Get the most out of business consultants

There are many benefits to parachuting in an external consultant, from helping your business grow, to raising funds, to helping you reach new markets or retain valuable clients. Andrew Kerry-Bedell looks at the best way to bring in a business specialist to help you with a particular discipline such as strategy, sales, marketing, branding or to raise finance.

Businesses usually bringing in specialists because they don’t have the time or suitable expertise in-house, a common issue for many small organisations. And a consultant can add value quickly, identifying barriers to business growth and enabling you to improve your customer awareness, financial stability and market competitiveness.

By hiring externally, companies can also instantly gain specific skills for certain projects, get an outsider’s perspective without an emotional investment to the business, and augment a business team to give them more resources for time-dependent tasks.

It is obviously important to understand what consultants are, what they do and how they achieve what you want from them. Think of any consultant as an expert in their field, usually focusing on a narrow set of specialties that they excel in deploying across a wide variety of market sectors. For example, A marketing consultant will be able to apply their skills to implement suitable solutions regardless of the industry or challenges faced by their client, whereas a finance consultant will be able to look at a business and map out a strategy to improve working capital and future funding.

The challenge for business owners is ensuring that they are utilising the resources of a consultant to the fullest and not putting any barriers in their way that might impede their potential success. There are four key factors to consider before investing in an external consultant.

Tell it how it is

For consultants to fully understand how your business ticks, they must have full visibility of the entire company. This includes the good and bad, financial issues, internal staff issues and everything in between. It is all too common for businesses to try to hide these negative aspects from external parties, but giving them this knowledge will help your consultants understand the landscape in which they are operating in, which will be critical for them to be successful.

Establish targets

Both parties should know what results are expected and being evaluated and nothing should be taken for granted. This discussion should be had before a plan of action is created, and ideally in advance of any longer term support contracts being signed. Without a joint understanding of the metrics used to measure expected success, one party may be under the impression that a project is going well, while the other might be woefully disappointed.

Discuss non-disclosure and intellectual property

It is a good idea to discuss what information is confidential within any documents or collateral shared, as well as who owns the intellectual property rights for any content created. Having this agreement at the beginning of the relationship avoids future misunderstandings. If in doubt, make sure you both sign a suitable contract and mutually acceptable Non Disclosure Agreement.

Explore challenges rather than setting objectives

Consultants are specialists who, by nature, will seek the best solution to the challenge laid out in front of them. By outlining the challenges faced by the business, the consultant can explore the causes and outline the best solutions, enabling the business to set objectives alongside any relevant staff of stakeholders. In the field of marketing, this could be a business hiring a consultant to improve the customer awareness, benefits and competitiveness of a product or service, rather than exploring the challenge of driving more traffic to the website, or taking a step back further to attract more sales leads.


By giving external consultants the ability to fully deploy their skills against a challenge, instead of assuming a solution and finding someone to deploy it, creative solutions can be found and companies can get a valuable new viewpoint on the obstacles they are facing, as well as the best options to solve them, helping to aid future growth.

UK SMB growth potential

GET Consultants looks at why the manufacturing and technical sectors in the UK have capacity for growth, and what these business types can do to offset any risks to their future survival. He also looks at how we might rebalance the economy to unlock the potential of some of the fastest growing smaller companies in the UK.

The 2016 Coast to Capital report identified that there are specific barriers that are concerning for the scale-up and growth of UK medium sized businesses in two key sectors.

The reasons for business growth limitations fall into the three ‘C’s

  • Customers – both online and offline sales and marketing to create and retain local UK and overseas buyers
  • Capacity – capability to grow including staff, factories, office space, warehousing and overseas premises
  • Cash – easy access to finance at affordable interest rates to ensure growth when it is required

Creative and technical sector

Growth potential is around products, particularly technical innovation, ‘big data’, and increased interconnectivity that can create new products and services, both to consumers and in the supply chain. The second key area for growth is skills where increasing technology and creative expertise in technical and managerial positions are required, and they are increasingly merging. These skills are needed to drive the innovations that will create future new opportunities, and to exploit these opportunities and, in turn, manage business operations more effectively.

Key barriers to growth:

  • Lack of revenues for re-investment for scale-up and growth
  • Lack of ‘move-on’ premises that companies can grow into
  • Excessive workloads and intense competition for staff
  • Lack of staff training in technical and managerial skills
  • Lack of business visibility or profile

Advanced manufacturing and engineering sector

Globalisation is one of the key drivers for this sector, with increasing competition from countries such as China and Brazil as they move up the value chain and more research and development is conducted internationally. It is also increasing opportunities for companies to outsource their production, which in turn is increasing demand for supply chain management skills.

There are 3,400 Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering businesses in the Coast to Capital region, accounting for 4.4% of total businesses. This sector accounts for 4.3% of employment, around 33,000 people, with 12% growth in AME businesses between 2010 and 2014, around 2% slower than in the South East.

