Many consultants are simply dangerous to your wealth and, though they’re trying to help you, you should ignore them. Then again, there are a few you should definitely listen to. So how do you tell them apart? It’s important to understand which is which.
Most consultants are good at giving advice — but they’re not so good at following their own. There’s a reason why they’re consultants or teachers instead of doers. There’s a saying that says, “Those that can, do; those that can’t, teach.” And while it’s fine to be a teacher, that doesn’t mean a consultant always has practical experience. That’s not universally true; there are some good “doers” who are also good teachers. But it’s easy for other people to tell you what to do, and there are a lot of people out there giving advice.
Consultants usually have no personal risk. About the worst that can happen is that you can fire them and not use them again… but often, consultants can make even those kinds of problems go away just by being good soothsayers, telling you what you want to hear. They will encourage you in directions that sound good, even though the results might be contrary to that. They have very little accountability, whether their suggestions work or not. They can run your business into the ground if you let them.
On the other hand, consultants can be extremely valuable to your business, providing profitable ideas and suggestions. How do you balance that? How do you tell a good consultant from a bad one? Who can you trust? Who should you avoid? The first thing to remember — and to always keep in mind — is that a consultant, as good as they may be, will never understand everything there is to know about your business. They’re never going to know your business like you do; and unless they’re in your industry, they’re never going to know your customers or your marketplace like you do.
One of the important things is to look for people in a consultant is somewhat who had who have done what you’re trying to do-someone with a proven track record of getting where you want to go in your industry. If you’re a fledgling restaurateur, then a good consultant would be a former restaurateur, especially one who had successfully sold the kind of food you want to sell. If you’re in the direct mail business or would like to be, trust only experts who’ve practiced direct response marketing (DRM), especially direct mail. In general, you’re more likely to get useful results from a consultant who has been in the business you’re in, especially if they’ve made big money at it. Avoid the consultants who’ve spent more time teaching and theorizing than doing.
If you find multiple consultants have experience in both teaching and doing, lean towards someone who spends most of their time doing the business you want to do and less time teaching about it. If they dabble in business, but most of their time is spent consulting, that might be a red flag. But be careful here; do your research, especially in the information products field. Some of us do a great deal of both teaching and business. For example, I’m always teaching people how to make more money, but that’s part of my business, which I participate in daily. Every book, report, audio program, or DVD I produce is intended to be used as a product or a bonus.
And keep this in minds as well: Consultants may have some good ideas, but those ideas are often untested — until they try them out on you. So look for people who are out there doing what you want to do and getting the results you want to get. Those are the people to pay attention to — and not always in a formal consultant’s role. Sometimes you can learn from them as a partner, friend, or mentor. If you’re active in your business, you’ll have many opportunities to study the people who are achieving the results you want to get in your business.
You don’t need some egghead’s harebrained ideas leading you on, so be careful out there. And don’t assume academic credentials denote a real expert; some of the people teaching the dumbest ideas are college professors. My mentor — a very effective consultant and mentor — tells me of two such instances from Southern California. One professor was from the University of California in San Diego. My mentor and a colleague were doing a seminar on mail order marketing and self-publishing. This professor announced himself and where he was from, so Russ asked him to come up to the podium and make a few comments.
The first thing he said was, “I’ve been teaching business for 20 years. No offense to these gentlemen, but why do business by mail? If you want books, go to a bookstore. If you want to buy clothing, go to clothing store or to a sporting goods store.” My mentor thought, “Holy God! Why did we ask this guy to come up here?” He went on to some other topics before they got him off the stage. He didn’t know what he was talking about, but he was in academia.
Another incident occurred during a self-publishing seminar at San Diego State. The professor told them, “I’ve been looking through some of your advertising material. Do you realize that it’s riddled with incorrect grammar?” Sometimes we copywriters use “you-isms” and say things to make a point; we’re not interested in grammatical perfection, and my mentor pointed that out. The professor said, “Well, I think the first thing someone should do if they’re talking about publishing and writing is to make sure the grammar is correct.” My advice to anyone is, if you need help from an expert, get someone who’s proficient and successful in the field. Don’t go to these professors and teachers, because they don’t know jack. They often major in the minors, as I like to say. They don’t know how to prioritize. This professor who was lecturing Russ on his grammar didn’t know a thing about salesmanship — and that’s one of my biggest pet peeves.
My wife and I used to have a nice condo in Kansas City, in the historic Plaza shopping area. Right below it was a bookstore, and we used to hang out there for hours at a time. I went through dozens of business books every weekend looking for good ones — and they were hard to find. Most such books are written by “experts” who are college professors, or CEOS or former CEO’s of giant corporations. They have no clue of how a normal, everyday small to midsized business works. I went through well over 1,000 business books in the years Eileen and I had that condominium, and I bought very few. It used to upset me that these books were so complicated and confusing. By that time, I’d already been self-employed for well over a decade — and I felt sorry for anyone contemplating starting a business who got a hold of one of those books. They complicate everything.
On my wall right now is a cover of a book that I bought on the Internet — and I shouldn’t have, but I didn’t have the luxury of actually going through the book and trying to decide whether it was good or not. The title is The 12 Rules of Success in Business, and it was written by a well-known expert. Care to guess how many times the words “selling” or “salesmanship” appear in that book? Zero. Not once in all the hundreds of pages of text does he mention selling anything, certainly not in any of the 12 rules. Nor does the word “marketing” ever come up. How can you have a whole book on business success without mentioning marketing or selling? That upsets me, because people who buy that book and actually try to practice those rules are destined to fail. Business is all about selling and salesmanship. It’s about generating revenue and what you do with that revenue. The money comes first. I keep that book title up on my wall to remind me of that.
When Eileen and I first started our business together, back in 1988, I had just turned 29 and she was 31 — and we had so many people giving us free business advice, trying to tell us what we should do. Most of that advice was diametrically opposed to what we were doing, and the fact was, most of those people had never even been in business in their lives. Most had never even tried anything business-related. I never said anything about it, but I remember thinking to myself what a joke that was: they had never succeeded in any kind of business, and they were trying to tell us how we should do things!
Eileen and I just basically looked at each other and rolled our eyes, politely listened-and ignored them. You should do the same whenever someone offers you unsolicited business advice, unless they’re a recognized expert in your field.