As a technologist who works and talks with lots of entrepreneurs, the number one most asked question that I get is, "how can I make sure that I hire the right technology consultant?"
Before I offer you some tips, let me tell you a story. A couple of years ago, an entrepreneur who attended some of the workshops that I conducted for NYC Webgrrls called me in a desperate panic to see if I can help her with a situation. She had been working with a "trusted consultant" to develop her site and a web application for the business that she was creating. She had paid her "consultant" over $60,000, and after a year of "working" together, she had noting to show for it and the "consultant" wanted another $20,000 to "finish" the project.
I was appalled and immediately offered to help. I conducted a simple technical audit and her instincts were correct... nothing was done. This very savvy businesswoman "got ripped off" because she didn't know the process of building a web application and wasn't able to identify the red flags as they appeared and didn't know how to track the progress of her product.
What's even worse about this story is that this entrepreneur not only lost a lot of money, she lost valuable time and opportunity to bring her product to market.
An effective tech plan, your involvement and a competent tech guru will ensure that that never happens to you.
Here are 10 tips for hiring the right consultant:
1. Make sure the consultant specializes in the area of YOUR needs
Does your tech guru know your industry? Does he/she know your work flow and processes? I have worked hard on my expertise, building my reputation and providing value, and I have gained a lot of experience. I build web applications, large websites and ecommerce sites and I run communities and work with a lot of clients, but I might not be the right consultant for your business. For example, if you are in bricks and mortar store and need inventory tracking, I am probably not the right "guru" to hire. If you want or need to re-engineer your fulfillment center processes, I am probably not the right person, nor am I the right person if you need to set up your workstations and create the workgroup servers to network them. You should find and hire the person who has that specific expertise for your area of need.
2. Make sure that the IT consultant works with small/medium-sized businesses
Are you a small business? A medium sized business? Small business technology needs are different than large business technology needs. If the consultant has worked primarily for large businesses, then he/she may be more likely to set you up with more technology than you need, at a higher cost than you can afford.
3. Hire a professional
Just like in most things you get what you pay for. If your IT project is critical to your business, hire a professional to set it up correctly the first time and have them train someone else that you work with. You invest a little more upfront but can save big money in the long run.
4. Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish
Find out upfront what services the consultant will provide and get it in writing. You need to know upfront what you can expect to receive for your money. Some IT consultants set up hardware or software and then leave without having properly trained your employees on how to use it. Ask the consultant to be specific about the services he/she will provide... getting it in writing is critical.
5. Make sure that the IT consultant is not a sales rep for another company
How many of you have had sales reps approach you with some software that will help you grow? Well that is their job... to sell you software. Their job is to listen to your business plan and your tech problems and tailor his pitch to address all of your concerns no matter what you say.
A good IT consultant will recommend to you to purchase or use whatever technology or software that is right for your business, regardless of the name on the box. Be aware of the rep tech guru... ask them straight up.
6. Make sure the IT consultant speaks your language
Communication is the key to any relationship. If your consultant can't explain to you why or how he is doing something a certain way, then you don't know if what he is doing is the right thing for your business. You don't need to understand HOW IT consultants do it, but as a business owner you need to understand WHY.
7. Your IT consultant should be willing to create a master plan
Your tech guru should always say, "I'm going to create a master plan." If they are not saying that, then that's a problem or at least a red flag. You then should ask them to create a plan and if they are unwilling, then you probably should not hire them.
8. You don't have to spend a fortune
When you work with an IT consultant, tell them your budget and ask them to recommend a plan of action. You don't have to build or set-up the whole system right away. You can start small and add on new technologies as the budget allows. The key is to set up the plan so that you can add new technologies without affecting the existing ones.
9. Don't become dependent on your IT consultant
Ask to be involved. It is very easy for an IT consultant to make you dependant on them. If you don't get involved after the planning phase, the IT consultant may build in complexities into the system that if you don't know about, you'll have no choice but to regularly call them in at their hourly rate.
Tip: Make sure that you sign a contract with your tech guru and make sure that you own the Intellectual Property for anything that you custom build.
10. If you find someone good, stay with them
Once you find someone that you work well with, develop the relationship and stay with them. Not only will you have a good relationship, you will also save money on updates and upgrades because the IT consultant knows your set-up.
Nelly Yusupova is the CTO of Webgrrls International, and will host "NYC Webgrrls Wine & Cheese Mixer" on June 20, 2012 during S.H.E. Summit Week. S.H.E. Summit Week, taking place June 18-24, is New York City's first "women's week," with 35+ events designed for, by and about women to inspire each other in work, life & everything in between. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit shesummitweek.com.