Take a Look Outside
You need to do some concentrated market research, but your current staff is swamped with other work. Do you:
A) wait for your marketing staff’s workload to get lighter?
B) decide that the research was not all that crucial in the first place?
C) hire an outside expert to conduct the all-important study?
“There’s a general tendency in the catalog industry to use in-house staff only and to avoid hiring outside expertise,” says George Ittner, president of Executive Greetings catalog, a former industry consultant and long-time catalog veteran. “But I think you can gain immense benefits from hiring that expertise. Catalogers shouldn’t look with trepidation upon the act of hiring consultants.”
Indeed, you can hire a consultant for help with any number of projects, including inventory management, warehouse layout, contact center staff training, merchandising analysis, distribution center workflow, circulation, database marketing and much more.
But how do you find the right consultants for your company and the work needed? What are the do’s and don’ts to hiring consultants? What are the usual costs? The following guidelines may help.
Where and How to Search
If the task at hand is more technical in nature — say, installation and implementation of a shipping system, or a redesign of your warehouse layout — send formal Requests for Proposals (RFPs). An RFP is a process of soliciting proposals from consultants who may be both interested in and appropriate for the work. It’s a good way to make an apples-to-apples comparison among consultants offering similar technical services.
An RFP should include information about your company, the project at hand and your expected outcome. Establish a general format for the RFPs so that when the completed forms are returned, you can compare consultants in an equitable and efficient manner.
If your project isn’t primarily technical, then finding a consultant with the exact expertise you seek — say, creative redesign for a business-to-business catalog — may require a bit more legwork on your part. Try the following:
- ask your cataloging colleagues for referrals;
- visit trade shows to hear consultant speakers and/or meet them in the exhibit halls;
- peruse industry trade journals (such as this one); or
- check out online directories.