So you need to hire an IT consultant. What skills should you look for, how much should you pay, and what results can you expect?
Working with IT consultants can be tricky. It’s kind of a grey area where, if you’re not careful, you might encounter a cunning consultant who will drain your budget dry without blinking an eye. Of course, we don’t want to assume that most IT consulting services are like that. Most of them are great people, but like in any industry, there are bad apples.
I think nobody wants to be the butt-end of a joke like the business managers who paid one developer $18,000 for a static HTML website.
In order to avoid it, let’s consider the best way to work with IT consultants, and the real IT consultant cost (which doesn’t have much to do with how much money consultants charge).
If you don’t know what the term “technical debt” means, let me explain. It’s when you invest in maintaining an outdated infrastructure, system, or other piece of software. In other words, you keep using old tech because “it works”.
But it can stop working anytime, and fixing it becomes more expensive every day. It’s hard to avoid technical debt, but it’s important to have awareness that it’s a serious problem. Perhaps not in case of a small business, but for anything bigger than medium-sized it can cause a lot of headaches.
One thing that can help you avoid technical debt is working with skilled, experienced IT specialists. That’s where a great consult can come very much in handy.
But you don’t want to build something and then go to a consultant. You want to work with a consultant from the very beginning. Or hire a good CTO, that’s your call. But even in that case, a good consultant will bring in a valuable outside perspective.
While we’re on that matter, what does an IT consultant actually do?
They can do a whole lot of things depending on their specialization. Most often, IT consultants are involved in:
Pretty much anyone with vast knowledge of a certain technology can become a consultant, however, they need to be able to translate that knowledge into “business speak”. Otherwise, they won’t be of much help to managers who don’t have a deep understanding of tech.
Being able to translate tech into “human” is not the only characteristic of a great IT consultant.
They also need to have vast business knowledge. Compared to computer science, business isn’t really complicated, and it can be trivial to programmers. But there are several concepts that are worth learning, and they can help IT consultants understand why business people want certain things, and how to provide them with what they want.
Consultants work on complex issues, and they should be problem-solvers with the ability of laser-focus to locate where your biggest tech problems are, the knowledge and foresight to future-proof your tech stack, and the experience to do it with low costs and without re-doing your whole infrastructure.
And in IT, this can be particularly hard to do. For an inexperienced consultant, it will often look much easier to change the whole system (for example, the content management system of a medium-traffic size blog), than to locate and fix a bug without messing everything up.
But a great consultant will know exactly how to troubleshoot without damaging the system, how to do it securely, and ultimately how to fix the seemingly “little thing” that’s causing all the problems.
Consulting fees usually have a higher profit margin than software developers hired, for example, to build a specific feature. They also operate on an hourly rate or a daily rate more often than not, but some prefer fixed fees or project fees.
How do you know if a consultant is good if you yourself barely have any technical knowledge?
You can’t rely on much more than opinions and reviews. Great consultants will make it easy for you to verify their skills by providing a reference contact that you can ask for, having a great website with a valid portfolio, having a rich LinkedIn profile, and basically ticking all the boxes of a great, professional online presence.
If possible, try to find developers within your network. The farther you reach beyond your own network, the more work you’ll have to do to verify the consultant’s expertise. Avoid hiring an entry-level consultant, and try a consulting firm or a consulting business if you don’t want to spend time verifying freelancer consultant skills. But if you decide to hire a freelancer, refer to reliable sources, for example, explore how Toptal works.
We won’t cover the financial costs of hiring IT consultants. Just like with any specialization in the IT world, it depends on way too many factors to be able to give you one average estimate that would fit the whole globalized IT industry. For example, hiring offshore developers can save budget but would require a good understanding of remote work principles.
But I’ll tell you what it can depend on:
Many organizations prefer to keep all of their technology to themselves. This results in a culture of hiring people for the sake of having them in the office, and not working on other projects.
Certain things can slip through the cracks, and a consultant who isn’t careful might just tell your competitors the secrets of your commercial success.
But this doesn’t have to be an issue and doesn’t ever need to turn into a cost. Just remember to sign a non-disclosure agreement!
Working with an independent consultant from outside your team has the benefit of adding a valid outside perspective to your discussion. This can be priceless, especially if your team is stuck in a rut and there seems to be nothing that can be seriously improved.
Ultimately the biggest cost can be that you overpay for the consultant’s services. Make sure that you prepare yourself by learning as much as you can about the topic, especially if you’re a business person without technical experts on your team.
…but hiring the wrong one can destroy your budget. Before you hire anyone, go around and ask your technologically skilled friends about what you should do, and what kind of person you should hire. Do some googling, ask different consultants for price / rate estimates, and don’t rush your decision.
No obligation to hire. No commitment from you.
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