There are many reasons why FQHCs hire consultants to solve an issue within the organization.
It could be to write a grant application, or to address internal issues without costing a fortune. Possibly it is because that the organization has limited resources or want an unbiased opinion. Also, many organizations want advice, guidance and expertise with a new venture.
However, how do you know which consulting firm is right for you? What should you look for when seeking expert advice?
Although the right fit is highly dependent on your goal, here are six things that can help you figure out if a consulting firm is worth working with.
Track Record of Success
You should always ask about who they have worked with and how successful the project was. Some consultants may be great at pitching you, using all the buzz words that you want to hear but have no track record of success. That is why it is important to speak about the firm’s prior experiences with an issue similar to yours or with a company of your size.
Always make sure that the firms you’re talking to can refer you to past FQHCs who can confirm a successful project. Actual client references will help you determine which consulting firm can address your issue more efficiently.
Remember, there are many firms that are now calling them FQHC Consultants but with very little actual FQHC expertise.
An Experienced Team
You can learn a lot about a consulting firm based on how they pitch you as a client. The best consulting firms care about your time, and they won’t waste it by initially presenting to you with senior members of their team but using less experienced consultants to do the actual work. Whoever presents to your organization at the beginning should also be who your team actually works with in the long run.
We have seen many so-called consultants send out people that have virtually no experience in FQHCs or in business in general. What added value could these people possibly add.
Also, make sure that the experience is actually in what you are looking for. If it is Grant Writing, then don't hire a professional writer that has never written a grant for HRSA. If it is re-engineering your organization such as patient flow, don't hire a billing company.
And do not always base your decision on price. Experience and actually making sure your project comes to a positive conclusion is the first priority.
Reasonable Cost Structure
Determining a reasonable cost requires more than simply finding the cheapest company. An inexperienced consultant who is cheaper but takes a longer time to reach your goal, or in many cases do not actually meet your goal, may be more costly than an experienced consultant who reaches your goal more quickly but with higher bill rates. Whatever level of experience your consultant has, you should keep your budget in mind when speaking with different firms.
Moreover, you want to work with a company that intends to solve your issue without dragging the contract on for too long for the purpose of keeping you as a client as long as possible. Good consulting firms will propose an end date for resolving your company’s problem that doesn’t extend indefinitely. An example is that we always give a probably end date, and bill on a project basis not hourly. We also pay for our own expenses and do not pass those on to the client.
We have seen "consultants" pass on ocean front lodging, and basically their only goal is to keep billing the health center.
Depending on the type of project your organization needs, it is not always appropriate to hire a specialist. Organizations should aim to hire a well rounded consultant who has worked in other industries besides healthcare. A generalist will be able to pull from different experiences across different industries and come up with creative solutions that your business would not have been able to come up with internally. You should seek to add extra skill and value to your team, instead of simply enhancing what your team can already provide as experts in their specific fields. This has been especially useful when we have organizations that need re-engineered. The combination of specialist and generalist has been ideal and has allowed in most cases an immediate impact for the organization.
The most effective consulting firm is able to listen to their clients and communicate in an efficient manner. Make sure that the consulting firm's team pays attention to your needs and demonstrates the ability to give an honest, unbiased opinion about the issues and how to fix them. Clear and effective communication skills are imperative to making this business relationship beneficial to your company.
We are sometimes criticized for being "too honest, but that is actually the key to adding value. We meet many times with the Board, upper management and lower level employees and we make sure that we are honest and straightforward with each group. We never tell people "what they want to hear" and yet we see other consultants do that time and time again, and we see organizations that should know better accept that time and time again.
Watch out for Conflicts of Interest
We never get paid by anyone except our client. We don't promote any service or product over another. We take a real world view of our clients and want to insure transparency. It always amazes us why an organization would for example hire a billing company to do general consulting. Obviously their priority is to get their billing software in the organization and not the best interest of the organization.
We have been contacted probably by more billing and software companies than we can remember. They want us to promote their product when we are consulting. We NEVER would do that, but MANY do. Who is to say that their product or service would benefit the organization. The only surety is that if you bought it, it would benefit the consulting company.
We find this type of relationship dishonest and hope someday will stop.
With the world of FQHC consulting growing quickly, heath centers must be able to figure out how to pick the right consulting firm for them. Whatever your goals are, you must ensure that the consultant has the background and skill necessary to help you in your endeavors and meet YOUR goals, not the consulting companies.
FQHCmd invites you to contact us to discuss your project.
About the FQHCmd Consulting Group
FQHCmd Consulting Group is a nationwide consulting group for FQHC, FQHC Look Alikes, Rural and Community Health Centers.