The steps involved in hiring an IT consultant are different from those of hiring a regular employee who you train and monitor onsite. IT consultants are usually hired to help with business-critical projects so it’s important to find the right expert for the job. It’s also important to set explicit ground rules to ensure that the project is completed according to plan, with your intellectual property protected.
The first step is to determine which areas of your business require IT development and support. You have to define your IT objectives before you begin looking for experts so you know the skill set you require. Even when you don’t know exactly what technology your business needs, you should define how the IT will help you meet core business objectives. For instance, your objective could be to improve your customer service through improved telecommunications and electronic record keeping. With that objective in mind you would know to look for a consultant with expertise in the technology end of office communications, as well as in customer relationship management (CRM) and general communications data management.
Once you’ve identified the project requirements, compile a list of candidates who have direct experience with the kind of project you have in mind. When you screen candidates to interview, ask for references from their past work.
Set up interviews with the two or three candidates who seem to match your requirements. In the interview, you will be looking for familiarity and experience with the proposed work, and an engaged interest in your company and project. Most important, you want the consultant to discuss the results they have achieved in similar projects. Did they meet the clients’ objectives, stay within budget, and stick to the timetable? What kind of results did their clients have after the projects were completed? Can they provide measurable data on improvements in sales, customer satisfaction, or other performance criteria?
A great consultant will belong to industry associations, have a list of references on hand, and may also have published articles on their previous work. A great consultant will also be someone you feel you can trust with your critical business knowledge, and who speaks diplomatically and respects the input of others. Remember, you are hiring someone to temporarily be part of your team and you want that person to have your company’s best interests at heart.
Once you’ve selected a consultant who has a proven track record, you’ll want to think about the scope of the engagement. If you are hiring someone to manage a project, the consultant will probably expect a certain amount of money upfront and installments throughout the remainder of the project. The expert should give you an estimate of costs before the engagement begins, and you can choose to set a “not to exceed” figure. If the IT expert is working in an advisory capacity, it is customary for them to charge a flat fee per consulting session.
Once you’ve hammered out the cost of the engagement, you and the consultant together should set the project criteria. This may include a timeline and definition of the deliverables you expect to receive from the project.
Ask the consultant to sign a nondisclosure agreement as well as a non-compete agreement (to prevent the consultant from using the solution to compete with you or reselling it to your competitors). You may wish to review the AllBusiness.com Practical Guide to Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure Agreements for some guidance on this topic.
This contractual detail is important since IT experts often have access to critical information and become familiar with your business processes and clients. Ask your legal advisor to help you draft a contract that protects your interests while ensuring that the extent of the project is clearly defined.
Once you and your IT expert are comfortable with the agreement, begin the project with a sense of teamwork. Your consultant’s success will depend partly on your team’s ability to communicate company needs and embrace new solutions.
Scarlet Pruitt is a freelance writer and business consultant based in San Francisco. She has covered business and technology for publications in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America.