Businesses Looking to Hire a Consultant? Know Where to Look and Who to Pick
More and more businesses are hiring consultants and contractors to fill vacant positions or to perform specific tasks within the company, and some of them are never actually present in the office but spend the majority of their time working remotely. Better Business Bureau is advising businesses that are looking to grow their workforce, whether through remote consultants or in-house contractors, to consider a few simple tips to finding the consultant who’s right for the business’s needs.
“Both in-house and remote consultants and contractors can be a great business strategy to augment permanent staff or get one-time projects completed,” said Melanie Duquesnel, CEO of the Better Business Bureau. “Technology is on our side when it comes to having consultants work remotely, but it’s important to take the time in the hiring process to ensure that you don’t waste your business’s resources on a contractor who doesn’t live up to your expectations.”
BBB suggests the following tips to help find consultants who are right for your business:
- The key to picking the right consultant is to be certain that your company needs one. Take the time to lay out the specifics of the problem you face, the exact objective you want to accomplish, and a time frame for doing so. Consider whether your immediate “problem” is a symptom of a larger issue or simply due to a lack of internal manpower. By carefully thinking things through, you may discover that you do not need an outsider to identify the true problem. Maybe one of your employees has the ability and the desire to do the job.
- Ask around. Your business network is a great place to start. Check websites like LinkedIn to find people you may know. Ask people you trust for referrals to qualified consulting firms or sole practitioners. Contact each referral with a brief letter, email or phone call describing the project, your industry conditions and your management style.
- Schedule an introductory meeting with three or more of your best prospects. This will allow you the opportunity, by asking pointed questions, to verify that the consultant has experience with the specific problem or project, and your industry.
- Check references thoroughly. Reputable consultants should be able to provide references readily, while would-be-consultants will have few, if any, to offer. Also check to see if the consultant is accredited by a national association. Some associations do extensive background checks and their members usually must be in business for at least five years. They may also hold members to professional codes of conduct.
- Get a written proposal. Reliable consultants will provide a written, detailed proposal before the contract is signed. Without specifics you could end up losing valuable time and money.
- Clearly spell out all fees. Consultants can charge a fixed fee, an hourly rate or a monthly retainer. Hourly rates could raise your costs substantially, so ask the consultant to put a ceiling on the job to cap your expenses…and make sure the consultant knows who is authorized to assign them additional tasks that are not spelled out in the contract. Also beware of the consultant who asks for all of the money up-front. Depending upon the industry, it can be customary to pay as much as one-third to one-half in advance, with the rest due on specific dates or upon completion of the project.
- Keep good records. For each consultant you hire, establish a file, which should contain the consultant’s contract, invoices, copies of 1099 forms and any other information that shows the worker is operating an independent business. This may include the consultant’s business card and stationery. This is important to establish that the consultant is not working as an employee and that you are not required to deduct payroll taxes, pay a portion of his or her Social Security, etc. This is especially important if the consultant ever works on-site at your facility.
Consultants can be a great addition to your team and can really help you when your internal resources are stretched. As Rick Blaine says at the end of “Casablanca,” this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Hire contractors as carefully and selectively as you would employees and you can write your own happy ending!
For more business tips, go to www.bbb.org and click on For Businesses.
BBB Advice for Hiring a Roofing Contractor You Can Trust
Natural disasters like tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes can bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, crises also bring out persons who choose to take advantage of the victims. Some of the most common “after-disaster” scams involve damage done to roofs.
Whether your roof got hit hard by a natural disaster or just needs to be replaced due to time, you need to take certain precautions when it comes to hiring a roofing contractor. In 2011, BBB received more than 3.3 million inquiries from consumers looking to find a roofer they could trust – making it the top inquired industry in the BBB system.
BBB offers the following tips to homeowners who suffer roof damage in the wake of a natural disaster:
Do your research. Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts if temporary roofing repairs are necessary.
Stay calm. Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be pro-active in selecting a company and not re-active to sales solicitations.
Shop around. For major repairs, take time to shop around and get 3-4 estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check out references that are at least one year-old, and verify that the contractor is required to be licensed and/or registered to do work in your area. Also, check with your local building inspector to see if a building permit is required.
Avoid high-pressure sales tactics. Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over materials from a job “down the street” or who do not have a permanent place of business. If sales people go door-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits.
Trust your gut. Be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it. While most roofing contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know to inspect your roof. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work.
Get everything in writing. Require a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. Be sure their name, address, license number and phone number are included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety, don’t sign a blank contract, and make sure you get a copy of the signed contract at the time of signature.
Clearly written proposals that are detailed and broken down into separate line items are a good sign that the contractor is being thorough and has prepared an accurate estimate. The following is a partial list of items your estimate or proposal should include:
- The type of roof covering, manufacturer and color
- Materials to be included in the work, e.g., underlayment, ice dam protection membrane
- Scope of work to be done
- Removal or replacement of existing roof
- Flashing work, e.g., existing flashings to be replaced or re-used, adding new flashing, flashing metal type
- Ventilation work, e.g., adding new vents
- Who is responsible for repairing/replacing exterior landscape or interior finishes that are damaged during the course of the work? Make sure that it contains language addressing who is responsible for any damage that occurs as a result of the work. All items of concern and work to be done should be included in the contract.
- Installation method
- Approximate starting and completion dates
- Payment procedures
- Length of warranty and what is covered, e.g., workmanship, water leakage
- Who will haul away the old roofing materials and/or project waste (e.g. extra materials, packaging, etc.)? Is there extra charge for this service?
If one estimate seems much lower than the others and it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many fly-by-night contractors’ below-cost bids seem attractive, but these contractors often are uninsured and perform substandard work or use substandard materials. Make sure to read the fine print. Some contracts use a clause where substantial cancellation fees or liquidation damages are required if the homeowner decides not to use the contractor after insurance approval of the claim. In some instances you may be required to pay the full agreed price if the homeowner cancels after the 3 day cancellation period. If an estimate or contract is confusing, ask the contractor to break it down into items/terms you can understand.
Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. BBB has BBB Business Reviews on more than 67,000 roofing contractors, and they are available for free at www.bbb.org.
Protect Your Move and Yourself During National Moving Month
May is National Moving Month and the start of the busiest time of year for changing residencies…which means unlicensed movers and dishonest scammers are waiting to take advantage consumers who aren’t careful.
In 2011, BBB received more than 1.3 million moving related inquiries and more than 9,000 complaints against movers. Complaints include lost or stolen belongings, damaged items, huge price increases over quoted estimates, late deliveries, and goods being “held hostage” for additional payment.
Tips for Picking the Right Mover:
BBB has teamed up with American Moving & Storage Association (AMSA) to offer tips on how to select the right mover and how to avoid the scams.
“Finding a mover you can trust can be easy, if you take the time to do so,” said Melanie Duquesnel, president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Michigan. “Consumers need to make sure to always check with BBB and AMSA before you find yourself paying thousands of extra dollars for damaged or lost items. BBB has more than 17,000 BBB Business Reviews on moving-related services.”
BBB and AMSA offer the following checklist for finding a trustworthy moving company:
· Research the company thoroughly. While state regulations vary, all interstate movers must, at minimum, be licensed by the federal government and are assigned a motor carrier number you can verify on FMCSA’s website,www.protectyourmove.gov.
· Get at least three written in-home estimates. Not all price-quotes online or over the phone are legitimate. Keep in mind that the lowest estimate can sometimes be an unrealistic low-ball offer, which can cost you more in the end.
· Know your rights. Research your rights as a consumer with either FMCSA for interstate moves or the state in which you reside for moves within that state. Also, enlist the help of BBB or local law enforcement if the moving company fails to live up to its promises or threatens to hold your belongings hostage. FMCSA requires interstate movers to offer arbitration to help settle disputed claims.
· Consider accepting full value protection. It may cost a few dollars more up front, but it can provide some peace of mind and eliminate headaches after your move. Purchasing full (replacement) value protection means any lost or damaged articles will be repaired or replaced, or a cash settlement will be made to repair the item or to replace it at its current market value, regardless of age. It’s important to note that the required minimum coverage of 60 cents per pound would not cover the replacement cost, for example, of a flat panel TV if damaged in transit. For your protection, a new interstate regulation effective May 15 requires the cost of full value protection to be included in the estimate you receive.