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4 Things to Look for Before Hiring a Professional

You hiring a professional, and this is usually because you or your organisation needs some kind of professional development (PD), coaching or consulting.

If you’re employing a professional for staff PD, consider that recent Gallup data from the U.S. indicates that on average, only 32% of staff are engaged, 51% are unengaged, and 17% are actively disengaged – so it stands to reason that getting the right training professional on board is not only favourable, but essential – if your aim is to motivate and keep that 32% engaged, and bring around the other 68%.

Whether you’re hiring a professional for PD, or for a specific coaching or consulting purpose, you’ll be looking for a professional who has a broad body of knowledge, or set of IP (intellectual property). Most subject matter experts worth their salt will have a bank of digitalised IP which they may offer to their clients in blended learning options or for face to face delivery. Training organisations will offer similar options so there is literally now a myriad of options to choose from.

Add to that, that the online learning is a growing industry; in fact, according to Forbes, the global market for online learning is estimated to be worth $325 billion in 2025, up from $165 billion in 2014. It’s no surprise that there’s a mad rush to get onto this fast growing bandwagon.

Thanks to this boom in the online learning industry, there has been a proliferation of ‘experts’ lined up and ready to teach you anything from business development to basket weaving. 

So how to know who’s the real deal? What should you be looking out for before you hire a professional? Should you trust that an agency or training organisation will send you the right person? Can you trust subject matter experts who are not affiliated with a training organisation?

All very good questions.

I got burned. You don’t need to.

I’ve seen the most insane amount of lunacy when it comes to online business coaches and professional contractors, but I’ve also been bored silly in a training session with a ‘professional’ sent in from a training organisation. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences.

There really is no correlation between where a professional comes from, and how suited to you or your organisation they will be.

Let’s look at the freelance contractors to start with.

I work with consummate professionals every day, who are working for themselves and enjoying enormous success with their clients. Their skills, ‘qualifications’ and experience in the field gives them what they need to tailor programs and deliver high quality, personalised, outcomes based training that gets results, and strikes at the heart of what an organisation really needs. They get raving testimonials and enjoy referrals from old clients to prospective clients.

On the flipside, early on in my business journey I was burnt fairly badly by pseudo-professionals masquerading as ‘the real deal’. I was keen to learn as much as I could about running a business online so I found people who were ahead of me in the game and purchased access to quite a few ‘basic entrepreneurial training’, courses and groups..

These courses LOOKED amazing from the sales page, but once I was inside, they were disorganised, there weren’t really any outcomes to work towards, there were pointless worksheets (if any) and a general directive to ‘share your thoughts in the Fakebook group’ which you were lead to believe is the way you’d really learn the concepts – i.e. – from other people – not actually from the training itself or with the help of the facilitator. I rest my case.

The same polar opposites can be found when working with training organisations. 

If you don’t have any choice as to who they send out to you, you’re putting your faith in their ability to choose professionals who are not only experienced and qualified, but also available and suited to the needs of you and your organisation – can you trust they know what you need and what is in your best interests? Or are they sending you whoever they have that loosely fits the bill?

Whether they’re a freelancer or a training organisation, they’ll all have a website which is essentially a beefed up business card, constructed to convince you that they are, the real deal. 

The reality, is that a lot of what glitters in the online world, simply ain’t gold.

There are graphic artists and copywriters who can make you look like God’s gift to the entrepreneurial or corporate world if that’s the look you’re after. Photographers can snap you in your designer outfit, in your Swedish-simplicity-styled-studio-set, sipping sumptuous champagne, with the breeze lightly blowing through your perfectly coifed hair. Ready to buy from her yet? She’s hot. Sex sells. We all know this right? But do we remember as we’re getting sucked into the sales page?

Don’t get me started on flawless stock images of unscrupulously clean desks, meticulously prepared flat-lays or supermodels in Lululemon yoga outfits. Corporate organisations can source stock images that make their workplace look like something out of another world but how do you know what really goes on behind those doors? Do the images or the sales copy have anything to do with the quality that will arrive on your doorstep to deliver the training?

What you see below, are two images. One, is the reality of how I work most days, and the other, what I can make it look like in about 30 seconds. Don’t be sold on the thin veneer of supposed reality that Fakebook ads can lead you to believe.

So are you hiring a fake veneer or a professional who has the goods?

It’s hard to know sometimes.

Subject matter experts who can deliver training or coaching that will hit the mark, will have repeated long term business success – and that comes from building good relationships, providing life time value, and delivering products and services that give so much value that their clients do their marketing for them.

I’ve been in too many social media groups where pseudo-professionals spend the vast majority of their time grooming those who are new to (usually online) business, convincing them that if they’re not willing to make an investment in their business (to the tune of thousands of dollars) that they clearly have no self worth and therefore will never make it in business.

In fact, I could write about this for years but thankfully Kate Toon has saved me the bother. If you really want to know what running an online business is all about, and the bullshit tactics you can fall for and be hoodwinked into thinking are the norm, get this book immediately. Basic entrepreneurial training? This book. Buy it, read it, make it the bible by which you run your business. Giggle snorts promised, reality check guaranteed. Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur: How to succeed in business despite yourself.

