Small business owners are often admonished to focus on their business expertise and outsource support activities to others. But choosing a professional to support your business initiatives can be confusing and frustrating.
Do you need a business expert? Or just someone who can do what you tell them to do? Do you want to choose someone with strategies and a plan, or do you just want an extra pair of hands? As a business owner, you need to consider what you want – and how much you want to think.
Let me propose three kinds of experts, and you can decide which one fits your needs. I will write this from the context of supporting internet marketing and sales, but it is translatable across other disciplines.
The Expert with “The Plan”
First, you can choose the “my way or the highway expert” who offers a fairly canned solution. When you first meet with this expert, they will tell you something like, “This is the way it’s done.” You will be offered a plan for “proven success.”
These are the experts who write articles like “7 things to never do on your website.” This expert will offer up success numbers that they know they can control, but may not have any relevance to your business. For example, they might recommend pay-per-click advertising to drive traffic to your website. But if there is not a clear conversion strategy aligned with your selling efforts, why would you want to do this?
A small manufacturer I know was intrigued by one of these experts. He told me that he was promised that they had the “magic bullet” to help grow his sales. One year and thousands of dollars later, they parted company. The owner’s view was it did not work, the magic-bullet folks felt that the owner just did not get it.
A software company we worked with came to us fleeing their “website Nazi.” The CEO said every time they wanted to change something, the expert explained how the change did not fit into her view of what was appropriate.
The Extra Pair of Hands
The next type of professional is the “extra pair of hands.” This kind of help is appropriate if you know exactly what you want done, and have the time to supervise the work. The plus side of hiring this kind of expertise is that you will get what you ask for. The downside is also that you will get what you ask for.
I worked with a website developer once who was a global leader in using a software tool. He showcased his speaking engagements at global conferences. He said to me, “Just give me a Photoshop file and I turn it into the website.” So, I sent him a file.
Unfortunately, he had a more recent version of Photoshop than I did, so the file rendered differently. When he was done, he sent me the link to the new website. It was not what I had sent him, and a total mess. When I asked what happened, his response was, “That’s what you gave me.”
The Business Strategist
Lastly, you can hire an expert who first works to understand your business strategy, and then proposes solutions to complement your sales and marketing efforts. An expert like this will deploy tools that can be integrated into your current business processes.
The upside of a business strategy expert is that you will get a long-lasting outsourced solution. The downside is that you will have to spend time working with the expert to develop a solution customized to your business. And this is probably the most costly of the three options.
Regardless of what kind of expert you hire, look for someone who will at least be available to listen to you. I worked with a website developer who would schedule a 15-minute “Scrum session.” No matter what had to be covered during the call, at the end of 15 minutes, he was done and terminated the session. If something was not covered…well…we just had to wait until the following week.
Now it’s your call. If you are looking for the magic bullet, go out and hire that industry expert who will tell you how it is done. On the upside: it could actually work. On the downside: failure will be your fault. You may be told that you and your team failed, not the expert.
Alternatively, the extra pair of hands will give you want you ask for – but maybe not what you need.
If you want to spend the time and effort, the business strategy expert is a great choice. However, you need to be willing to commit to the process and investment.
This post was originally written for Business Unplugged, the blog of Carol J. Roth. To read more from this blog, click here.