Key barriers to growth:

  • Difficulty for companies and managers to keep track of the rapid pace of technological change
  • Issues with providing staff training, both in identifying the best type of training and the cost of undertaking it
  • Shortage of strategic and supply chain management, production / process control and quality assurance skills
  • Gaining access to overseas contacts and markets and navigating overseas environments and regulations
  • Lack of strategic management to navigate and respond to rapid change and turn threats into opportunities


Every medium sized business sector needs a strategy for growth. Both of these two critical UK business sectors have scope to survive and thrive in a global economy, but having a strategic plan to do this has become essential.

Staff skills, both recruitment and training, have become critical, especially in areas like new technology. But business strategy for growth is paramount too. A good business strategy needs to have a clear focus and need not even be that big, just have the key detail of how you are going to forge your own future in the next five years.

GET Consultants is holding a series of Scale Up Labs to help High Growth Small Businesses to transform and grow and avoid some of the pitfalls and barriers to long term and efficient growth.  Click for details

Is Britain really still great for business?

GET Consultants looks at the prospects for High Growth Small Businesses (HGSBs) and what might happen at Brexit point, barriers for growth for HGSBs, and what these businesses can do to offset risks to their future survival.

There’s a commonly held maxim that only one in five small businesses set up in Britain will survive five years, but the truth is a lot more complicated than that. It really does depend on how big you are already, what sector you’re operating in, where in the UK you are doing business and the plans you have to survive, transform and grow.

High Growth Small Businesses (HGSBs)

Octopus has produced three HGSB reports over the last few years, highlighting the importance of these businesses to the UK economy. HGSBs have more than 20% annual average growth over a three-year period and an annual turnover of between £1 million and £20 million. Whilst they make up less than 4% of the UK’s total GVA (Gross Value Added), HGSBs made a far more significant contribution, accounting for 22% of Britain’s overall growth between 2005 and 2006.

HGSB contribution to the UK economy:

  • They see value in training, with 84% funding training for at least one member of staff over the last 12 months
  • Only 1% of UK businesses, yet account for 3% of UK total jobs in 2016 (22,074 out of 5.6 million companies)
  • HGSBs created an average of just over 3,030 new jobs every week, around 20% of the jobs created in the UK
  • 74% of HGSBs surveyed feel confident in their economic prospects over the next year versus last year

What will Brexit mean for HGSBs?

There is a constant battle for a share of consumer revenue and profit from HGSB companies that deliver products and services, with the evolution of new technology changing the business landscape ever faster. Whilst business finance, trade deals, skilled labour and resources are the fighting ground of European and global politicians, they are also the lifeblood of most businesses which require access to all of these to grow and transform for future success.

The biggest challenge post Brexit is likely to be a skills shortage. Almost two thirds of HGSBs surveyed by Octopus consider finding talent and skills shortages to be an important or very important constraint on their business growth.

41% of HGSBs surveyed also consider skills shortages to be the policy area where UK Government action could make the biggest difference for their businesses. 90% of HGSBs say that they face some form of skills shortages. This is even more remarkable when placed in the context of the UK average of just 17% of companies that say they have a skills gaps or skill shortages vacancies. This means that, whatever deal the government delivers for the UK outside of the EU, sufficient skills and resources for continued growth will be paramount.

Barriers to growth – the need for change in business thinking

The 2016 Coast to Capital report, on businesses in the triangle from Chichester to Newhaven to Croydon, identified specific barriers that are concerning for the scale-up and growth of UK medium sized businesses in key sectors.

The reasons for business growth limitations fall into broad categories of three ‘C’s

  • Customers – both online and offline sales and marketing to create new local UK and overseas buyers
  • Capacity – Room to grow including factories, office space, warehousing and overseas premises
  • Cash – easy access to the type of finance at affordable interest rates to ensure growth when it is required

Based on the 2018 Octopus report one in three of HGSB companies there are also growth barriers outside of Brexit, customers, capacity and finance, issues that are specifically related to infrastructure of a range of types.

  • One in three HGSBs considers digital infrastructure to be a primary constraint on their business growth
  • 53% of HGSBs in London say poor transport links with other regions is a hindrance to their business and something that the Government could do more to alleviate.
  • 69% of HGSBs consider the UK Government’s Digital Communications infrastructure programme (as described in the Industrial Strategy Green Paper) to be “important” or “very important” to their business.


Every medium sized business needs a strategy for growth. Simply subsisting is no longer an option – just look at what is happening to the UK high street as consumers move to even more online purchasing.

Every business owner owes their staff the time and energy and focus to work out how they can best grow, thrive and survive. And that means sometimes getting out of the day-to-day office environment and regular comfort zone and confronting some of the toughest challenges that face British business – future skills, effective use of technology, new customers and finance.

GET Consultants is holding a series of Scale Up Labs to help High Growth Small Businesses to transform and grow and avoid some of the pitfalls and barriers to long term and efficient growth.  Click for details