In this brief article I’ll review the most important factors to consider when getting help from a 3rd party e-commerce consultant or consulting agency. I’m of course a consultant, but have also been on the other side of the fence and hired consultants and agencies during my e-commerce journey.
An e-commerce consultant is a business professional who specializes in finding opportunities for growth and efficiency within an e-commerce business. Typically, this person has held a significant position at a successful digital agency or has had remarkable success directly with their own e-commerce store.
There are also those who have had little to no success or experience, and masquerade as consultants, so watch it.
Take some time to define some things that need work in your business if it’s not obvious. I’ve run into clients that just wanted to increase sales. That’s ok but it’s a big scope. If you can narrow down the focus for the consultant, you’ll have better luck qualifying the right person or agency for the task.
Determine what you need help with and really ask yourself, why do you need outside help? Will it truly help to bring in someone with more e-commerce experience that’s done this before? If you have even a general idea of what needs work, you’ll be in a much better position to hire a consultant. And yes, the issue can be why does my shop only sell $3 million per year and stopped growing last year.
Lastly, are you prepared to take some advice from a pro? Ask yourself if you’re truly ready to allow a 3rd party give you direction on how you do business and help grow your company. My most successful and most rewarding engagements have been with business owners that made a conscious decision to follow my lead and trust my experience.
Amazon had close to half of all U.S. e-commerce sales in 2018! There are now consultants set up to work specifically to help Amazon sellers grow.
In general, most consultants I’ve come across are helping e-commerce website owners be more competitive and grow their businesses. Within each, you’ll find consultants that have a specialty with a proven track record in their niche.
When looking for a consultant, try and find a match for your business size. Does the consultant have experience with SMBs or are they strictly working with Enterprise level businesses? Have they had experience in the product category or audience you’re targeting? There are also consultants that specialize in B2C or B2B. This is a critical crossroads, so make sure to find a consultant that matches your business model.
Don’t overlook the fact that you’ll likely be working with this person for months. Make sure there’s a personality fit before you hire.
When shopping for a consultant, be warned that cheap comes out expensive every time. Any decent consultant charges a lot for their services and with good reason. I’ve worked with clients on a 100k retainer that increased sales for them to $15 million!
Success stories like that don’t happen every time, but you have a much better chance by hiring an experienced, solid consultant with a good reputation at a price that matches their capabilities. At the end of the day, it’s your business, not theirs, and this is the only money they’ll get for their efforts once it’s over.
What type and level of communication and engagement are you looking for? Consultants vary with engagement style but there are some patterns I’ve seen.
The two big differences I see are the Coach vs the Analyst type consultant. These are pretty different services / styles, but have a common goal – increased value for the client.
Analyst type consultants will dig into reporting and analytics like crazy and present recommendations. The coach style consultant will present recommendations from a combination of data and best practices, create action items, and hold you and everyone else on the project accountable to complete them. These are very different ways to work.
Commonly, there will be a weekly meeting, or monthly as the case may be, to review the data and discuss recommendations. This can be month to month or long-term contact-based.
Typically, you want to look for a long-term contact-based plan with a consultant. It’s scary hiring someone long term that you hardly know, but realize it takes time to make improvements in your business. Also, a longer-term engagement helps accountability on both sides and increases synergy in my experience.
Yes, make sure to check references and previous experience carefully! Whether it was previous employment or freelance clients, you need to know what this person has accomplished.
Check out what other people are saying about this person and that they have the experience to help you meet your goals. Check LinkedIn and see if you have mutual colleagues you can contact. Check out other clients they have worked with and if they have published articles. Check out any podcasts or interviews they’ve done. You’re trusting this person and their people with your business, so do your homework.
Deciding to get some help growing your business can be a powerful move. You can avoid a lot of expensive mistakes by getting some help from the right consultant who’s been there.
Be careful that you are hiring someone that has been where you want to go and check references. Hiring a cheap consultant is like hiring a cheap heart surgeon — that’s a losing proposition. Remember, you’re trusting them with the future of your business.
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