I got an email the other day asking for help with strategy. The sender of the email was adapting an online commerce model to a new market.That’s a hard one for me, because I have so many mixed feelings on this topic.
For the record, here’s that email as it came to me:
I am working on a new e-commerce project; which exists in developed countries but is new to my country. I need assistance with strategy.
I lived and breathed this kind of consulting for more than 10 years. And learned, from the consultant’s side, some of the pitfalls. Here are some things to worry about, all of them in my opinion …
- Avoid at all costs the idea that a consultant writes a plan and that this somehow ticks off a checkbox on a list, and makes anything happen. This is the worst — meaning the most dangerous — myth in business planning. Just having a plan means nothing. You have to have planning, which is a process of managing the plan, reviewing plan vs. actual, using it to steer. Having a plan is just the first step.
- The only way a consultant can really help you with a plan is facilitating: asking questions, prodding, pulling ideas out of the discussions, developing what ends up being your plan, not the consultant’s plan. For a discussion on that, please read My Worst-ever Consulting Engagement on my Planning Startups Stories blog.
- Going beyond a plan, a well-chosen professional consultant can help a lot as a long-term participant in your planning process. Knowledge is power, experience is valuable, and I’ve seen this work very well — and I am no longer in that business, thank you very much, so that’s not a pitch for myself. Don’t even ask, I won’t do it. This is going to work, however, if you get somebody who is actually a member of the team, there to help you manage and revise and steer. Just giving you a recipe and disappearing, well, don’t bother.
- Choose your consultant well. My favorite former client, who was then an executive at Apple Computer, liked finding the lone wolf expert who not only sells the service but also delivers it. Whatever you do, check references, get a small dose of what the person does first. It’s like having a cup of coffee before you date. Match your needs and personality.