The Top Notch Consultant: 25 Critical Criteria for Hiring the Right Consultant

The top notch consultant listens well

High-performance athletes know two things; one, they cannot coach themselves and two, their performance increases with a great coach. If you have a successful business, you have likely hired a top notch business consultant at some time or have considered it. Much like the athlete, successful business people know that there are times when a fresh set of highly trained eyes and ears can increase business performance or turn around a declining one.

P5 Radio asked Dr. Stephie Althouse, Geek Guru, founder, and CEO of Top-Notch CEO, for another interview about exactly this topic.

Here is the podcast of the interview:  


If you prefer to read the interview here it is. Enjoy and Please follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook.  We love your comments and thoughts as well. THANKS!

P.S. At the bottom of this discussion, you will find a link to download the checklist: 25 Things to Consider Before Hiring a Consultant.

Robert: Hi everybody, this is Robert with P5 Marketing, and my guest today is Dr. Stephie Althouse from Top-Notch CEO. Dr. Althouse, welcome.

Dr. Stephie: Thank you.

Robert: Dr. Althouse is a frequent guest and a contributor of great bits of knowledge and information, and today, she’s going to share with us her 25 things to consider before hiring a consultant. That fits in the category of top notch consultants. Top notch consultants are people that can really make a difference in your business, and I really think we should just dive in. Twenty-five’s a big number, right, Dr. Stephie?

Dr. Stephie: Absolutely, so let’s get cracking.

Robert: What’s the first one?

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #1: Has the Right Education and Certification/s

Dr. Stephie: Well, the first one is, obviously, the person you’re hiring has to have the education and the certification to deliver what you, as the client, need. Simple.

Robert: Simple as that.

Dr. Stephie: Right.

Robert: Then number two is the experience and knowledge?

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #2: Has the Relevant Experience and Knowledge

Dr. Stephie: Right, education and certification alone, of course, don’t cut it. The consultant has to have experience and be knowledgeable in the areas that are relevant to you, and that also means this person must be able to understand and appreciate your world.

Robert: I love number three.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #3: Has the Smarts to Understand Your Business, Even If It Is Complex

Dr. Stephie: The person obviously needs to be smart. They need to understand your business, and if that’s a complex business, like the businesses we often deal with, you just have to bring your brain to the job, the top notch consultant must do that.

Robert: How about number four? I like four as well.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #4: Is Trustworthy and Offers the Opportunity to Try Him/Her Out

Dr. Stephie: Four is about being trustworthy, and really, I think it requires for the top notch consultant to offer an opportunity to get to know that person and for the client, as well as the consultant, to figure out whether the fit is right.

Robert: I think you just touched on something important. A lot of these work both ways. I mean, I think top notch consultants have to be careful that they don’t hire the wrong client. We can talk about that maybe as we go.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #5: Speaks the Right Language to Really Connect with You and Your Team

Dr. Stephie: Well, that’s very true. That leads right into five, which is the consultant needs to speak the right language to connect with you, the client, and your team. If you’re coming from a completely different place or you just speak a different language, it just won’t work no matter how good the consultant is, otherwise.

Robert: Number six, I think is very important.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #6: Asks for the Right Prerequisites

Dr. Stephie: Yeah, the top notch consultant needs to ask for the right prerequisites so that he or she can really do the work. If, for example, they need a simple business plan to really do the work or they need some materials evaluated or they need access to the right people in the company, they can’t be afraid to ask that. They need to be honest and ask for that upfront so that the client knows what they’re in for and what is expected of them.

Robert: That’s so true because often, we’re asked sometimes to bid on a proposal, yet we don’t have nearly enough information to be intelligent about what to offer, so that’s good. Number seven, listening.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #7: Listens to You!

Dr. Stephie: Well, so listening, well, well, that’s a really foundational thing, and not every consultant does that well so find out whether you feel like this person really is listening to you, and that leads into number eight, excellent communication skills. Very vital. No matter what the person is able to produce, if they can’t communicate that, then it’s no good.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #8: Has Excellent Communication Skills

Robert: Which ties to nine.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #9: Has Interpersonal Skills That Work Well With You and Your Team

Dr. Stephie: Nine is about interpersonal skills that work well with you and your team. That is also somewhat of a personal choice, so for example, if you like to work with people who have maybe a little bit of a sense of humor, then just see whether you jive with that person, so interpersonal skills, and also in conjunction with what preferences you have.

