They’re not what you’d expect.

Let’s face it: consultants get a bad rap. When I worked for Denver Public Schools, I was guilty of contributing to the negative narrative. Now that I’ve experienced both in-house leadership and project-based work, I have a broader perspective on the advantages of working with a consultant to support communications within a school district or education non-profit context.

The headline is: it’s in consultants’ best interests to serve their clients really, really well.

This is especially true for freelancers, solopreneurs and small agencies. So while it may seem costly to enhance your team’s capacity in this way, you’re actually very likely to be maximizing the value, quality and efficiency of the work you’re handing over (as long as you’ve found the right partner — more on that below). Here are five reasons why.

1. Consultants live and die by referrals, so they’re intrinsically motivated to give you their very best work.

One of the most stressful things about project-based work is that one bad review can irreparably damage your professional reputation. It’s also an incredibly strong motivator in the quest to ensure clients are happy with every single part of the experience of working with me. Smart consultants know that your satisfaction with the process of partnering, the quality of the work, and the outcomes it drives can be a deciding factor in winning the next project.

2. They also want to do great work for you because no one wants a dog project in their portfolio.

We love to showcase the brilliant, creative, strategic and impactful work we do for clients because it helps others see what’s possible with our support. So whether it’s a creative messaging concept that wins hearts and minds or a logo that leaps off the page, we’re going to deliver breathtaking work that we can brag about later.

3. We’ll be the most efficient and productive colleagues on your team, because time is the most valuable thing we have.

I started doing project-based work so that I could have more control over my schedule, and make  decisions about when I work and when I spend time with my family. That means, every day, I’m squeezing the maximum value out of every minute. Since consultants are often supporting multiple organizations and projects at the same time, they have to be similarly disciplined. You can expect meetings to be productive, deliverables to hit the mark the first time, and projects to accomplish your shared goals and objectives.

4. Similarly, when you pay for an hour, you get an hour’s worth of work.

As my good friend and colleague from Partner + Purpose noted, you’re not getting 30 minutes of actual work, interspersed between a trip to the bathroom, a hallway conversation with a colleague, a quick coffee run, checking Facebook, etc. etc. Consultants don’t have time to waste (see above), and clients catch on pretty quickly if the hours attached to a project don’t seem to align with the deliverable created.

5. In addition to the specialized expertise you’re paying for, you benefit (for free!) from our ongoing research, best-practices review and networking.

In addition to knocking it out of the park every time (see above), consultants are expected to keep up-to-date with cutting-edge research, trends, best practices from around the county and around the world, and who’s who in our sector. Of course, we do that work outside of our projects with clients. But we also bring the fresh insights that you likely don’t have as much time to cultivate to every aspect of our thinking and recommendations.

Bonus: 3 tips for finding the right consultant for your project

  1. Start by asking for referrals. No one is going to recommend a consultant with whom they had a bad experience, from process to work product to outcomes.
  2. Ask for relevant portfolio examples, not “tests.” As mentioned above, we love to show off our work, and especially when we see a potential connection between ideas and creative that we’ve generated for another client and what’s possible for your organization. It’s not OK, however, to ask a consultant to develop strategy, concepts, content, or creative as proof of performance without paying for that work.
  3. Collaborate on a scope of work. Here’s a pro tip: in order to put together a scope of work for you, a consultant really has to think through the entire project. Peeking inside that thought process gives you a glimpse of how they’d approach the work, and could be beneficial to your project whether or not you engage that specific person or firm.