If you are considering pursuing certification in one of the small business contracting programs administered by the SBA, the VA or the DOT, you may also be considering whether you should utilize the services of a consultant to assist you. Using a consultant is not for everyone and we at Holomua Consulting Group (HCG) never discourage anyone from completing their own application(s). In fact, there are very good reasons why one should want to complete their own application. However, there are also very legitimate reasons for utilizing the services of a consultant.
Potential Benefits of Working With a Consultant
Detailed Knowledge of Programs. The right consultant will have in-depth knowledge of the various certification programs and will be able to utilize that knowledge/experience to advise you regarding eligibility issues and the application process. For example, working with an experienced, reputable consultant can increase the chances that your application will be successful as well as decrease the time it takes to receive a favorable decision from the certifying agency.
Future Resource. Depending on the consultant and the services they offer, they may be able to serve as a future resource with respect to ongoing compliance and/or government contracting generally. Following certification, many of our clients will retain our services to assist with the 8(a) annual review, 8(a) Joint Ventures, Change Requests, SBA Mentor-Proteges, contract administration and other issues related to government contracting. Doing so allows them to maintain compliance as well as focus on running their business.
Form Connections. Your consultant may also be able to facilitate formation of teaming relationships and/or simply make connections where they make sense. We generally get to know our clients and their businesses very well during the course of our engagement and because of that, we have made introductions between clients where the potential for them to work together existed and/or we felt it made sense (and always with the permission of each client). We are also able to make introductions for clients with respect to vendors and other resources relevant to government contracting.
Tips for Selecting the Right Consultant
Contact a Few Different Consultants. Contacting a few different consultants will help you get a sense as to whether a consultant will be a good fit for you and your business. Although a company may have a lot of experience, personalities and/or processes may not necessarily be in line with what you’re looking for or what would work best for your organization.
Do Research on the Consultant. As part of the application process, you will be providing a consultant with sensitive financial and corporate information, so you want to make sure that the consultant is trustworthy. Start with a Google search and see what information there is on the firm on the internet – are they accredited with the BBB, do they have a social media presence, etc. Oftentimes, you can gain a lot of insight just based on a firm’s website – do they have a blog and what type of content to they publish, do they list their staff and their background/qualifications, do they have testimonials, etc.
Ensure You're Able to Speak Directly With the Consultant. Always ensure that you are able to speak directly with someone from the consultant firm and/or with the individual that will actually be handling your application. Understanding that it is unlikely you will be able to meet in person (depending on geographic location of your firm and the consultant), an alternative may be to request a video conference. At HCG, we utilize GoToMeeting for all of our consultations and client meetings, and upon request, we can use the video conference feature.
Be Prepared and Ask Questions. Asking questions will allow you to get a sense as to the consultant’s level of expertise and understanding. This is also a great opportunity for you to get a sense of how the consultant approaches each engagement. For example, during our initial consultations, we at HCG take the time to understand your firm’s goals and priorities; we go through a list of questions that allow us to identify any potential issues with the application(s); we answer any questions from the potential client and any concerns they may have; and finally, we go over our processes with respect to how the working relationship would work moving forward.
Other Things to Consider
No Guarantee. By law, no consultant is able to guarantee that your application will be successful. Thus, you should be wary of anyone that attempts to provide any type of guarantee.
Be Prepared to be Turned Down. At HCG, when considering whether to proceed with a new client, we evaluate two things. First, we consider the potential client’s likelihood of success with respect to obtaining certification. There are some eligibility requirements/issues that cannot be overcome no matter how much you might you try – at HCG, we are honest and upfront regarding our assessment of any issues. To the extent there are issues we feel cannot or are unlikely to be overcome, we may decline an engagement (or we may provide suggestions for action items and ask that the potential client return after taking those actions). Second, we will consider whether a working relationship between HCG and the potential client would be a good fit. Thus, even if we find that the potential client has a high likelihood of success, if we feel that a working relationship would not be a good fit in terms of personality, timing, or other reasons, we may also decline an engagement. The bottom line is that we want a working relationship to be beneficial for both parties and consideration of these factors helps facilitate this.