Robert: Great. Ten is a winner.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #10: Has Creative, Innovative Problem-Solving Skills

Dr. Stephie: Obviously, you want the top notch consultant to do something, and oftentimes, creative innovative problem-solving skills are essential to that, so that’s number 10.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #11: Is Open-Minded

Dr. Stephie: #11, though, is the consultant needs to be open-minded. If they come in with a very fixed view of everything already, that is of less value to you as the client.

Robert: Which explains number 12 and some of the value of even hiring a consultant.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #12: Brings Fresh Eyes

Dr. Stephie: Right, so exactly. This is one of my favorite ones. Well, they’re all really good, I think, not that I’m biased, but number 12 is by bringing fresh eyes to the job and to the client. The thing is that one of the greatest values a consultant, a top notch consultant can bring to the job is to not have set beliefs about the situation. As the client, you’re very close to yourself, to your own business, to your own team, and there are blind spots there, and those blind spots may harbor both opportunities you haven’t taken advantage of, as well as challenges that maybe you don’t know of or you haven’t known how to address. Generally, we can round up wisdom within your company that hasn’t been considered, as well as bringing in fresh perspectives, so that’s about bringing fresh eyes, and that’s very, very vital.

Robert: Perfect. Number 13 I love because, I’ll let you share it in a second, but one of the benefits you get of hiring a top notch consultant, I believe, is that they bring a toolbox with them that sort of gives you very quick bumping results sometimes, so maybe with that intro, you could share 13.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #13: Brings Tools That Have Been Proven to Yield the Results You Need

Dr. Stephie: Yeah, hopefully not just sometimes, but consistently. Number 13 is to bring tools that have been proven to yield the results you need, and proven to yield it consistently. Just like you wouldn’t hire a plumber with crappy tools in a beat-up truck, hopefull, shows up with proper tools. With a top notch consultant, it’s the same. You want to see what tools they have and that they’re proven to give great results.

Robert: Perfect, which obviously ties to 14.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #14: Has a Systematic Process that Produces Consistently Excellent Results

Dr. Stephie: Yeah, so then you want to have a systematic process. You want to see that the top notch consultant has a systematic process that produces consistently excellent results.

Robert: 15 is probably worth a star and a check mark, so.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #15: Has a System to Back up, Share and Protect All data That Pertain to You

Dr. Stephie: Yeah, I threw that in there into the list that the consultant must have a system to back up, share, and protect all data that pertain to you. Recently, I saw a marketing consultant who had actually had lost an infographics, and it was sort of hard to understand, but it produced a delay in the project. These are things that people sometimes don’t think about, but they’re very important, and how do you share information with, how does a consultant share information with the clients.

Robert: Good. 16’s a powerful one.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #16: Co-creates Plans of Actions with You and Your team – and Generates Buy-in and Implementation

Dr. Stephie: This is yes, very important. There’s a lot of consultants who come in on their big horse and say to the client after evaluating what’s going on, “Thou shall do this, this, and this,” and I think that’s not a good idea. In fact, what we do, and what we recommend you consider when you are hiring a consultant, is that the top notch consultant co-creates a plan with you. An action plan should come out of co-creation with you and your team. That generates buy-in with you so that you will feel actually inclined to implement. Otherwise, the whole exercise is pretty useless.

Robert: That’s a very good point.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #17: Sees the Big Picture

Dr. Stephie: The next one is, the top notch consultant needs to see the big picture. That means, Robert, you and I often talk about strategy, and in the big picture, it needs to be strategy-oriented while the consultant also needs to be capable of helping with tactics as well. But stay away from consultants who just embark on tactics, and don’t see the big picture, and don’t think strategically.

Robert: That is going to cost you money. That’s good advice.

Dr. Stephie: Well it’s gonna make you money, actually.

Robert: Well, yeah.

Dr. Stephie: Both. But it’s going to make you way more money than it’s gonna cost you as an investment.

