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Using Consultants, Contractors, or Advisers

FastTrac, Kauffman Foundation

As the owner of a growing company, you’ll find that you need specialized or technical advice from time to time, at regular intervals, or perhaps nearly all of the time. Meeting these needs with outside professionals can often be more cost effective than hiring full-time staff. Specialized skills and functions that can be outsourced include legal counsel, accounting, training, marketing and public relations, Web site design and maintenance, and information technology.

In fact, entrepreneurs have found that nearly any function can be outsourced. The exceptions are the core competencies that you and your key people possess: the talents, knowledge, skill, or vision that makes your company your company and sets it apart from competitors. Only you can provide those.

What are the best ways to find the outside consultants, contractors, and advisers you might need?

Well-networked business owners probably use and trust referrals more than other methods. Other entrepreneurs and professional service providers are good sources, as are entrepreneur support organizations or agencies such as Small Business Development Centers.

But even when you have confidence in referrals, you still need to perform some due diligence in four areas:

  • Expertise: Does the task or project require a generalist or a specialist? All lawyers receive similar training in law school, for example, but an intellectual property attorney probably won’t deal with the IRS as well as a tax attorney.
  • Experience: What are the track records and quality of references of individuals or firms you’re considering? The first step is to ask directly. The next is to contact and question references, just as you would if you were hiring a full-time employee.
  • Proposals: Does a prospective vendor offer a written proposal or shrug it off? Be sure to require written proposals and evaluate them side-by-side. Are they addressing the problem you have? Do they offer specific methods, timelines, and the results that you need? If they don’t, ask for revisions or look for someone else to do the job.
  • Attitude: Do you see enthusiasm, curiosity, and concern for your challenge in your prospective vendors? Are they proud of their work? Will you be comfortable working with them and their firms over a period of time?

Outsource the right work to the right people in the right way, and you’ll soon be providing high-quality referrals to other entrepreneurs.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in FastTrac® GrowthVenture™, and it has been modified for use in this eVenturing Collection.

© 2007 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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