Why & How to Use a Consultant: Part 2

Posted By: Paul Terbrueggen CWA Blog,

People climbing in indoor climbing gyms

Part one of this series tackled the question of “Why partner with a consultant?” with input from Gavin Haverly (Rise Above Consulting), Todd McCormick (Keystone Climbing Consultants) and Ty Morrison Heath (Adventure a Day Marketing).

Article At A Glance

  • Writer: Paul Terbrueggen has been writing on and off for the CWA for years. Working across the country and in multiple management-based settings; including indoor climbing, Paul specializes in writing about people and leadership.
  • Who Should Read: This article is for senior managers and gym owners in the indoor climbing industry.
  • What Will You Learn: The hyper-specific nuances and questions to ask oneself in the process of hiring a consultant.
  • Tie-Ins, Resources, or Further Reading: This is the second article in a series. Read the first one here.

Part Two is divided into three segments:

  1. Before reaching out to consultant(s)
  2. While exploring consulting options
  3. After a contract is signed

If you have not read part one of the series, start there to understand the types of consulting support you might seek and some of the reasons you might seek it. The article explains the key differences between hiring someone for their expertise, time, or both. It also discusses whether you want to hire someone to work on your business or in your business. The combination of those two qualifiers will help you decide on hiring a specialist, mentor, contractor, or just an employee.

That is jumping the gun! First, you need to identify what problem you are trying to solve and then you can determine how you want to bring in outside support to solve it! The easiest way to get started is a simple series of questions that follow the age-old classic: who, what, where, when, why, and how.

Download this quick template for 2-3 questions per section to help you orient yourself around the problem you want to solve and why you want to solve it. Completing this self-reflection will help you understand your internal challenges.

Free Downloadable Resource: Consultant Examination

Download Here

It will also help a future consultant start their discovery phase, particularly when you conduct a deep dive into the data surrounding your opportunities. A quick study with historical data (think one-to-three-year historical data pulls) and photos of any relevant physical support/structures will help document your current state or baseline.

Once you have a generalized idea of areas you may want to contract out support, you can then start identifying potential consultants. Folks like myself, Ty, Todd, and Gavin are all great resources, but reach out through your network for first-hand recommendations or use Climbing Business Journal’s directory to start interviewing consultants. The consultee/consultant relationship is an intimate one. Compatibility between the consultant, the point-of-contact from your organization, and overall company culture is key.

All good business relationships start and end with a contract. A simple contract may only take a couple of hours to author and confirm but can save countless headaches down the road. Additionally, if things need to change, which is normal, then contracts should be updated and signed upon completion of the new contract terms.

Once self-assessments are completed and a list of potential consultants is narrowed down to one or a few, the contract details become a top, if not the #1 priority. When comparing consultants, how they articulate what they will deliver and what they expect of you should be scrutinized appropriately. Keep in mind that a consulting relationship can be short, long, or open-ended. Contracts should be written with deliverables and accountability relative to your goals and the consultant’s bandwidth over time.

The first three components of the contract to consider set the tone for the nature of the contract. You might consider these steps more administrative, as they help to iron out “nitty gritty” details of how the relationship functions during, and after, the contract period.

  1. Non-Disclosure + Non-Compete:

    Protecting your business is protecting your livelihood and your stability. These two items serve as core components of a good contract.

    1. A basic non-disclosure states that one or both parties must keep information shared between parties to only pre-approved audiences.
    2. A basic non-compete states that parties cannot work for direct (and in some cases indirect) competitors.
  2. Scope + Deliverables

    Scope – what business areas do you want the consultant to focus on? This can be very specific, such as one aspect of retail or operations, or it can be more open-ended. Open-ended may include an entire department or a complete overview or rework of the business.

    Deliverables – define exactly what you want to achieve and what “success” looks like for your business and the consultant. This could be a process map, an improvement plan, a glide path/roll out for business changes or it could just be ongoing leadership/mentoring discussions. When planning deliverables, be sure to note timelines and utilize SMART goals.

