4 Tips for Managing an Outside Consultant

4 Tips for Managing an Outside Consultant
By: Cathy Siciliano, Senior Director of Marketing at Elance

More and more small businesses are hiring outside consultants to help them get their work done. In fact, new project postings on Elance, an online workplace where you can find and hire outside consultants, have increased 68% since this time last year.

But how do you hire an outside consultant, and what is the best way to manage the project to make sure you get on-time, high quality work? Read on for tips from Cathy Siciliano, senior director of marketing at Elance. Cathy regularly works with outside consultants and has successfully managed dozens of remote projects:

1. Be specific
The job description should be specific. Include the purpose of the project, information about your business, key project components, skills you are looking for, list of deliverables, and a timeline.

Not sure where to begin? Browse the thousands of projects posted on Elance to get an idea of how other businesses just like yours have written job descriptions for remote work.

2. Hire for a ‘starter’ project
I’ve heard this tip from several elancers: break your big project into small chunks and hire a consultant for just one piece. During this starter project, you can observe how the consultant communicates with you, learn about their work style, and take note of the quality of the work delivered. This will help you learn if this person is a good fit for your bigger project.

3. Define success
What is the outcome you want at the end of the project? When and how do you think you’ll get there?

Your answers to these questions are your definition of success, so share them with the person you hire. This will help set expectations for both of you, and open up communication about how you will work together.

Sure, sounds good, but how do you actually do this?

Let’s say you want to hire a PHP programmer to build a website for your business. Maybe you would define success as a fully functional, live website that your customers can interact with. This is your final deliverable. The way you get to the final deliverable – each individual step – is a key project milestone.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
Generally, a consultant works outside of your office, so you won’t be able to casually check in or catch up with them in the hallway. To keep the project moving forward, schedule weekly checkpoints, in addition to the checkpoints on key deliverables.

Following these four steps will get you on your way to managing a successful project that adds value to your business.



Great post! As an outside consultant for about 8 years, I wholeheartedly agree with your points. I’ve often had to build virtual teams, so I’ve lived on both sides of this issue. One of the biggest issues I see as a consultant is fuzzy expectations from the client. So your points are critical for eliminating “scope creep” and keeping a consultant productive.

To the list, I would add a detailed brief (creative, technical, marketing, etc.) with weekly milestones. This goes a long way during initial meetings with the contractor to help define project scope, success metrics and communication expectations.

Janet Meiners Thaeler

@Ghennipher – Thanks for your comment. I think I need a post on how to clarify projects. I’m especially bad at graphic design projects. It seems like if I don’t send something for the consultant to almost exactly copy, I don’t get even close to what I’m looking for.

There’s a balance between telling them what you want and encouraging them to come up with unique ideas. But how to strike that balance??


Cathy Siciliano

Hi Janet,

In my experience working with freelance graphic designers, this can happen when a designer thinks your idea or draft mock-up is actually what you want.

If you’re open to a new design (which you are), then, my recommendation is to write and share with the designer a creative brief that outlines what you want, but doesn’t show it graphically (i.e., don’t include a powerpoint mock up). This gives the designer information and direction, but doesn’t lock them into a design that they think you like.

I’ve found success by including the following elements in a creative brief:
– Key messages (prioritized)
– Creative consideration-musts (i.e., design must include your logo and use your website navigation bar, etc.)
– Other creative considerations (use photos instead of illustrations, the design should be vertical, not horizontal, it should be on a dark background because it will stand out better, etc.).


Cathy Siciliano

Janet Meiners Thaeler

Thanks for the great tips for what has been quite frustrating for me. You’ve given a helpful outline. I’d love to find a template to follow or see someone else’s.
Some designers seem to want you to tell them exactly what you want while others like to come up with more of their own ideas. I need to clearly state which I’m looking for up front. It’s probably true that you pay more for original work.
– Janet

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