Small Business Consulting: Does Your Small Business Need a Consultant?

Small Business Consulting Services Can Make Your Business More Profitable

By nature most small business owners are hands-on DIY types that prefer to be involved in every aspect of their business, from deciding on the type of coffee machine to doing the company tax returns. Statistics show that most business owners find it difficult to delegate tasks to employees or outside consultants. However, if as a business owner too much of your time is being spent on non-core business activities it is probably time to ask the question - does your small business need to hire some small business consulting services?

In the startup or early growth phase of a business being a jack-of-all-trades business owner is often necessary due to financial or other constraints. However, as a business matures there are many needs of a temporary nature that are better served by experts in the discipline. The ever-increasing complexities of information technology, the tax code, and the regulations and other legal aspects surrounding a business can be very difficult for a business owner to stay abreast of.

In this article we will explore some of the most common business chores that are suited to outside small business consulting. 

1
Small Business Consulting Accountant and Bookkeeping Services

Female accountant keying in numbers
Small business consulting: accounting and bookkeeping services. Steve Weinrebe / Getty Images

Accounting and bookkeeping are two of the most common consulting activities needed by small businesses. As with other non-core business activities, when deciding whether to contract out some or all of your bookkeeping or accounting duties you need to ask:

  • What is my time worth?
  • Can I do as good a job as a professional in this field?

For a solo enterprise or the startup phase of a small business you may have time to handle bookkeeping and some accounting chores if you have the desire (and aptitude) for doing so.

However, as your business grows and there are more demands on your time it may make more sense to farm out some of these duties to professionals. Besides, many business owners find bookkeeping/accounting a tedious chore, especially if the business has a high level of transactions.

In as little as a few hours a month, a good bookkeeper can do most of your record keeping, including submitting invoices, paying bills, doing payroll, and prepping the company accounts for tax season.

A good accountant can do much more than keep you abreast of tax changes and doing your taxes. He/she can:

Your business may only need the services of an accountant for a few hours a year, but it may be well worth your while.

Accounting Software Can Help

Accounting software can greatly reduce the need for bookkeeping and accounting services. Accounting software designed for small businesses can record POS (Point of Sale) transactions, print out invoices on the spot, record expenses, and make it easier to calculate and keep track of state/provincial taxes, 

Other benefits include:

  • the ability to easily customize your invoices with your own logo;
  • auto-billing so you can create recurring invoices and/or automatically bill your client's credit card;
  • billing in multiple currencies, so you don't have to worry about computing exchange rates between currencies.
  • payroll
  • time and billing
  • customer relationship managment (CRM)

Most of the new accounting software offerings are cloud-based, so you can access them from mobile devices and don't need to worry about backing up your valuable accounting information. And when it comes time to do your taxes or otherwise consult with your accountant he/she can access your data directly in the cloud.

2
Small Business Consulting Information Technology (IT) Services

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Business man and woman using mobile devices
Small Business Consulting Information Technology (IT) Services. Tetra Images / Getty Images

Information technology is the most rapidly changing field in existence, and nowadays it is hard to imagine a business that does not use one or more devices or software systems, such as:

Unless your business is in the information technology field or you are otherwise proficient with maintaining hardware devices and solving software issues you will likely need the services of IT consultants. 

In addition to repairing hardware and operating systems, an IT consultant can perform other duties, including:

  • helping you ensure your valuable business data is backed up in case of emergencies;
  • setting up your cloud computing services;
  • installing software systems;
  • providing training on hardware and software systems;
  • advising on technology upgrades and methods of using technology to streamline your business and improve productivity.

Finding a good IT service shop with qualified technicians who can rapidly respond to your IT needs is essential for most businesses, as is finding a proficient web designer if your business has a website.

3
Small Business Consulting Human Resources Services

Business people shaking hands at desk
Small Business Consulting Human Resources Services. Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Dealing with personnel-related issues is often difficult and time consuming and many small businesses cannot afford the expense of a dedicated human resources (HR) individual or department.

However, in the long run businesses that employ an effective HR strategy typically have better working environments and higher morale, which increases employee retention and lowers turnover costs. As a result more and more small businesses are outsourcing their HR functions.  

