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Should My Company Hire a Consulting Firm?

With the speed of change in business increasing at a seemingly exponential rate, the idea of outsourcing pieces of work within a company makes more sense than ever. But, how does a company know what initiatives should be added to the plate of in-house staff and what makes more sense to be allocated to an outside firm? Herein we take a look at some of the decisions faced by companies when determining if their needs require outside help, why the decision to bring in a consulting firm was made, and how that decision helped to reach the goals put into place by the company’s leadership.

First, we need to have an understanding of what a consultant fundamentally does. Consultants may simply seem like temporary employees because of the hands on nature of their work, but the truth is that they hold a great deal more value when closely examined. Most businesses have desired projects to undertake that either require more time than currently available or more specific expertise than they maintain in-house. These are the primary voids that consultants fill when hired onto engagements and can include strategy, technology, HR, financial, marketing, operations, and other focuses.

What Decisions Need to Be Made?

Opportunity Identification

The first decision to make when considering hiring a consultant is whether or not you are comfortable with the internal ability to identify fundamental business needs. Sometimes, startups and small businesses run so lean that they are confined to the knowledge of industry- or product-specific experts that make up the leadership team. In these cases, an absence of business acumen may reduce the ability to identify appropriate key performance indicators within the company. If this is a concern for your small business, bringing in a consulting firm with experienced professionals to help provide guidance on overall strategy and implementation is most likely a worthwhile investment.

Objective Perspective

Many companies feel comfortable with their business knowledge and independently setting their own initiatives for growth but still decide to bring in outside help. It is important to determine whether your company can ensure that the personnel assigned to carrying out the strategy are not too close to the problem they want to solve. Consulting firms can bring a fresh set of eyes and provide insight into those obstacles to either validate or realign growth efforts. Consultants have usually solved similar problems with other companies and can bring innovative knowledge to the situation without a tough learning curve.

Additional Resources

Another decision to make is whether the current staff has enough time to undertake a new project without negatively impacting day-to-day operations. For example, creating a new marketing campaign may require research on a new industry, product and customer and could entail weeks or months of background work depending on the sophistication of the new campaign.  If a company only has 10 employees, a decision must be made about which staff member will be responsible for the additional tasks. Sometimes a firm brings on one consultant for years at a time and other situations may require bringing in 10 consultants for one week. So, if a new internal process requires added labor, often it makes sense to bring in a consulting firm to quickly add horsepower with quick-learning and adaptable consultants instead of hiring and training new employees or taking current employees off of other mission critical tasks.

Specialized Skills

Not all decisions are easy to make; particularly if they require admitting that current staff are not fully equipped with the skillsets needed to solve your company’s toughest problems. This is one of the most common occurrences that companies decide to bring in consultants for. Hiring a group of professionals that have specific abilities that are valuable to a new project can be the best plan for a couple of reasons. It may be very expensive to hire these employees full time because of the level of education and experience they hold. And, it is often very unlikely that upon completion of these projects that a company maintains the need for those specialized skills. Most employers would prefer to bring in those talented employees as consultants with an initial understanding of the temporary nature of the work.

Controversial Scapegoats

It is no surprise that some decisions face potential backlash from employees, management, and investors. These situations can include employment terminations or other controversial projects that need to be judiciously explored. In these cases, some companies decide to bring in consulting firms to objectively identify the best path to pursue and are able to avoid disruption in sensitive political or emotional environments. This is particularly useful for leadership attempting to push a non-conventional agenda without risking their reputation or staff quantities.

Any one of these decisions alone may be enough to determine that hiring consultants makes sense for your business and if you want more insight into how to make internal decisions or have further questions, please comment below or contact SEO Consultants today for more information.

What could the LinkedIn Acquisition by Microsoft Mean for Your Business?

Microsoft will acquire LinkedIn for $26.2 billion in cash, a 50% premium to the closing price Friday (as a note the stock was down 42% YTD at Friday’s close). At first blush this may look like another in a long series of acquisitions by large firms of a social platform (Skype in 2011, or WhatsApp by Facebook in 2014) but the ramifications could be much further reaching than previous acquisitions in the sector, far reaching, and very profitable.

In a memo to employees, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is quoted talking about a feed for LinkedIn that “serves up articles based on the project you are working on and [Microsoft] office suggesting an expert to connect with via LinkedIn to help you with a task you’re trying to complete.”

These feature additions could be a boon to the gig-economy, allowing LinkedIn to act as a market-maker for technical and professional services. This will produce income for LinkedIn, perhaps in the form of premium subscriptions, advertising bids, or “finder’s fees,” but it will also make it easier for freelancers to find work and promote themselves.  The network effects are already in-place with LinkedIn and the feature would have a large user-base from the start. There are countless work opportunities and they come in all shapes and sizes. Imagine writing an article and looking for an editor or fact-checker, just use LinkedIn to find a professional and share the document remotely, or maybe you need some technical expertise building a suite of dashboards in excel, a recommendation from excel could lead you directly to the right person, who you also share a connection with. Want to check the person’s references? Just check the previous recommendations they have received on their LinkedIn profile. In addition to the initial roll-out benefits, it is not hard to imagine the development of remote project teams all connected by a common industry but with skill sets that enable a seamless workflow from the inception of an idea to the delivery of a product (digital or physical). On a larger scale a project planner, using Microsoft Project, recruits a virtual team recommended to him including an engineer to review the design, an analyst to ascertain market size and potential customers, a 3-D printing shop to print a prototype, and finally a marketing specialist and webpage developer to help design the ad campaigns and build the e-commerce site. The cloud based team has access to materials from the other team members and can be notified of critical path problems or delays instantly, all managed from the Microsoft Office-LinkedIn interface. While this is possible now the recommendation engine implicitly proposed by the CEO memo and the integration of platforms is a major improvement.

This leap forward will be rewarding but there could be serious downsides, like excessive credentialing requirements or proprietary credentials (offered only by Microsoft or Lydia which was acquired by LinkedIn). While an exclusive setup is more an Apple strategy, it remains to be seen how the recommendation engine will work (Please Microsoft, don’t screw this up). On the other hand, a pay-to-play, or bidding scenario could decrease the usefulness of recommendations if there is not sufficient weighting for experience or certification. While nothing is set in stone yet these will be important factors to consider and will have a large impact on the usefulness of the feature, much like the search algorithms for Google.

Taking advantage of this new interface between office programs and professional networks will be a new challenge and details about the proposed feature will be critical to success. In the interim, adding technical expertise in the form of certifications by Microsoft or others will be a great way to be ahead of the curve and establish tenure. Ensuring that your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date will become even more important since the algorithms to funnel work to different people will most likely be based on a combination of your profile, location, and some sort of pay-to-play setup. Managing your “projects” section is likely to become more important as well as the “Opportunities you are looking for” section.