How to select a business consultant?

In Gujarati, there is one beautiful line written by Shri Gunvant Shah, which says something to the effect : “A boy fell in love with a girl’s beautiful eyes and then made a mistake to marry her whole body…!”.

In selecting business consultants, many businessmen make such mistakes just like that enamoured boy who could not see anything beyond the beautiful eyes. They go to a seminar, listen some passionate, well-rehearsed speech and they get so impressed by that speaker, that they bring him/her in as a consultant in the company, without really checking the credential or capability of that person as a consultant.

Good consultants are needed for any company. A good consultant can be a great source of guidance, expertise and advice. He/She can bring in an independent perspective, which the insiders cannot see perhaps because of the bias which comes along with being within the business. A consultant can provide a ‘third-eye’, an independent view of the business’ realities. But the selection of a business consultant requires careful examination.

Here are some guidelines to help entrepreneurs check in prospective consultants. I begin with some pitfalls to avoid :

No business experience:

Many consultants have no real business experience. They have been teachers, speakers or trainers during their whole career. They have learnt and taught many theories, but not really ‘run’ any business. They have not made any mistakes. They have not failed or succeeded in any business. They have only delivered passionate speeches and trained people in how to do business…!  They have got experience only in Doosre ke kandhe pe bandook rakh ke fodna…

What dependable advice can anybody give where he himself has not succeeded or failed doing anything? The distance between management colleges and corporate offices has to be walked on the path of real work experience, which does not come by simply reading Harvard Business Review or Tom Peters.

Name-Throwing :

A certain class of solo consultant have a habit of throwing big names. I have come across a big number of ‘name-throwing’ consultants who have

  • ‘Worked’ with Tata, Birla, Reliance etc. group companies.
  • ‘Guided’ so and so MNCs.
  • ‘Managed’ 80,000 crores of business of their consulting clients. (Whatever ‘managing’ means here…)
  • ‘Transformed’ the organizations.
  • ‘Built’ the brand ‘xyz’ of so-and-so company.
  • ‘Turned around’ the sick company.

Remember, One can also enlist ABC Tata Company as a ‘client’ by giving one hour lecture to their watchmen or drivers on how to open/close doors to visitors. This can be useful only if you need the consultant to train your watchmen/drivers.


The business consultant as a breed is losing its respect due to some irresponsible elements who hide their ignorance and intellectual handicap behind a facade of rudeness and arrogance.These people operate from the safe cocoon of the boss client’s cabin. Once out of that shell, they stand vulnerable and exposed. They pretend that their arrogance is the manifestation of their supreme confidence. No businessperson should allow his employees being treated badly by any outsider while at work. If a consultant does that, he should be shown the door as his value system lacks individual respectability.

Management jargon :

A crop of wannabe consultants read latest management magazines and books and come to the clients’ office spitting out this valuable ‘gyaan’ to gullible, impressionable, unsuspecting entrepreneurs, who, in their enthusiasm to build big business, catch every word oozing out from the consultant’s mouth as sacred and give orders to their subordinates to implement the same immediately. Next time, when the consultant visits again, he has read some other article, so he gives some different gyaan, completely forgetting that previously his victims have been enlightened by his respectable self by some different management fad  (which was never tested for suitability to the client’s situation, nevertheless…).

Level of Honesty :

All that the consultant is going to charge must be clarified in black and white. If the consultant shows tendency to make some fast buck on unclarified or undecided matters, that shows his level of honesty.


The tenure and the expected outcome of the consultant’s assignment must be clearly spelled out in the beginning. The performance must be reviewed regularly.  The major part of the consultant’s remuneration must be linked with the outcome he is brought in for. He should be confident about his contribution and if it does not work, he must be ready to share the risk, by linking his remuneration to the results.

In a nutshell :

1) Hire a business consultant only if he can add value. Today it is fashionable to say “We have a consultant.” Don’t fall prey to fads.

2) Check out for the performance of the businesses the consultant has worked with. If possible, ask for the reference and check it sincerely. It is tempting to get carried away by ‘our reputed client lists’. How is the business doing now? Most importantly, what was his/her contribution in that business?

3) Don’t get carried away by big talk. The intellectual capacity to decipher business situations and gift of gab don’t always go hand in hand.

4) Remember, a consultant needs his client as much as the client needs him. The consultant is just another business associate. There is no need to treat consultants like God. Let that distinction remain for real Gods. No wannabes please.

5) The consultant must not be given any authority to directly give instructions to or seek report from any employee. It has to be routed through somebody inside the company. Do not compromise on the respect of your employees. Consultants may come and go, employees will remain longer.

6) The choice of consultants that you make, speaks volumes about your own value system. I have observed a striking resemblance among the values and results of the clients of certain consultants. They all have a lot of similarities. If you get associated with loud mouth Bol Bachchans, you will end up listening to a lot of hot air. And people will know what you stand for. Choose your consultants wisely. The loser doesn’t have much to lose, but you will end up wasting your time, money, reputation and maybe more…!

7) During your growth period, you will come across many people.  At this stage, whom do you listen to and believe in will make all the difference. Those who influence an entrepreneur’s mind can make or break any situation. Choose your advisors wisely.

8) Academic, theoretical knowledge has to be tested for its application. If every great Professor can become a great consultant, you won’t find so many PhDs filling university rosters at such meager paychecks. All theory is good, but business runs on practical applications.

Bottom line : In selecting consultants, you must learn to distinguish between noise and voice. 

Author: Sanjay Shah

Sanjay is the author of "Business Management Simplified" which provides Practical, Actionable Solutions for Entrepreneurs. It is an all-in-one guidebook to start, run and grow a small and mid-size business to the next level. He is also an SME Business Coach, Seminar Leader and Motivational/Keynote speaker, Sanjay is based in Mumbai (India). He advises many businesses on Strategy, Leadership, Marketing, Branding, Customer Experience Management and Organization Development. He conducts various self-help seminars and workshops for companies and groups in English, Hindi and Gujarati. For more info, visit :

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *