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5 Signs You Hired the Wrong Freelance Consultant

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July 27, 2020
Reading Time:
9 minutes
Oli Sharman
London-based Copywriter who drinks too much tea. Formerly of The Economist and Bloomberg.

Hiring the right freelance management consultant can be a tricky business.

It will often take time to find an independent consultant who has all the skills and attributes you need for your project. Once they’re onboard, there’s no guarantee that you’ve got the right person. There will be times when you get it wrong. It’s important to recognize when this happens so you can take appropriate action.

Here are five key warning signs to watch out for as you start working with new consultants.


When you hire a freelance management consultant to help whip your business into shape or change direction, a lack of organization is the last thing you need from them.

The good news is that it’s easy to spot a sloppy freelance consultant early when you know what to look for.

They will arrive late at meetings, claim to rely on their brains over more formal project management, not bother taking any notes in meetings, and need constant reminders of things you’d expect them to remember.

As well as additional costs due to extended delivery timeframes, chaotic projects have a real risk of wrecking your team’s morale and take up too much of their time. Sailing without a clear route and failing to deliver on time will create internal pressure from all sides.

Keep your eyes open for consultants who are consistently stressed, annoyed, or overwhelmed. This can be a clear sign that they are not well suited to work on your project. There may be things you can do to help them perform, but you can't help unless you engage in honest conversations and raise your concerns.

There are some behaviors that you can’t help with. For example, if you hire a freelance management consultant who is consistently late to meetings and unprepared for discussions, getting them away from your projects and finding somebody else is probably going to be a sensible step to take.

The truth is, some freelance management consultants are better at selling themselves than delivering the work they promise to do for you.

Sloppy Communication

Does your freelance management consultant speak to you in direct and plain language, or do they blind you with jargon and buzzwords in an effort to deflect and impress?

Using an independent consultant with clear communication skills is key, especially when they have been hired to help guide you as your business sails in unfamiliar waters. Consultants are paid to advise and clarify. Clear communication skills are vital for freelance management consultants as a large part of their role is to inform and influence senior stakeholders who will operate across different levels of abstraction from the project.

Businesses pay independent consultants for their specialized skills and advice. When consultants are not articulate in explaining options or firm in their advice, clients are left wondering what to do next. Paying an expert to tell you what you already know without getting any actionable recommendations is often a complete waste of time for everybody involved. A consultant with good communication skills and a solid grasp of their specialty should be comfortable in identifying solutions and backing up their recommendations with solid reasons why they should be considered.

Receiving emails full of spelling errors and typos is a warning sign that you've hired the wrong freelance management consultant. Sloppy deliverables are embarrassing and can take up too much of your time to fix the mess.

When communication isn’t clear, you will quickly find yourself in too many meetings with the consultant. Meetings will be held about past meetings and about whom to invite to the next meetings in preparation for the new task force meeting. This slows everybody down and causes frustration. Be wary of too much communication. A freelance management consultant who demands your attention with excessive levels of contact can completely drain you. Constantly looking for clarification and approval is a sign that they have not listened properly and kept track of what has already been agreed upon. It can also be a sign that the consultant is not confident in making decisions about what they do.

Lack of Expertise

How can you tell if your consultant lacks the expertise you need?

The truth is, some freelance management consultants are better at selling themselves than delivering the work they promise to do for you. One of the key warning signs that you can pick up very early into a project is how much interest they show in learning about your business and the specifics of the problem you face. If a consultant arrives with a firm idea of what they’re going to do at the start, it suggests that they do not have the flexibility to adapt and tailor their work fit with your business.

freelance management consultants, 5 Signs You Hired the Wrong Freelance Consultant

Failing to ask the right questions at the start of a project suggests that the consultant has arrived with fixed skills and a fixed idea of what they are going to do. This may be fine in some situations, but even if a consultant has a very focused specialty and has been hired for a clearly defined reason, asking questions early to understand the details will show that they care about what they do and how they can tailor their work to fit with your business.

Gaps in expertise may become clear as the consultant starts to work with the broader team. This is expected, we’re all human. But when the skill gaps are significant and are in their core area of expertise alarm bells should start ringing. Listen to your team if they raise concerns and step away from consultants if they turn out to have only superficial expertise in what you need them to do.

Have you come across people who seem able to do a bit of everything? Generally, this is the last thing you need in an independent consultant. Be very cautious about working with independent experts who have the miraculous ability to gain new skills and are eager to offer unsolicited advice on topics that you haven’t hired them for. While this may well be meant as a genuine willingness to help, it could also be an attempt to shift focus away from what you need them to do.

If possible, make sure you read testimonials and get the details of the consultant's previous work. Don’t be afraid to step away from a freelance management consultant if you and your team start getting doubts about their ability.

How Much? When?

Keep a close eye on how much you are paying.

On the one hand, low prices can be very tempting as it will save you money in the short term compared to more expensive options. Low prices can also be terrifying and suggest that the consultant doesn’t know what they’re doing and are desperate to take any work that comes their way.

Once you get started with a freelance management consultant, keep a close eye on shifting project timeframes. While an element of flexibility is absolutely needed as projects get going, costs can quickly get out of control if projects are not managed well.

Review the timings of the payments that you agree to make to independent consultants. Looking for a large chunk of money before final delivery is a warning that the consultant doesn’t have confidence in their ability to give you what you want.

Not a good fit

An element of friction can be expected when bringing in external expertise, especially when they work with different stakeholders and are hired to manage significant change. However, this should not boil over into personal clashes, resentment, or cause damage to the morale of your team.

There may be cases when a consultant isn’t compatible with the culture of your business. For example, they may be overly defensive when given feedback or too direct in the feedback they give to other people.