  3. Asset Ownership

    Once the contract is fulfilled and/or terminated, identify what resources each party will walk away with and what they may use that information for. When providing your information to a consultant, be sure to understand their process for either saving that information for future reference or how it is virtually destroyed.

  4. Ongoing Communications
    • Action Item Tracking- Define how progress will be tracked, who will maintain the documentation, and how often it will be reviewed helps to set expectations that are mutually beneficial before signing a contract.
    • Status Update Meetings – Ensure that both parties align on how often the team will meet and how much time is expected to be dedicated to status updates, project deliverables, and general tasks associated with the contract. Within these meetings, there should be a clear expectation for how both parties can articulate questions, comments, and concerns, as well as indicate success vs. the contractual obligations that have been defined.
    • Reporting Structure – Having one party be the final say on consulting tasks, a single point of contact, may help to keep expectations and projects on target. Limiting the “cooks in the kitchen” may be beneficial to ensure linear progress is made by your consultant.

Final Considerations for During the Contract

Once your internal reflection and pre-work are done, you’ve vetted consultants for skill and cultural fit and drafted a detailed contract that identifies what “good” looks like, it is time to execute to the plan. Remember that a consultant can perform within your organization as similarly or as different as you desire (reference article #1 and the categories specialist, mentor, contractor, or employee.) but be sure to define the role and expectations appropriately in the contract.

Consultants are normally shorter-lived engagements than employees, so be sure to invest the time before the contract is signed and during the onboarding process to get the best bang for your buck.

Whenever possible, refer to the contact and put expectations and commitments in writing for quick reference later. A good consultant should be helping to see around corners and into blind spots, so be prepared for some challenging call-outs and discussions and communicate openly and honestly for the best results.

A rule of thumb that I have used in over 12 years of operational roles is that honest and open feedback is most constructive when you can be passionate but not emotional. As a former gym owner, I know that keeping emotions in check can be challenging when the business is central to your life, personally and professionally. To hedge against this, speak to more facts and fewer feelings when discussing projects, opportunities, or suggestions. A consultant compatible with you and your business's needs will be able to recognize which conversations are the most challenging and meet you in the middle to find solutions.

Inevitably things like scope creep or missed deadlines will occur, both for the company’s contributions to the partnership and the consultant’s. When either party needs to be held accountable, a combination of documentation, honest conversation, and thorough onboarding, as mentioned above, will always be the best bet.

Speak in facts, regarding what was promised vs. delivered. Going back to the shorter-term nature of a consulting role, the sooner concerns are escalated the better and if expectations are not being met, speak your piece early and document it often.

Consulting is a key piece of most industries, allowing businesses to acquire time and skills in the right dosage and the right price for their current business demands. The climbing industry has seen a small but growing faction of these specialists, coming from within the industry and from the outside. Looking into the future of more climbing gyms, both single-owner operators and mega-chain alike can fast-track their growth or button up their loose ends if consultants are utilized effectively.

The summation of these two articles just scratching the surface of how to effectively make this happen for your business. Take the time to understand what you want to achieve, how you want to achieve it, who fits your culture, and then document it in the contract and you can take your business to the next level.

About the Author

Paul Terbrueggen headshot

Paul Terbrueggen, aka Tall Paul, is an operations leader with 10+ years of experience. He offers small business consulting for gyms looking to streamline operations, increase retail revenue or otherwise grow their business. Previously he worked at Summit Climbing, Yoga & Fitness as the Retail Director and then Chief Operating Officer for their eight locations in Texas and Oklahoma. Prior to Summit, he led teams of up to 4,500 for Amazon Fulfillment Operations

An avid boulderer, he can often be heard claiming to be "more tall than talented" at 6'6". Paul enjoys all manner of activities, indoor or outdoor, especially when shared with his fiancée Becky and two puppies Penny Lane and Lil McGill (but everyone knows her as Nancy). In addition to consulting and writing for the CWA, Paul is an analyst for End 2 End Outdoor, representing La Sportiva, Petzl, and Big Agnes.