Does Character Matter When Selecting Consultants?

Does Character Matter When Selecting Consultants?

By Matt McDonald
6 Min Read

There are many points of view on what makes a consultant (or an accountant, auditor or lawyer, for that matter) “right for you”, but we think many of them focus too much on technical expertise, past experience or fees.

In this article I would like to emphasise instead how important personal character is, where consultants are concerned – because, in my own experience over the past 35 or so years, I reckon I’ve seen a lot more consulting failures and professional services mistakes made because of behavioural gaps and misses:


Is your consultant honest ?

Will they encourage you to break the law – or let you walk blindly into a breach ?

Remember – every famous employer who has been found guilty of wage theft had a lawyer and an accountant….

Will they tell you what you need to hear – or what might make you “feel good”, even if it’s not ultimately in your best interests ?

We tell our clients if we think, on balance, that they are making mistakes – but we always respect their right to make those decisions.  For example, we recently advised a client to postpone launching a new sales channel because we felt that their time and money would be wasted if they didn’t first update their existing website and executive LinkedIn profiles to send a consistent message.

If they recommend other consultants, are they taking secret commissions, at your cost ?

If our clients choose to work directly with members of our Collective beyond our Advisory Services, they can be confident we never “clip their ticket”.


Is your consultant transparent ?

Do you know their effective hourly rates ?  What happens if they go over the estimated time for a project ?

We’ve seen far too many instances where clients suffer unnecessary “bill shock”, or where consultants are coy about their usual rates.  All of our fees are transparent on our website (for standard offerings) or in our proposals (when we adapt or package our services).

Do they publish their terms of business, and do those terms have reasonable termination and dispute resolution clauses ?

Our clients know exactly what their rights are from our published terms – and we’ve never had to negotiate them, probably because we think they are fair to everyone.


Is your consultant accountable ?

If their services are not fit for purpose, for whatever reason, will they explore and accept their own role in that ?  Or will they blame others – including you, the client ?

Recently I’ve seen a tax accountant with over 30 years’ experience tell a mutual client that the latter was responsible for accounts being disorganised, because that client apparently wasn’t paying enough fees – yet the tax accountant had never asked for more money, or explained the risks of under-servicing.


Is your consultant responsive ?

Do you know when they will respond to an urgent request, especially when they have other clients to service ?

Good clients understand that consultants will inevitably be busy servicing other clients, but they still need to know when they can reasonably expect a response.


Is your consultant humble ?

Do they pretend to know everything – or admit when they need to call in other experts ?

It’s one of the reasons we founded the Collective – because our Principals are very experienced, but no-one has all the answers.


Is your consultant independent ?

Will they compromise the integrity of their opinions or services, if they are worried about a potential conflict of interest, eg a preexisting personal relationship ? 

The worst accounting fraud I ever uncovered – $9m in accounting errors, hiding over $1m that had been embezzled in various ways – was missed by a well respected auditor who rationalised away his doubts by placing far too much reliance on an Executive Chairman who was a personal friend, and who had himself missed every sign that the accounts were being manipulated and money was being taken.


Finally – Does your consultant really listen to you ?

Do they take the time to hear your story, and / or run assessments over your business – or do they just “tell you”, based on lazy habits, prejudice or self-interest ?

Our clients say that we take the time to listen to and understand them – we just can’t think of any other way that works.

Our Business Health Check runs on our clients’ data and inputs – you tell us what we need to know to help you, before we give you advice.


Yes, Character Does Matter

Sadly, our research over the years has revealed that even esteemed publications like Forbes tend to downplay personal character, where consultants are concerned – but the various examples mentioned above show that clients inevitably suffer when character “goes missing”.

So how many “character boxes” do your current business consultants tick ?  If you are worried, get in touch – after all, we’ve helped lots of clients find the help they really need to make their businesses healthier, more profitable and valuable.

Matt McDonald

Matt McDonald

Matt has worked as a CFO, Acting CEO, Company Secretary and Head of Sales and HR for 30+ years.

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