something you can't see because you're inside of it. You have an interpreter, someone that's not attached to the situation."

Consultants are not only troubleshooters, however. Sometimes a consultant will validate the path you've chosen, and help to marshal support from other managers who aren't so sure.

Referrals from similar companies can often put you on the trail of a good consultant, but that alone is not enough. In choosing a consultant, Weiss suggested that business owners have a clear sense of what they want the consultant to accomplish. Then "look and see who's going to cause you to produce those results." Also examine credentials, of course, but also some less tangible factors: "Have they produced the result before? Do you like them?" Will they be "on the court"-actively involved-or passive observers?

And will they be able to pull together measurable, quantifiable improvements? You want a consultant who can achieve your objectives.

One surprise: Weiss said that familiarity with your particular industry may not necessarily be a requirement. If the issues involve universal conflicts such and compensation and responsibility, consultants can come up to speed on your industry's particulars very quickly.

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