Skip to content

Setting up your independent consultants for success: Key strategies and tips

By Anurag Bhalla

Set up for success image

Setting up your independent consultants for success: Key strategies and tips

Independent consultants and skilled contractors play an increasingly important role in most companies. Let’s make sure you maximise their chances to succeed and build value for your organisation. External expertise, whether freelancers, consultancies or agencies, can deliver transformational outcomes to an organisation. However, to unlock this potential, the procurement process and engagement model need to be executed correctly.

We have summarised the top six things clients need to think about when sourcing and working with independent talent. Do this well, and the chances of successful outcomes increase dramatically.

Be clear about your objectives – carefully scope and structure your project accordingly

As a buyer or hiring manager, you must be clear about the overall objectives to define the scope and specific deliverables. Internal stakeholders, as well as your consultants, need to be fully aligned to ensure maximum success. Consider the expertise or capacity gap you are solving for, phase the project to de-risk, and ensure that the IP developed in the project is your own and transferred to your team if applicable.

Link the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ – the importance of implementation expertise

Advice on strategy (what) must be matched by execution (how) expertise for the matter at hand. You would not want to learn how to fly from someone who has never taken off and landed a plane successfully. So why would you rely on a team of smart but inexperienced MBA grads, steered by a partner spending two hours a week on the project, unless they can prove that they can successfully implement their recommendations?

Other than in truly blue-sky, innovation-type projects you should be careful when hiring advisors that do not have credible implementation expertise!

Do not miss out on the specialist consultancies or seasoned independent consultants  

Many large client organisations are trying to reduce their list to a small number of preferred service providers. The idea behind this is to negotiate better rates and improve service levels from the biggest brands. This can backfire from a cost and quality perspective. Specialist firms, or why not an individual or a team of experienced independent consultants, often possess deeper expertise, bring more seniority, and can be more receptive to customer demands. Additionally, most will be better value than the industry giants.

The most successful clients have procurement strategies that allow for hiring specialists as well as big brand consultancies. It’s a false economy to save 20% of big brand consulting firms rack rates if that means missing out on specialists who can deliver outcomes that knock the ball out of the park. 

Check that you get what it says on the tin

When you go through your procurement process to select your consultants, do not just focus on the brand, the glossy decks and the impressive partner leading the pitch. Make sure that you meet the day-to-day project manager and speak to their previous clients. You are not buying the brand; you are paying for the delivery team.

You should not accept illustrative team profiles for your project. However, to be able to demand a specific project manager or team you must be ready to move quickly as the consultancies cannot earmark resources for long. If you are looking for individual freelancers, like with firms ensure you do your vetting and reference checking to avoid any surprises.

Ensure knowledge transfer to your team for long term gains

You should figure out how to involve and transfer knowledge from the consultants to your team in the best way. Too often hand-over and skills transfer are afterthoughts and executed in a rushed manner. Different initiatives lend themselves to different skills knowledge transfer approaches, but to ensure lasting success of your projects and to achieve the best long-term ROI on your consultancy spend, you need to get your team deeply involved. It is learning on the job from the best (it beats any conference or training course!) and one of the best investments staff can make in you. Which brings us to our last point…

Do not become consultant addicts

Not every problem requires hiring external experts. Challenge yourself as to whether you need the expertise or resources in-house. If you decide to go external, ensure your structure and initiative in an efficient way as well as knowledge transfer is built explicitly in the objectives and deliverables (see points 1 and 5 above).

About the author

Anurag Bhalla is Co-founder & Managing Director APAC at Outsized. He was Director of Innovation, Emerging Markets, at global insurer Legal & General, leading the development and go-to-market strategies of innovative propositions across Asian and African markets. He was later a consultant with a focus on innovation, proposition design, and venture building at Market Gravity and Monitor Deloitte. At Outsized he first built the India business, before moving to Singapore to lead the APAC region.