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For HR consultants, especially those new to being on their own, the administrative side of the business can often be the most challenging.
Unfortunately, general business administration is a necessary part of any business, and as a consultant’s practice grows, spending time on such mundane duties as scheduling appointments, scanning documents, etc., simply doesn't make sense. Following are some common administrative issues faced by HR consultants and how to successfully address them.
As any consultant—and anyone who has ever hired a consultant—knows, time is money. Every hour you can bill to a client puts extra money in your pocket. The implication, of course, is that every hour you spend engaged in general business management is an hour you aren’t billing. As Patti Johnson, CEO of PeopleResultsin Irving, Texas, notes, “As an independent consultant or as a consultant for a small boutique firm, how you spend your time is essential to your success!”
Consultants need to learn how to efficiently and effectively divide their limited time between varied tasks such as business development, marketing, client face-time and, of course, developing and advocating human resources solutions on behalf of their clients, Johnson points out.
Tip: Create Efficient Processes
There are a variety of tasks that HR consultants are likely to engage in again and again, regardless of the project, said Lynda Zugec, managing director of The Workforce Consultants in Toronto. While simple repetition will help make consultants more efficient at these tasks, taking the time to learn certain programs in-depth can help make routine work faster and higher quality. For example, spending time and effort developing an advanced knowledge of PowerPoint and Excel can really help streamline a great deal of work.
Similarly, “if you feel that you are doing things repetitively, there is likely some software that can help,” said Zugec. Project management software can help document and organize each client interaction. Tracking schedules and tasks online by way of Google Calendar will make them accessible anytime and anywhere, and mileage trackers let users record their time on the road easily.
Many of an HR consultant’s clients are interested in solving very specialized problems that their internal human resource generalists are not sufficiently experienced to address. Others, however, may be looking for someone to address a broad range of human resources needs. In either situation, an HR consultant may experience a demand for a skill he lacks or has only a marginal exposure to, but may not wish to turn away business. Having a full portfolio of abilities to offer a client will not only prevent a consultant from having to turn away business but will also help a consultant be more thorough in performing services for clients.
Most human resources professionals have spent a considerable amount of time in HR and probably have developed numerous contacts and friends throughout their careers. These connections are great resources to use when a consultant feels in over his head on a project or just needs a few pointers on an unfamiliar project. “Work an arrangement to trade with others who have skills that are valuable to you,” suggested Johnson. Creating a quid-pro-quo relationship with a fellow consultant or paying other HR professionals for occasional help is a great way to expand your consultancy’s expertise without adding numerous additional staff.
Keeping clients in the loop with a project is important for ensuring they feel well-served as well as making sure both consultant and client are on the same page in terms of goals and deliverables. However, meeting with clients to discuss documents or simply to communicate expectations and goals can take up a lot of time, particularly if there is any significant travel involved.
Tip: Online Communication
While some real, in-person face time is usually desirable and nothing currently available can take the place of an on-site visit, there are a variety of new technological applications that can substantially ease the burden and time involved in client meetings.
Zugec has found a lot of uses for Dropbox, which can be used to transfer large files and marketing materials to the commercial printer or easily share many files with groups of clients simultaneously. Zugec also recommends conferencing software such as Join.me or Skype, which allow for screen share capabilities, to be used instead of an in-person meeting to discuss documents and make changes. While certainly not the same as in-person meetings, these tools still create a more personal and communication-friendly environment than email or telephone discussions.
Even small businesses often come with a surprising amount of required documents for billing, filing taxes and paying employees, among other tedious necessaries. Handling and keeping track of all this paper work can be a daunting task for anyone, let alone someone working 40, 50, 60+ hours per week as an HR consultant. Yet, these tasks need to be completed to satisfy a host of laws and regulations.
Tip: Electronic Tools and Apps
Just as new technologies have emerged to make client interaction easier and more personal, a variety of applications and computer programs now exist to help small business owners with otherwise challenging and time-consuming administrative tasks. Tucker Robeson, CEO and co-founder of CDL Helpers, a Winona, Minn.-based company that primarily advises trucking companies about their HR concerns with drivers, says his firm uses a variety of these tech tools to help with his business. Many of the tools his company utilizes are available at little or no cost. For example, iPhone apps like DocScan allow users to scan documents directly onto their phones and save the documents as PDFs, which can be emailed. This can save a lot of time when it comes to sending contracts back and forth for review or saving business receipts for tax deductions, says Robeson. The pro version of this app is just $2.99.
Leaving the corporate world and creating a consultancy is an exciting process for HR professionals. At the same time, leaving the comfort of a large organization with numerous internal resources can be daunting. While the issues discussed above face many HR consultants, they can be overcome, allowing ample time to focus on the consulting part of the business.
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues.
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