How to Choose a Database Consultant

I recently spoke at a meeting for the Canadian Society of Association Executives on how to use my seven step process for selecting a new association management system. While discussing the seven steps, a member of the audience asked me where the step was for choosing a consultant. I demurred, thinking he was joking, but he was insistent: “No one should embark on this process without a consultant, so I need to know how I select the right consultant for this kind of project,” he said.

Fair enough. I strongly agree that any organization looking to select and implement a new association management system should engage the services of a consultant to assist them in this process. But obviously not just any consultant is appropriate for this type of engagement. Here are four things to consider when selecting a consultant:

  1. Body of work – This refers to any intellectual property the consultant has produced and would include things like books, speeches, blog posts, articles, white papers, products, etc. For example, over the past decade in consulting, I have produced over 50 articles published in nearly a dozen different publications. I have written hundreds of blog posts. And I have had a book on data management published by ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership.
  2. Content expertise – This reflects how well the consultant understands and knows about your market, in this case, the association market. This is best reflected in the body of work noted in #1 above, but can also be reflected by actual work experience. For example, prior to consulting, I worked for nearly a decade in associations a director of membership, marketing, and customer service.
  3. Record of success – How many other clients has the consultant helped in a similar capacity? Your organization shouldn’t have to pay for the consultant to learn on your project. For example, I’ve worked with dozens of associations on selecting and implementing association management software, so the record of success is evident.Incidentally, a consulting firm that has worked with dozens of associations is not the same as a given consultant working with dozens of associations. Make sure the consultant you get has actual experience, not just the firm that employs him or her.
  4. How does the consultant charge –  Hourly rates should be avoided at all costs. If a consultant charges by the hour, where is his or her incentive to complete the project in a timely fashion? And do you really want to be making an investment decision every time you need to ask a question? Value-based fees (fees based on the value the consultant brings to the project) are the only ethical method for fees.

So there are four very clear criteria for selecting a consultant. Applying these four criteria will ensure that you get a consultant who can really help your organization through this critical process.

About Wes Trochlil

For over 30 years, Wes has worked in and with dozens of associations and membership organizations throughout the US, ranging in size from zero staff (all-volunteer) to over 700. In that time Wes has provided a range of consulting services, from general consulting on data management issues to full-scale, association-wide selection and implementation of association management systems.

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