Robert: Correct. 18’s a biggie.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #18: Has Integrity, Keeps promises and Is “Real”

Dr. Stephie: 18 is about integrity. Top-Notch consultants only deserve the term “top-notch” if he or she keeps the promises, and also is real. What you see is what you get, what you’re told is what happens, and make sure of course that you don’t misunderstand each other. Check the person’s testimonials, the company’s testimonials and references.

Robert: Absolutely.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #19: Is Responsive

Dr. Stephie: The next thing is to be responsive. If you’re expecting a response, you’re not getting it, you’re not gonna feel good about it, so the top notch consultant needs to be responsive.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #20: Is Punctual and Respectful of the Client’s Time (and Expects the Same in Return)

Top notch consultants also need to be punctual. That’s number 20. Respectful of the client’s time, and by the way, that goes both ways. You as the client, of course, need to return the favor.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #21: Sets Clear Expectations for Both Client and Consultant

Robert: Perfect. That gets made easier with number 21, right?

Dr. Stephie: Right. 21 is about setting clear expectations for the client and the consultant. I would say the biggest issues that show up are when that’s done wrong when the client and the consultant are not clear with each other on what exactly the expectations are. It sometimes can be tricky because sometimes, you don’t quite know what the project will really require. You have to work extra hard on making sure that you can throw your arms around it. Sometimes the solution to that is to set up the project in some phases. You can define the first phase fairly well and you can start to understand the second phase in more detail as you do the first one.

Robert: Right.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #22: Fits With Your Timetable

Dr. Stephie: The next one is very practical. The top notch consultant has to fit your timetable. It has to be clear that he or she has enough time available to serve you on the timeline that you need.

Robert: And it’s the same with the budget.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #23: Fits Your Budget – and You Need to Check that Your Expectations Fit With That Budget

Dr. Stephie: It’s the same with the budget. You need to say, “Okay, what’s my budget here,” and be realistic that your expectations fit with that budget, and that you’re not expecting to get top-notch service for next-to-nothing. That’s not gonna work.

Robert: Which then ties to 24.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #24: Is Not Desperate to Get Your Business (the Cheapest is Usually Not the Best Value)

Dr. Stephie: My advice to you, as the client, is don’t be cheap on the way to success. It’s cool to expect great value, and I think you need to. I would strongly advise against hiring a bottom-feeder, who is so desperate to get your business they’ll promise all kinds of things, and likely can’t deliver on it. The cheapest is not usually the best value. It’s actually almost never the best value. It’s not so much the cost that you should consider, but the value.

Robert: And the last one is the biggest.

Top Notch Consultant Criteria #25: Is Committed to the Client’s Success (Now and in the Longer Run)

Dr. Stephie: The last one is the absolute biggest. Do you get the feeling that the top-notch consultant’s utterly committed to you and your success? That means now and in the longer run. In preparation for this interview, I read what some other people are saying about this topic, and I came across this phrase, that consultants have not a one-night stand with their client, in terms of the project. I think top-notch consultants really care about their clients, now and in the longer run. I certainly can say that at Top-Notch CEO we do that, and all the top-notch consultants who are working with us are doing that.

Robert: That sometimes means being willing to tell a client not to work with you.

Dr. Stephie: Sure. Being a top notch consultant also means that you need to be willing to say no when you see that the fit is not right, that you’re not the right fit for that person, that you either can’t deliver what the person needs, or that the expectations aren’t matched up right, or whichever of those factors that we just went through is not sitting correctly.

These 25 things that we’ve just gone through, I think they’re critical criteria for you to consider and in fact, you suggested that we make this list available, and we will. This will be attached as a download to this blog, and you can use this as a checklist for whichever consultant you are considering to hire.

Robert: Super. I guess we’re out of time, so I’m gonna really quickly wrap up. I think it’s a great list. I think everybody should download it and keep it on their hard drive someplace. Our guest today was Dr. Stephie Althouse. Dr. Althouse is the CEO of Top-Notch CEO, and her website is You can reach her there. If you have any questions, feel free to email her or schedule a brief consultation. That’s Top-Notch, so Thank you, Dr. Althouse. It’s been another great session.

Dr. Stephie: Well, thank you. Have a top-notch day. Cheers.

Robert: Bye-bye.

Thank you for reading. I hope you found this discussion valuable. If you would like to download the checklist: 25 Things to Consider Before Hiring a Consultant, it is complimentary. Dr. Stephie

Dr. Stephie