You’re in a quandary. Maybe you’ve poured your heart and soul into your company with, so far, only meager return. Or your daughter has come onboard intending to own the business in a few years but already the two of you don’t see eye to eye. Maybe you feel that a lack of systems and processes is holding you back. Or you just aren’t sure what position should be filled next.

You’ve exhausted all potential solutions. You’ve read the magazines, bought the books, talked to peers. You’re stumped. This is when it may be time to bring in someone from outside.

Before you reach for the phone, ask yourself these questions:

Do you want a consultant or a coach? The difference is more than semantic. A coach asks questions and helps you find the answer within yourself while a consultant is an expert who suggests solutions and works with you to choose the best one for your company. These terms are often confused, even by practitioners, but you should ask prospective candidates as you interview them how it is they view their role. For the purposes of this column, I’ll use the terms interchangeably.

Do you want a candidate whose expertise is industry specific or issue specific? For financial problems, you might well prefer someone who knows how successful remodelers operate financially and has a clear understanding of the common financial benchmarks and preferred methods of accounting. On the other hand, if you’re having a family business problem, you would do well to choose a consultant who understands family dynamics issues in any industry. In marketing, estimating, and production, industry-specific wins. In sales, for instance, you might look for a sales specialist.

Do you want a consultant to help you think through the issues or implement the solution or both? Implementers tend to be less expensive but often come with a long-term contract. Is it worth it? Maybe. Implementation is hard work but really important work. A process laid on you without turning it into a carefully followed habit is worthless. So beware how you choose here.

What’s your budget? If the consultant/coach is local, it’s much less expensive. If he or she is from afar, you’ll need to figure their fee plus hotel, meals, and travel expenses. Fees could be all over the board and will relate to the length of the contract, but I will take a stab here. Figure $1,000 to $3,500 per day for a short strategic assessment of your company that includes agreed-upon solutions. While the fee sounds steep, don’t forget that in addition to the actual time spent at the company the coach or consultant is gathering information from you up-front, planning an efficient agenda on-site, and following up with a written report.

Do you want on-site consulting orconsultingover the phone? While consulting by telephone may sound strange, it actually works — especially for clearly defined issues. Frequency could be weekly, biweekly, or monthly and should include “homework” to be done between each call. These regular check-ins can take a problem and break it into manageable bites. They also break the fees into more manageable payments. So you might explore this avenue.

Is there any guarantee that you’ll be satisfied? Ask about this. Confident consultants with successful formats may well refund your fees if you are not satisfied at some early stage. This can make you feel more confident and reduce the risk of straining the relationship.

A last caveat: You want a consultant who will work himself out of a job, not into a job. You want someone who will teach you and your organization to be independent of them, not make you dependent on their continuing services.

Sometimes reaching into your pocket for a hired gun is ultimately what gets you to pay attention and take action. Frequently, hiring the right consultant can enable you to bypass the temptation to reinvent the wheel and save you years in developing your company.

Mark Robert Halper Photography

—Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage, a national company that gives remodelers the tools to achieve consistent profitability and success through one-on-one consulting, the Roundtables peer program, and an online learning community, Advantage Associates. 301.490.5620;;