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How to Find A Boutique Consultancy

by Lisa Duke and Darren Duke

06/03/2008

We often get questions from our clients about how to find a good consulting firm. Everyone knows the big names, but big names often come with big prices, and often the resources don’t have the deep expertise needed to justify the price. But if you don’t go with a “name” firm, how do you know if they are any good? Based on our own experience looking for resources for ourselves and for our clients, here are a few tips we’d like to pass along:

1. Ask your current providers to do it or for a referral.

Ask the resources you actually trust if they can help you out. There are many boutiques that don’t even advertise their other “specialties” due to market pressures or important partnerships. Even if they don't have the skills in house, but at least you can trust them to do what is right for your business and point you in the right direction.

2. Ask the "name" provider who their Tier 2 providers are.

It’s a dirty secret of the consulting business that often all the big firms do is assemble teams of resources who are independent contractors or work for boutique consultancies, and often they are willing to share who out of that group is reputable. If the professional services teams aren’t helpful, there is often a listing of partners on the big company’s site. However, you will still need to ask probing questions to make sure the smaller firm truly has expertise and hasn’t just registered for the partnership.

3. Google.

Yes, it seems obvious – but there is an art to Googling and evaluating the results. You want companies who are quoted on other sites as industry experts, who are partners with the big firms, and who demonstrate deep expertise on their sites. A mid-size company with a good public relations firm may get more hits, but if you don’t see a depth of knowledge on the site and in the resources they send to you, keep looking.

4. Referrals.

If you are struggling with an issue, you can be fairly certain that others in similar situations have had the same issue and have valuable experience to share. Industry conferences and meetings provide informal opportunities to connect with peers in an environment where they are willing to share, and past co-workers are often willing to pass along lessons learned with their providers.

In addition, if you have suppliers in related fields, they often have go-to partners or even in house teams. If you have questions about mobility, asking your carrier rep can be a good starting place. In fact, some carriers, such as Sprint, have in house solutions consultants who often are up to speed on out of the box solutions and reputable partners for applications and development.

5. Resumes and Interviews.

Don’t be afraid to ask to see the resume of the resource who will work on the project and to interview that person, even if it is an additional resource being added once the project is underway. This will help you get a feel for the person’s background, qualifications, and personality and ensure that they do have relevant experience and are being added to the project for valid reasons. If you are unsure of a specific potential resource skill level, ask a trusted provider (for a fee of course) to help out in the interview or testing.

Remember, the length of time a potential resource “has been doing” the task may be completely unrelated to the skill level of said resource. STS has a questionnaire we use to screen Domino developers for best practices, and often find people who have been working in the field for more than 10 years but still fail our test.

If you need resources for Lotus Domino or BlackBerry work, don’t hesitate to contact STS. We can often refer providers in areas that are complimentary to our in house resources as well.



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