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How Can a Consultant Help Grow Your Startup?

By Emily Smith on Wed, May 11, 2016

Getting the right advice at the right time is crucial to the success of your startup: learning everything by trial-and-error gets expensive, fast, and many startups won’t have the cashflow to sustain regular failure posing as ‘learning’.

So when you’ve got tough decisions to make, who do you turn to? Your investors, personal network or mentors all give you advice when they’ve got the time, but they’re not always available when you need them.

Increasingly, paid-for consultants are becoming a valuable source of advice for startups: more affordable than an advisor, more impartial than an investor, and more accessible than a mentor.

Does Your Startup Need a Consultant?

As your startup grows, mistakes and poor decisions become increasingly time-consuming and costly. While some mistakes are an inevitable part of the path to success, the majority of startups waste considerable time, money and effort making the wrong mistakes – ones that could have been avoided.

I’ve seen a ton of startups making the same common – and entirely preventable – mistakes:

  • Making hiring decisions without a real strategy for how they’ll grow the company
  • Tracking vanity metrics which don’t give an accurate insight to their startup’s performance
  • Developing features or functionality that offer little value to their customers
  • Acquiring customers that are a poor-fit for their service

But these mistakes are only preventable if you’ve got the right information ahead of time. And that is the sort of advice a good consultant can offer.

Strengths

  • Relevant experience. Working with a consultant who specialises in startups will give you access to their relevant experience and expertise, to help you learn from other startups’ mistakes/failings/successes and allow your startup to grow as efficiently as possible.
  • Impartial advice. Unlike investors and advisors (who may hold equity in your startup), and mentors or your network (who will have a personal relationship with you), the advice from your consultant will be objective, informed and impartial.
  • Readily available. Your mentors or personal network will have their own business or personal demands on their time and may not be available when you need their advice. In contrast, consultants are highly likely to be available at the exact time you need their advice, because you’re paying for their time.

Weaknesses

  • You need to pay them. Unlike friends or your personal network, consultants charge for their advice. Unfortunately, some consultants have prohibitively high costs that cash-poor startups will never be able to afford. These consultants may be better suited to later-stage scaleups, rather than your startup.
  • You need to execute their recommendations. Unlike working with an agency, who will provide advice and then execute services in line with that advice, a consultant will only provide you with growth advice. Your startup needs to have at least one team member capable of executing the consultant’s recommendations in order for you to gain maximum value from their advice.

How to Find the Right Consultant

There are two main qualities you should look for when selecting a growth consultant for your startup:

1) Sector experience

Real experience of working in your business sector is essential, as it means the advice you get will be super relevant and based on your consultant’s past learnings. For example, if you’ve got a SaaS startup, a consultant with experience in the SaaS sector will be able to provide much more useful, targeted advice compared with a general consultant.

2) Startup-specific experience

This is just as important as sector experience. The problem many startups face is not knowing where to focus their efforts for maximum reward. But a consultant with a wealth of startup experience will understand the unique challenges of early-stage startups, and can draw on their previous experience or experiences of other clients to provide timely and relevant advice.

Additionally, having an up-to-date understanding of the startup scene means they will be able to tailor their advice to your stage, and then scale up as your work capacity increases/team grows.

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