The good, the bad and the ugly – what you need to know when buying consultancy

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Sensationalist headlines about consultants often focus on negative stories about the cost of consultants, indeed, mistakes in buying consultancy services can be costly not only in terms of paying the consultant’s fees, but the business impact of poor advice. So how do you identify credible, professional consultants who will be able to add real value to your business?

A guide for consultancy buyers

There are important considerations when hiring consultants that can make the difference between a successful or unsuccessful project. To help buyers make the right decisions, the Institute of Consulting (IC), the professional body for consultants in the UK, has developed a guide to buying consultancy services. The guide, together with checklists for hiring good consultants and best practice behaviours that organisations should expect from consultants, forms part of the IC’s substantial body of knowledge and guidance for both buyers of consultancy and consultants.

Preparing to buy consultancy services

Due diligence at the planning stage is critical – our advice is to plan the procurement and then re-plan. Understanding the type of consultant required is important – businesses often hire consultants to manage long-term ongoing tasks, however this kind of resourcing is more closely aligned to outsourcing than consulting and the buying process should be managed accordingly.

Having confirmed the need for consultancy, project requirements, scope, and management arrangements need to be defined in detail. A communications plan for briefing employees should be developed – successful consultancy projects need buy-in from the whole business and without support from employees and managers, the likelihood of a successful project outcome is significantly reduced.

Selecting the ‘right’ consultant

Having established the scope and requirements of the project, we strongly advise businesses to invite quotes, tenders or formal proposals from a number of consultants.

Seeking multiple responses helps businesses to choose from multiple alternative solutions and to gain a clearer understanding of expected costs. Key factors to consider in evaluating responses include:

  • Understanding of the issues – based on the proposed approach and plan
  • Ability to deliver to the proposed deadlines
  • Specific expertise – track record in the industry or in solving similar business issues elsewhere for organisations similar to yours
  • Costs and fees (noting whether these are inclusive or exclusive of expenses)

Businesses need to be confident that each consultant is a ‘good’ fit for the company and has the competence and experience to deliver the solution. Competence-based accreditation by professional bodies is a useful indicator of a consultant’s ability to deliver. In management consultancy, the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) award is the only globally-recognised ‘kite mark’ of professionalism in consulting and is awarded by the IC to consultants who can demonstrate successful experience and practice in consultancy.

Good consultants mean good business

Our experience at the annual IC awards demonstrates that consultants can and do make a significant, positive difference to the business they work with. While finding and hiring professional, credible consultants can be challenging, by adopting best practice procurement processes, buyers can be sure that the consultants they hire are the right consultants for their business. The IC is working to raise the standard and profile of professional consultants and to make it easier for businesses to be confident they are hiring certified professional consultants the IC will shortly be launching an online national register of consultants.

The IC guide to buying consultancy offers best practice procurement advice from buyers of consultancy and can be found at

Authored by Huw Hilditch-Roberts, Director in charge of the Institute of Consulting


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