Working with a consultant can be transformative for your organization and political campaign. Consultants bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to your work and have the ability to move your plans forward at a rapid pace. They provide additional bandwidth to help you plan and implement programs that you don’t have the bandwidth to handle with your internal staff.
If you’re considering using a consultant for your organization, here are a few simple guidelines to follow to ensure that your project is a success:
One of the most important ways to guarantee success is to find the right consultant for your project. In order to find the right person or company for the job, be sure to start your search early, so that you’ll have plenty of time to conduct interviews and site visits with each consultant you are considering for your project. Organizations looking for consulting help should include the details of the project in an RFP (request for proposal) that is circulated to prospective consultants. Your RFP should provide enough details to allow consulting firms to know whether or not this project falls within their area of expertise, and enable them to submit complete proposals to your organization. Some of the most important details to include in your RFP are the outcomes you seek for the project, as well as the project budget and timeline.
Negotiating a Contract and Scope of Work
Once you have reviewed proposals and selected a consultant you would like to work with, it is time to negotiate a contract. This includes defining a scope of work for the project. Many organizations run into trouble when they define the scope too narrowly. If you don’t include everything you need in the final contract, your consultant will expect to be paid additional fees to complete work that falls outside the project scope.
Be sure you read the final contract thoroughly, and consider having your attorney do the same. When negotiating your contract, remember that the quality of the work, the speed at which it is performed, and the cost of the project are key trade-offs. You can generally have two of the three (but not all three) in your favor. Thus, if you want a project done quickly and at a high-quality level, you will often not be able to have that project done cheaply. Similarly, if you want a project done cheaply, you will need to either sacrifice quality or speed to accomplish that goal.
Onboarding Your Consultant
After you finish negotiations and sign a contract with your consultant, it is important that you establish an onboarding process that allows the consultant to get comfortable with your organization and to gather all of the resources and information they need to accomplish the project’s objectives. One of the most important parts of the onboard process is establishing clear lines of communication and a process for decision making. Who on your staff will be the primary liaison with the consultant? What decisions should the consultant make on his or her own, and which should be made by a staff member? Set your expectations up front, and clearly define the roles that will be played by the consultant and by members of your staff.
Keeping Your Project on Track
As the project progresses, it will be incumbent on your staff to keep the project on track both in terms of deadlines and outcomes. This will require your team to meet with the consultant on a regular basis to compare the timelines detailed in the project proposal with the actual progress that is being made. Your team should also keep a close eye on the project’s budget and actual expenditures.
Finally, remember that (at least for the time being), your consultant is an integral part of your team. For that reason, it is important that you treat your consultant with respect and collegiality, thank them for their work, and recognize them for the very real contribution they are making to your organization’s success.