Dairying is a complicated business. Sometimes you need to ask for help. None of us knows everything about growing and managing a dairy herd. Some are just starting out. Others might be upscaling? Or downsizing? Regardless of where you are on the spectrum, there could be major questions about dairy nutrition, finances, real estate or animal buying and selling. At the Bullvine we think there are many questions to ask before hiring a consultant.
The second question is the most important one!
When you’re trying to make sense of a problem, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Ask them all. The more, the better. But the most important question each time is the SECOND question. That is not question #2. The second question is that one that you ask after you have been given a part answer. Listen for what you haven’t been told yet. Here are ten guidelines that will help you to find the right consultant for your dairy business and we have added a second question to each one to get you started with this important questioning process.
IT’S ALL ABOUT PERFORMANCE. Theirs? or Yours?
When hiring a consultant, make sure to hire superior problem solvers. First off you must know actual data on the problem your dairy is facing. A good consultant should have experience with the challenges or opportunities you are facing. You need the experience they bring to the table. That’s what makes it possible to address the issues you face and turn performance into profits. Be specific about everything that you expect the consultant to deliver or produce.
The second question: What do you expect from me? What can I expect from you?
Opinion and analysis are great. But where’s the action plan?
Once you have transparency between both parties, a good action plan is critical. This must include a method of evaluating the performance expected. Setting benchmarks based on your objectives and having detailed follow-up is the true measure of the client-consultant relationship. If you don’t have an action plan to implement, how do you evaluate what you are paying for?
The second question: Will you provide a written action plan?
What’s The UP side of having a Consultant?
Having someone work with you to develop your dairy operation can be very rewarding. Successful partnerships establish a trust-based relationship. The relationship between dairy consultants and dairy managers is not unlike the relationship between a doctor and patient. When there is complete candor, the consultant is not hindered in his or her effort to help your dairy business. Chose a consultant with whom you can develop this kind of professional relationship.
The second question: Is our proposed project one that you have the enthusiasm to take on?
GIVE AND TAKE. Who’s giving? Who’s taking?
Sometimes you can be fooled about the hidden agenda of the person you’re consulting with. I worked with one young lady who had hired me for a marketing project. Our initial meetings went well, and I was given the job of writing up a plan. In due time, she returned for a review of the completed work. She arrived at my office without a briefcase, which was a small but significant sign that alerted me to the fact that this wasn’t the usual information exchange. I asked the second question, “Are we working together today?” Sure enough, she explained, “I have found a student who will carry out this project … for a lot less than you requested. So I just need you to give it to me.” She was the only person who was surprised that she left my office without said project. As I was closing the door, I did so with the words, “For that to happen, it would be unethical.” She was protesting every step of the way that her actions were not unethical because they would win her points with her boss, and that’s what SHE needed.” Needless to say, the points were lost. Her boss was told. I was compensated. And no one had the project to implement. I filed it under, “Older and wiser!” Bottom of Form
The second question: What is your personal interest in our business relationship?
The Big “E”: Expertise, Experience, and Ethics.
First and foremost, an effective consultant must be a person of the highest character. He or she must be a consummate professional. Before you entrust your financial future and/or the health and welfare of your dairy herd to other individuals, you want to be confident that they are willing to put your best interests ahead for their own. For example, the consultant must be willing to tell you things you need to hear, but may not want to — even if doing so means that they lose your business. Sure you want to hear that your project could bring in big bucks but your future depends on facts, not fiction. Sometimes the truth can hurt your pride. An experienced industry expert will give you facts supported by honest data. The consultant must demonstrate that they care deeply about all of their clients. While you can’t depend on the rumor mill, do your due diligence and be aware that if some clients are taking losses instead of profits, you could be next.
The second question: Can you provide industry references for me to speak with?
Are your consultants making you money or just taking it?
We’ve all run into the consultants who look the picture of success. They dress for it. They drive it. Their offices are magazine-cover perfect. However, how much of their success translates into moving your dairy operation forward? Consultants who keep up appearances sometimes do so at the expense of their clients. Make sure you know the financial stability of the consultant you are about to work with. Everybody has ups and downs, but it’s not your job to maintain the consultant in the style that they have become accustomed to.
The second question: What can you tell me about your financial stability?
Is your consultant ready and reliable? Will they report regularly?
Do you currently work with consultants? If the answer is yes, do you receive regular reports? At the very minimum, you should be receiving monthly updates outlining the progress made on your project. Ideally you are getting live discussion either over the phone or, better yet, in person. Whatever method is used to keep you informed, your consultant should continually be asking, “How can we do our job better?”
The second question: Will you put your promises and results into a written report?
It’s SHOW and TELL time for everybody
Information is the most valuable commodity exchanged between a dairy operation and a potential consultant. The most important pieces are knowing what results and deliverable are expected. Both sides must be open and straightforward with each other. Above all, it must be clearly defined regarding whom the consultant will work with and exactly who will do the job. In some cases, it may be necessary to specify who owns the finished work, as in the case of a customized feed product or intellectual property. Perhaps confidentiality agreements will be needed. If results are to be released, who has sign off? Is there a potential conflict of interest here? Knowing the answers to these questions in advance can prevent legal and financial hassles down the line.
The second question: Is there something that they are not telling me?
Who’s the Boss?
There’s part of each of us that wants our consultants to remember, “The client is always right!” However, if that was true, why hire a consultant in the first place? Yes, you know what you want but they should be telling you what to do. They were hired because they have a specific expertise that you don’t have. It doesn’t matter if you like what they say or not. Their job as a consultant is to do what’s best for you. Good consultants will have data to back up their solutions or promises. Sometimes it doesn’t work the first time. How a consultant handles, the roadblocks is the most important characteristic to look for. It is also interesting to find out if the boss of your consulting firm will be doing any of the work on your project. Some bigger companies catch you with their reputation and then send junior consultants to carry out the work.
The second question: Who will I actually be working with?
Working with a consultant means having a relationship
If you want to reduce your stress when hiring a consultant, recognize that you are both looking for a productive relationship. Sometimes all you get is a regular “social” call, followed up by an invoice. Both parties should want more. You’re looking to improve your dairy enterprise. Consultants only stay in business by getting results for their clients. Don’t get involved with a consultant who won’t or can’t provide you with results. Picking a consultant is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons. “Better than nothing” is not a good foundation to build on.
The second question: Are we just dating or is this a marriage?
The Bullvine Bottom Line
At the end of the day, most of us probably like our dairy consultants on a personal level. After all, they work in this industry that we all feel passionate about. However, that doesn’t mean they are the right consultant for us. They might indeed be good people but are with a firm that is more interested in selling their high-fee products and services. Quite frankly, without learning to ask the second question, it is hard to know whether you’re dealing with a trusted advisor or just a good salesperson. Some folks might not care, but you should.