John Donne famously declared that “no man is an island” in his popular 17th century poem. While Donne’s words refer to human nature as a whole, the phrase has become entrenched in modern society, often cited to reinforce qualities of sharing and community – and where business is concerned this is where external consultants can fit in.
However, when it comes to running a small business, it can often feel like business leaders are indeed stuck on an isolated island.
Having usually invested a significant chunk of their own money, small business owners can be fiercely independent, attempting to solve any obstacles on their own – and not always successfully.
Whilst this ambition is a crucial trait for any business owner, it can, to borrow another well used English phrase, prevent one from seeing the wood for the trees. In other words, being too involved with your business and any problems it encounters can be the catalyst for failure.
So, what’s the solution? The answer’s simple; look outside your business for help. No company will ever possess all the knowledge it needs to be successful internally, so sometimes it’s necessary to seek the advice of external consultants to aid business growth.
This is of increased relevance for SMEs where less resource and fewer staff means that the chance of finding anyone within the company who can fully understand and solve every major business setbacks, is slim.
From HR issues to marketing advice and financial queries, there are countless experts on these issues and more beyond the walls of any business. Rather than guessing the solution, it’s just a case of finding the right people with the right skills to help a business’ specific needs.
Seeking advice from external consultants isn’t a sign of weakness. Instead, it is indicative of a shrewd business-focused mind that is aware of any weak links.
Despite all this, business owners may still be sceptical about external consultants, perhaps due to perceived costs and doubt about how much difference it will actually make to their company.
Whilst it does require an initial cost and to a small extent, a leap of faith, the long-term benefits can be huge. The fact that external consultants look at businesses from an impartial point of view is crucial to helping them identify issues quickly and solve them much more efficiently.
Their advice, if properly actioned by businesses owners, could save a huge amount of time and money or even save a business from tripping over hurdles.
Even though they may not be familiar with every element of the company, external consultants and consultants are looking at that business, and any problems it has, through the lens of their expertise. This level of scrutiny is near impossible if you’re examining your own company.
Emotional connections, lack of sector specific expertise and uncertainty over introducing new ways of working are all elements which prevent this.
If businesses do decide to hire external consultants, communication is vital at every stage of the process. When recruiting, business leaders must be explicit in what their needs are and what results they expect.
Poor communication will mean hiring someone who they don’t trust and therefore won’t be of any value. However, once they do find someone suitable, it’s equally important to take a step back and listen to their advice.
It may not be what they want to hear (and may even sound like criticism at times) but this objectivity is crucial in helping businesses grow.
Daniel Hedlund is co-founder and CEO of knowledge hub Zeqr