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7 Tips for Using Consultants Strategically When Budgets Are Snug

By Katherine Gustafson

With inflation on the rise and layoffs lurking behind every corner, many companies are tightening budgets these days. In this environment, teams are reprioritizing, jettisoning projects, and cutting expenses.

Strategic use of consultants can be a savvy way to make snug budgets go farther. We talked to several EM’s senior-most consultants to put together some tips for managers who want to get the most out of consultants’ skills while watching their team’s spending.

1. Use a contributor model.

Teams often get used to hiring a consultant and having that person’s contributions all to themselves. But it doesn’t have to work that way. Under a contributor model, teams can collaborate to jointly make use of a consultant’s skills and pay a fraction of full price. Many consultants such as project managers, graphic designers, and writers have skills that can cross silos. For example, the HR team might pay for half a consultant’s time to do project management while the sales team pays for the half to orchestrate a product launch.

2. Mount a joint project.

Some teams may have goals that overlap and can find priority projects that both can benefit from. In cases like this, an option is to hire a consultant to work with both teams on a single project while the teams split the cost. For example, the marketing and events teams might join up to pay a consultant to create a social media campaign related to a certain event.

3. Hire a consultant part-time.

Many teams at big companies get used to hiring a consultant full-time, since that’s the default experience in a workplace with mostly full-time workers. But consultants are wonderful for being flexible. You can set up a part-time, or “fractional,” arrangement. Keep in mind that experienced consultants can get a lot done quickly because they don’t need much help getting up to speed and producing good work. They also likely won’t be sidetracked by all-hands meetings, compliance trainings, and other time-consuming activities full-time employees may have to participate in. This means an experienced, part-time consultant can often do as much or more than a new or inexperienced full-timer.

4. Use project pricing.

Teams also may be used to paying consultants hourly. This can make it seem very expensive to hire a consultant considering their hourly rates are high compared to full-time employees. However, you may be able to find a mutually agreeable price by using project pricing. Negotiate a flat rate for a specified project or piece of work. This helps you see ahead of time whether the work will fit your budget, and allows the consultant to negotiate a price that they find acceptable for the scope.

5. Hire a tandem consultant team.

Senior consultants often charge high rates, but an experienced person doesn’t necessarily need to do every aspect of a project, especially a larger one. Match a senior consultant with a junior consultant and have them jointly execute the project, thus bringing the total cost to complete the project down.

6. Ask for others’ money.

In large companies, it’s frequently the case that teams or departments get assigned a certain budget that they are expected to spend within the year. In many cases, failing to spend all the money means getting assigned a smaller budget the next year. Teams with extra money (if those exist these days!) may be open to appeals from others. You can make a pitch for how you would use their extra money effectively to benefit the business, such as by hiring a consultant for a priority project. Importantly, if another team gives you money, make sure to spend it, and then return the favor as soon as you can.

7. Take a hard look at business priorities.

While you may want a consultant’s help with many projects, doing it all is likely outside your budget these days. But that doesn’t mean you can’t strategically use a consultant to help with the projects that are most likely to push business priorities forward. Use a business-first mentality when deciding how to deploy a consultant, and decide on metrics and proof points to show the money was well spent.

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About Katherine Gustafson

Katie Gustafson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, focusing on content writing for business, tech, finance, and nonprofits.

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