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When working with a variety of systems and tools in your business, it may become necessary to hire a technical consultant to support your projects.
A technical consultant can assist you in developing your processes, workflows and then support you in selecting the appropriate technology for implementation.
Hiring an outside consultant can be intimidating. While they understand all of the systems and technology, you may not. You will have to gain trust with the consultant and be able to believe in their capabilities, even when you don’t fully understand what they may be implementing.
Hiring the wrong technical consultant can lead you down a path of project delays, less than desireable customer experiences, overspending, and most problematic… a system that does not work. This can leave you with a big headache and a gap in your business.
In this blog, I’m going to share with you the most important things to consider when hiring a technical consultant.
Use these considerations when making your next hire so that you can experience a successful project implementation.
6 Factors to Consider Before Hiring a Consultant for a Technical Project
Education, Certifications & Licensing
Individuals that specialize in technical fields generally require some type of formal education in order to practice their trade. Consider an electrician; you wouldn’t want your house rewired by someone off the street unless they could prove they were licensed to do so.
While many technical skills can be learned without a master’s degree, some sort of education, certifications or licensing will ensure that the individual learned their skills from a trusted source, rather than completely on their own.
What’s wrong with a consultant learning new skills on their own? In my experience, this type of individual may be very successful, however in their own way. Generally, a non-certified tech-consultant does not have access to the same resources that a certified consultant would. This makes it more difficult for them to stay up to pace and following best practices.
When looking at an individual’s education, certification and licensing background confirm:
- They have trained through a reputable source (always Google the claimed source!)
- They are continuing to develop their skills through advanced training or certification renewals.
- They are partners and advocates of the tools that you are hiring them to work in.
Questions to ask:
- “Are you certified in xyz system? What are you required to do as part of your certification process?”
- “When was the last time you attended a workshop or conference regarding xyz tool?”
- “Are you involved in any user groups or meetups?”
- “Do you have any references as xyz company?”
Educational background is important, but experience matters as well. An individual that is carrying a suitcase of certifications may lack any practical application.
While it may not be possible for your tech hire to show you specific examples of their work (technology projects are often proprietary), they can describe various situations for you and the approach or methodology that was used.
When learning more about someone’s experience, use behavior-based questions to have the individual identify exactly what they would do in a given situation. This will allow you to gauge their process and prove competency without actually showing example work.
Questions to ask:
- “What would you do if….”
- “Explain a time when…”
- “Give an example of…”
- “Have you ever…”
Project Plan & Contract
In order to protect themselves, and the work that they do for you, your technical consultant should be able to provide a detailed project plan with key deliverables, along with a work contract.
A clear contract project plan that is embedded in a contract will ensure that the project is properly scoped out and agreed upon. Otherwise, you will run the risk of miscommunications and missing deadlines.
For individuals working on a project-based fee, specific milestones should be estimated, along with payment due dates according to those milestones.
For individuals working on an hourly fee, hours should be estimated upfront along with expected fees. There should be a clause in the contract that requires the consultant to communicate with the client if the estimated hours becomes inaccurate.
Make sure you fully understand the scope of the project and the contract. Do not feel bad about asking others to review and evaluate the statement of work. Your consultant wants to do the best job they can for you, and if you don’t understand the work being completed, this will be difficult for them.
When I am working with ActiveCampaign accounts, I always recommend that the client reviews my scope of work and contract with their ActiveCampaign account manager. This allows everyone to be in line and agreement with what should be completed.
Questions to ask:
- “How do you ensure that you have captured the entire project scope?”
- “What do you do if the scope changes”
- “What are your fees and how do you charge?”
- “How do you require payments be submitted?”
Tax Information and Insurance
This may be a bit of a no-brainer… but double-checking that your consultant is legally declaring their income and has insurance to protect their business is very important!
Upon hiring your consultant, you should collect a W4 for any project that will be over the amount of $600. Bonus: obtaining this early will save you some time trying to gather the information later on when you accountant asks for it.
Business insurance is important because it protects your consultant from claims that could otherwise take them out of business. Most USA states require business insurance. Double-check that your consultant is following the laws. For more information on why business insurance is important, check out this article on The Hartford.
Questions to ask:
- “Can you provide a W4?”
- “Do you have business insurance?”
This one is a biggie!
When you are working with a consultant on a technical project, communications is key!
Technical consultants are usually implementors. They have multiple projects and you are likely not their only customer.
Ensuring that your consultant agrees to and can uphold your communication expectations is critical to the success of your project.
I can’t tell you how often I hear that someone started a project and then they didn’t hear from the person for two months, and they don’t know what the status is. They didn’t know what was going on! Make sure this doesn’t happen to you but by expressing your needs right from the start!
When developing out a communication strategy, I recommend the following at a minimum:
- Collaborative project management workspace using tools such as Asana.
- Weekly email summary of tasks completed and what is next.
- Weekly, or as needed, live call or meeting check-ins.
If a weekly meeting seems like too much – remember, you can always cancel the meeting if there is nothing to discuss. However, it’s much more difficult to schedule a meeting in busy calendars at the last minute than it is to cancel a meeting that’s not necessary.
Questions to ask:
- “How frequently do you communicate with clients and how?”
- “What do you do when you uncover a problem with the project?”
- “What are your standard business hours and working days?”
- “What tools are you using to manage your projects?”
System Documentation and Training
Finally, before hiring your next technical consultant, ensure that the final deliverable includes a working system, along with system documentation and training that you can sign off on.
This should include both out-of-the-box functionality as well as customizations.
