Naive, innocent start-ups can be exploited like lambs to the slaughter by so-called business consultants, warns Robert Craven.
Jack and Jill (names changed to protect the innocent) took their redundancy packages and set aside the sum of £100,000 to start their 'baby' which we'll call NewCo.
Having attended various workshops and seminars the pair felt equipped to"follow their dream". They employed the services of a marketing consultant, a market research bureau and a web designer who all made the right kind of noises and felt/claimed/projected (or rather, led the client to believe) that the project could be hugely successful and sold for several million pounds after a couple of years. (On which planet did they live?)
On launch literally nothing happened. No-one noticed the launch. No-one really visited the site and no-one bought anything. It was at this point, with £70,000 already spent with the consultants, that I was called in to try and make some sense of the mess they had got themselves into.
The stark truth was that all the service providers had seen the project as a licence to print money. No-one had spoken honestly and frankly about whether the business idea actually stacked up and no-one put their hands up to say that they thought that the clients might be wasting their money. The consultants simply took the money.
And what could Jack and Jill (novices in the field of buying consultancy services and novices at creating sustainable business models) have done differently?
They did need external, expert advice and they did need external support but our intrepid pair quite simply didn't know what they didn’t know so how were they supposed to make sense of the proposals and promises of the various consultants?
It would appear that they were stupendously unlucky in their choice of fundamentally irresponsible advisers. At the same time J and J just lapped up the overly-ambitious and totally unrealistic projections being put out.
From the consultants' points-of-view, they would all argue that they were simply following their clients' directions. However, none of the consultants had a vested interest in the success of the project. They just delivered what was asked of them. Proficient? Yes. Professional? No.
First and foremost, it is the responsibility of the professional adviser to work in the best interests, the very best interests of the client. End of. That is what you get paid for. To do anything else is unethical and immoral.
It doesn't matter what type of professional service firm you are (accountant, doctor, dentist, solicitor, architect, start-up adviser, web designer, market researcher, homeopath), your first duty is to help your clients. That is what you are trusted to do.
I am afraid J and J were shafted.
Buying in any unregulated market is incredibly risky. The consultants concerned were a disgrace to their various professions and fields. Their behaviour was unforgivable and yet they seem to have got away with it (this time!). They have lined their own pockets at the clients' expense. They have put the entire consulting/advising community to shame and damaged the prospects of their colleagues to do good work. Shame on them.
Next time J and J will be more cautious and will take references to make sure that they are working with providers who will work for them.
In the meantime, I am afraid it's 'buyer beware!'
Have you had a similar experience with consultants? Post your comments below.
Robert Craven shows managing directors and business owners how to grow their sales and profits and focuses on how to do this in recessionary times. He is a keynote speaker and the author of business best-seller 'Kick-Start Your Business' (foreword by Sir Richard Branson). His new book 'Grow Your Service Firm' is out now! He also runs The Directors' Centre, helping growing businesses to grow.