7 things small businesses look for in their HR consultant

If you’re thinking of setting up on a self-employed basis as an HR consultant, either completely on your own or with an established brand, a key part of your marketing will be understanding what your potential clients are looking for. Understanding this will enable you to work out how to effectively communicate to potential clients and referrers that you can provide those things.

Of course what your potential clients are looking for will vary depending on the size of business you’re looking at, the sectors they operate in and also whether you are working in a specialist field, offering general advice, looking for interim work or managing projects.

At face2faceHR we specialise in providing HR advice and support to small businesses. We’ve been doing this for over 10 years now, and this is what we think small organisations are looking for when they choose an HR provider based on our experience:

1.  Solutions

It sounds obvious, but to a busy small business owner, the key requirement is that the employee issues they experience are solved (or better yet, prevented). As exceptionally busy business people their priority isn’t to find out information about what employment legislation or case law, or best practice has to say about a certain subject.

Their priority is to find an actual solution for, say, repeat grievances, frequent absence, substandard performance or poor retention.

2.  Empowerment not restriction

This links to the previous one. Small business owners get very frustrated if they consistently receive advice which says “you can’t” a lot, and unfortunately this is pretty common among HR providers, especially big ones. Changing your advice to offering options the business owner can choose to take to solve their particular problem, rather than telling them what they can’t do, makes a big difference to how they feel about the advice they are getting.

If they have a problem employee they need to remove from the business, they need an HR provider who will find a suitable, safe way to do that, rather than one who just says “you can’t”.

3.  Experience and qualifications

Business owners usually know little or nothing about HR, about employment law, and frequently not a lot about good people management either. They have started their business because they are good at ‘their thing’. Frequently as they find themselves bogged down in employee issues or confused by legal requirements, they feel ‘at sea’ and are looking to offload that stress of not quite knowing what they are doing.

As reducing stress is a priority, finding an HR consultant who is a safe pair of hands because he/she has managed similar situations loads of times (and successfully) previously is a priority.

Opinion is divided in the HR world as to whether qualifications as an HR professional are necessary or valuable. HR is not a regulated profession as accountancy or law is, therefore it is possible for anyone to set themselves up as an HR consultant and call themselves an expert, with no qualifications necessary.

But regardless of one’s personal view of the value of qualifications, the fact remains that, although real-life solid experience is probably more important, having that ‘badge’ of a qualification is also reassuring to small business owners and is therefore worth looking into if you want to appeal to that market.

4.  Genuine understanding of the business

Of course it’s not possible to achieve this straightaway with a new client. But small business owners love feeling that their HR consultant ‘gets it’ and understands the specific influencing factors involved in their business. It might be personalities, quirks of operational procedure, workforce profile, sector-specific requirements, or other things.

But understanding the key issues which influence decision-making and HR practices in a small business makes your advice much higher quality and more relevant and is something prized by clients.

5.  Realistic advice

Nothing worse for a time-pressured small business owner than being advised by an HR provider to conduct an elaborately long and involved procedure, or to put in place a complicated and time-consuming HR initiative which feels much more relevant to a big business with a large HR department to match.

They want realistic advice, and this makes them more likely to follow the advice than ignore it!

6.  A good personal relationship based on trust

For a small business owner, dealing with their employees is a deeply personal thing. Their relationship with their HR consultant can therefore feel much more personal than the one with other business services providers they use. For this reason, getting on well with the HR consultant and feeling tuned in to how they provide advice are perhaps more significant than for other professions. The impact of the advice an HR consultant gives can be significant when it comes to dealing with employees the business owner probably has a very personal relationship with, so that trust is crucial.

7.  Value for money

This does absolutely not mean ‘cheapest’!  In fact business owners very, very rarely base their decision about an HR consultant on money, instead prioritising the other factors above, trust probably being the number one factor.

But while saving pennies is not usually the main factor, small business owners do still want to feel they are getting good value for money, so being able to explain the value of what you do and price it fairly is crucial for any budding HR consultant looking at the SME market.

If you are toying with the idea of setting up as an HR consultant over the next few months, do get in touch.