Documentation will ensure that you know what was completed and how it was setup. Documentation also provides a resource that you can continue to use internally, or with a future consultant.
When you don’t have proper system documentation, it takes longer to troubleshoot issues, ramp up new system administrators and expand your system. This is going to cost you more time, and money.
Questions to ask:
- “Do you provide documentation on the work that you completed?”
- “What type of training do you provide for my team?”
- “What is your client off-boarding process?”
- “What support do you provide after the project is delivered, if we need more help?”
Your Successful Implementation
Your successful technology implementation project relies heavily on your ability to hire the right consultant to complete the work. Use the sample questions above to vet out and ensure that the candidate you select, is the best choice for you and your business.
What was your worst technical consultant experience? What was your best? Please share your stories in the comments below!
Hey, everybody. It’s Lindsay here, and today, I’m going to talk about some different things that you should consider before hiring somebody for a technical project. The reason I’m talking about this today is because recently I’ve been having quite a few people come to me after working with somebody on a project, some type of system implementation project, and they’ve been very unhappy with the results of that implementation. And there’s definitely some things that, if you are a non-technical person and you are looking to hire a technical person to do work for you, that you should be looking for within that person that you may not know that you don’t know. So I’m going to talk about some of those things today. The reason we talk about this is so that you can ensure that your project gets done in the way that you want to, that it’s efficient, effective, and that you stay on track and on budget, because staying on track and on budget is really important.
So the first thing is looking at the person’s certifications but also their experience. This could seem really obvious, but I’m going to tell you a little bit about certifications. There are many certifications out there that look really good, fancy, even popular, but often those certifications are really just something that somebody has to buy into, and it really means nothing to the person’s actual competencies itself. Even if they had to take a class and maybe pass a test, a certification does not always prove that somebody can implement in the way that you want them to.
So you also, apart from their certifications, you want to look at projects that they’ve implemented. If they aren’t able to show you projects that they implemented, which is really common … As someone who does implementation myself, I have very few projects with clients that actually allow me to showcase them. So what I can do instead is show approach, theory, models, workflows, diagrams, things like that in order to prove my competency. So that’s something that you want to look for.
The next thing that is really important when you’re hiring a technical person is the contract. Again, it’s amazing to me how many people do not have clearly written out and planned contracts of the work that they’re going to be doing. So you want to make sure that you have agreed upon tasks, timelines. If you’re doing things that are hourly, estimated hours, stuff like that, going into the project. And this can be really challenging if you don’t understand the technical aspect of the project, but ask the person who you’re looking to hire to walk you through it in a way that you understand.
You can also run different contracts and projects, plans, that people give to you … Run them by other people. So, for example, if you were hiring me to do an ActiveCampaign project, I would give you a project plan, and I would tell you, “Go check with your ActiveCampaign account manager and see what they think about my project plan.” I tell my clients to do that all the time, and that way, they can get validation that what I think we should do makes sense through ActiveCampaign. So if you have that opportunity, always go that way.
The next is to, also in the terms of getting a contract, you want to make sure you have an NDA so that your content is protected, and then also, get a W-4 from the person. If they’re a US employee, you should be making sure that they have a W-4 and they also have insurance.
Okay. Next, into communications. When you’re working with someone on a technical project, they are likely going to be an implementer, and this means they probably have multiple technical projects. You might not be their only customer, and making sure you have clear communications outlined beforehand will help save you a big headache. I can’t tell you how often that I hear that someone started a project and then they didn’t hear from the person for two months, and they don’t know what the status is. They don’t know what’s going on. I always encourage that there should be a weekly email status update on the project so you know exactly what’s being worked on, any issues that are there, and you just have an idea of what’s going on with your project.
In addition, depending on the size of the project, you should be having regular check-in calls. There’s no reason for these to be hours long. It can be 15 minutes. Hop on a call, and just go over the project status and what’s happening. These types of communications should be outlined before you even start a project.
Okay, next thing. We’re almost done here. Next is to ask for what type of documentation is going to be provided on the system, and this is a big one. It’s very unusual that you would hire somebody to do an out-of-the-box implementation on a system because if it was out-of-the-box, you could probably just purchase the software and do it yourself. So when you’re hiring somebody, you should make sure that you have documentation on any special customizations as to how your system is set up, and there are multiple reasons for this.
Number one is to ensure that your system setup makes sense. Again, going back to certifications, just because someone has certification doesn’t mean they have any idea what they’re doing or that they can do it in an organized way. So having that documentation helps you make sure that you know what’s actually being done. In addition, the documentation, if you ever did not work with that person again, maybe you go back to them for a project, they’re not available. Maybe you don’t like them. Maybe you just hire somebody else. That documentation will make it easier for the next person to get on board with the project. When you don’t have documentation and you bring someone new into a project, they are going to need ramp-up time, and that’s going to cost you more money. Get the documentation.
Last thing that I want to cover on this video is training. When you’re doing a system implementation project, make sure that there is some type of line item for training for you and your team. So this follows up on documentation, but you want to make sure that you understand what was being done, and that needs to come from the developer themselves. So ask for your team to have some type of training. You can determine the level, if it’s just going to be system overview training versus you being able to take over the system and manage it yourself. But that training piece is so important so that you understand what’s going on. Otherwise, what’s going to happen is, whether you like it or not, you are going to get wrapped into an ongoing contract that you’ll never be able to get out of, and if you don’t have the documentation, you’ll never be able to find someone else who can easily take over the project.
So I hope these tidbits help you on your next system implementation project with finding the right person and hiring and getting started. And if you have any questions, let me know below. Talk to you soon.