Professional HR consultants are trained and knowledgeable in all aspects of employee relations and can:

  • handle the recruitment of new employees (or contract/temp workers), including advertising, interviewing, background/reference checks, etc. 
  • deal with disciplinary issues and terminations;
  • handle employee orientation and organize proper training.
  • manage employee safety and welfare concerns;
  • provide counselling to employees;
  • limit your legal liability by ensuring that employee complaints or disputes are properly handled;
  • keep you abreast and in compliance of state/provincial and federal regulations regarding employees, such as wage laws, hours of work, holiday time, leave of absence, workers' compensation, mandatory benefits, and reporting;  
  • arrange/provide optional benefits such as health, dental, vision, and disability insurance for employees and their families. HR firms can often leverage their relationships with benefits providers to offer affordable employee benefit packages.

For a small business that cannot afford the time to provide proper human resources services (or the expense of hiring a full time person to do so) an HR consultant can be an affordable option for freeing up your time and keeping your employees happy

4
Small Business Consulting Marketing Services

Looking at the previous year's growth
Small Business Consulting Marketing Services. PeopleImages / Getty Images

As attracting and retaining customers is the number one problem for most businesses (especially startups), successful marketing is an essential requirement for business growth.

Unfortunately marketing is highly specialized and while many small business owners excel in providing products and/or services to their customers they are often less proficient with marketing and cannot afford full-time salespeople, making outsourcing a viable option.

The right marketing consultant for your business should have a high level of expertise in your industry and be able to bring in fresh ideas as well as tried and true advice on how to develop:

1. An Overall Marketing Strategy

A marketing consultant can work with your business to establish and implement an overall marketing strategy based on factors such as:

  • your overall business goals
  • your products or services
  • your target users or clients
  • your company's role in relationship to the competition

2. Individual Marketing Campaigns and Business Promotion

A marketing consultant can also design and implement individual marketing campaigns and provide general advice on promoting your business through activities such as:

5
Small Business Consulting Legal Services

Business associates reviewing document
Small Business Consulting Legal Services. PhotoAlto/Eric Audras / Getty Images

Fortunately many of the legal tasks that formerly required the services of an attorney can now be done by any small business owner, such as picking a business name, incorporation, creating contracts for independent contractors, vendors, or clients, etc. For most small businesses legal advice is a sporadic requirement. 

That said, having a good business lawyer available when you need one can be invaluable under circumstances that involve more complex legal issues or may involve liability, such as:

  • complex partnership agreements or share allocations;
  • lawsuits involving partners, clients, shareholders, or employees;
  • legal action against your business by government agencies for issues such as licensing, tax disputes, or non-compliance with regulations;
  • real estate purchases or lease agreements;
  • trademark or intellectual property rights issues;
  • franchise agreements;
  • selling or merging your business, or purchasing the assets of another business.

A typical small business attorney is a generalist who can analyze your problem and provide solid advice or refer you to someone more specialized in a particular area of law if required.

6
How to Hire Consultants

Business woman and man having a meeting.
Does your small business need a consultant and if so how do you hire one?. Betsie Van der Meer / Getty Images

Before you start searching for a consultant for your business, begin by identifying your needs as thoroughly as possible. For example, will you need regular monthly accounting and/or bookkeeping assistance or only at tax time? Or will you need on-call emergency assistance for IT related issues? 

Once you have determined your consulting requirements prepare a list of potential candidates from the local market.

Finding Consulting Help

Word of mouth referrals are one of the most common ways to find good consulting help. If you've lived in an area for a number of years (particularly if you've been in business) it should be easy to get some recommendations for consultants from friends or business associates.

If you are new to an area and don't have many local contacts who can provide referrals consider joining local business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce. Aside from being good for business, networking with other business people can be useful for finding the right consulting help. 

Meet With the Candidates to Discuss Their Services

Once you've selected potential candidates prepare a short list of questions based on your requirements and their qualifications, such as:

  • Are they familiar with your business?
  • Are they available when needed?
  • Can you contact them directly via mobile, email, text, etc.?
  • What are their rates and how do they bill for short responses via phone, text message, etc.?

Draw Up a Contract for Consulting Services

Once you've selected a consultant draw up a contract for his/her services. The contract should contain:

  • rates
  • terms (time frame, description of services to be provided, etc.)
  • conditions of termination of the agreement
  • a Statement of independent contractor status 
  • confidentiality clauses
  • non-disclosure clauses

See Sample Contract for Consulting Services for a template you can use for contracting services.

Don't Forget the Barter Option

If you are just starting out in business and/or cash flow is tight but you need a consultant why not consider bartering your services in exchange for consulting help? For example, if your business is painting you may be able to barter your painting services in exchange for some legal assistance or bookkeeping services.

See also: 

How to Choose the Right Business Trainer, Consultant or Coach

How to Find a Good Accountant for Your Small Business