Hiring the right consultant for a business can be a challenging process. By following a few rules, you can make the prospective consulting relationship both worthwhile and rewarding. The following rules can apply whether you are using a brokering firm or hiring a consultant directly. They are not absolute, but should go a long way to making a consulting relationship work. On any specific contract some of these rules may not fully apply and you may substitute or add rules of your own. 1. Try to find a consultant that has just finished a contract like the one you will he doing. Though nearly impossible, the ideal situation is to find a consultant that has just completed a contract doing "exactly" what you need done. This will ensure that they know how to do what's required, and they will have debugged the process on their most recent assignment. You will also have a very fresh reference. Asking very specific questions about some recent contracts can help identify a consultant's most current skills. 2. Use "word-of-mouth" to initially locate a consultant. Word of mouth is a very reliable method to locate a consultant, yet not the most productive. A personal recommendation is the best kind, but it is rare to find someone that can recommend exactly the consultant you will need. However, this is a good starting point. As you talk to consultants that have been referred, but do not meet your needs, ask them for other suggestions about consultants that might better meet your needs. 3. Make sure you get references from the consultant. Every consultant should be able to give you references for their last few activities. A consultant that refuses to provide references should be viewed with suspicion. Some consultants prefer to provide references after the initial stages of a proposal are complete, so as not to bother their clients extensively. This should be adequate as long as you get the list of references in time for you to contact them and make a decision. 4. Call the references. It is critical to check the supplied references. Ask probing questions: How did this consultant perform? Was the project finished on time? If not, why not? If there was a budget, was it met? If not, why not? Would you hire this consultant again? What did you not like about this consultant? Do you have any outstanding issues with this consultant? 5. Get a contract in writing. Make sure everything you expect from the consultant is in writing: The scope of the project. Who is responsible for what. The rates. (minimums, maximums, overtime, etc.) Does travel time get billed? Who pays taxes? Are they insured? Liability, Worker's Comp, etc. 6. Make sure there is a clear statement of work. This can be part of the written contract or an addendum to it, but it is as critical as the contract itself. This should include the details of the project as specifically as you are comfortable with stating them. Some projects are general in nature and the statement could read: "To perform general support tasks as directed by supervisor." Others can go on for pages, with detailed lists of tasks, dates and equipment specifications. 7. Make sure there is a clearly defined endpoint (and checkpoints on longer projects.) It is important that both parties are in agreement as to when the project will end and what it will take to accomplish this. 8. Do you trust the consultant? A consulting relationship is dependent on the trust you have in the consultant. If you feel uncomfortable in any way, then consider looking for another consultant. It is better to get a consultant that is a little less skilled but whom you trust implicitly than to get a technical genius that you cannot trust. Brad Miller President, BME Group, Inc.