Enough of that though, let’s get back to how to find the good ones. Here’s why I rarely look for glossy websites or paper qualifications when I’m hiring a professional, and exactly what I DO look for – because I’m done spending time and money on empty promises and ‘experts’ who simply aren’t coming up with the goods.

1.  Verifiable qualifications.

By qualifications I don’t necessarily mean pieces of paper, because in all honesty, they don’t mean much unless they’re backed up with good, solid, outcomes based experience and evidence. Take the university lecturer who has a PhD and 20 years experience boring the living daylights out of his students, versus the ‘self-trained’ expert with 20 years experience and 5 International awards under her belt. Who would you prefer to learn from? I know who I’d choose!

Having ‘qualifications’ means that they’re qualified to be doing what they’re doing because they’ve done it – a number of times before, and they have the evidence to prove those outcomes. They can cite clients, projects, awards and outcomes that span years, not months, and they freely give the links to websites they’ve worked on, contact details of clients who will attest to their brilliance or any other details so you can verify their stories for yourself.

2.  Dependable references.

Real references. Not designer pictures taken of ‘Mary’ next to a throw away comment, without any link to a website, company or other means of verifying whether the testimonial is actually real. Most of the experts I work with now are people who I’ve been recommended to, by friends or acquaintances I trust – because they’ve had first hand experience working with them and know they’re a match for what I need.

I don’t expect a cut (pardon the pun) on the sale my hairdresser makes because I referred someone. I rave about him because he deserves it. Go on the advice of people who are openly and freely recommending someone based on their experience of working with them, not just because they’re getting a kickback.

3.  Fair terms and conditions, and fully insured.

When experts have terms and conditions, they’re prepared. Putting down cold hard cash for solid, legally binding Terms and Conditions and being fully insured, also shows that they’re serious about their business, they’re in it for the long haul, and they’ve taken the time to create a working framework that is fair for them AND for you, the client.

Be wary of any ‘expert’ who expects you to pay up front, for months in advance, without any ability to get a refund or change the scope of the working arrangement. The provision of a product and service are very different, and those ‘coaches’ who expect up-front payment for months of ‘services’ in advance, without any avenue for a refund?

Well let’s get realistic here. What workplace in the real world would give you 6 months (or a year!) of your salary upfront? Ummm. None. Right? If you’re a professional and you take on a client, you also should be paid for the services that you render, in a timely fashion. Sure, down-payments and upfront payments for projects that have a clear outcome and timeframe are completely sensible, protect the contractor, and motivate the client to take action.

Use your initiative. If it smells like a scam and sounds like a scam there’s a fair chance the ‘professional’ in question is a sham. End of story.

If they’re publicly declaring they make $1500/hour, with little bonafide experience to show for it, there’s a fair chance they’re either delusional or have superpowers the real world has yet to encounter. #bewarned

4.  They are passionate, 100% transparent, honest and open about what they do.

What that means, is that via their website or at least over the phone, they can easily explain how to work with them, the outcomes you’ll get from working with them, and what it is exactly that they do, including their experience, background, and ‘qualifications’ including direct links to satisfied clients. They can answer your questions effortlessly and fill you with enthusiasm when you’re talking to them, instead of fillling you with fear about what might happen if you don’t work with them.

What it all boils down to?

If you’re hiring a ‘professional’, don’t just follow the ‘glitter’; do due diligence and put in the research. Hire a professional you can trust, who is open, happy to answer curly questions and is fiercely passionate about what they do. Talk to people who have worked with them before. Find out what their experience was, what outcomes they achieved while working with them and whether they thought it was value for money. The truth comes in various forms!

Ready to learn the steps behind hiring the right professionals in your business?

hiring a professional

I’ve prepared a ‘how to’ guide, that outlines how to find a range of good professionals to choose from, then all the questions you should be asking their referees, and the professionals themselves, when you’re interviewing THEM (because let’s face it, that’s what you should be doing if you’re giving a significant sum of money to a professional!). The guide goes through a comprehensive list of questions, strategies and tips that I’ve learnt from hiring the wrong professional more than once (and then a LOT of awesome ones thanks to learning from the mistakes I made!) And no, it doesn’t cost $1500.

The lesson is available here.

It’s located in the BASICS Level of the Library, in the Small Business Wisdom course:

Lesson 3: Hire the Right Professionals

If you’re already  a member of the Small Business Wisdom course, make sure you’re logged in! If you’re not, you’ll be redirected to the page where you can become a member.

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6 thoughts on “4 Things to Look for Before Hiring a Professional”

  1. Awesome post – and verification that I’m on the right track with how I’m running my business. Real, honest, result-driven, effective, genuine. Love that while we’re on the same page, I continue to learn so much from you Maria, thank you.

    Reply
    • Yep! You’re welcome Kylie 🙂 The more people who stand up against that sort of nonsense and lead from the heart, with integrity, the better! 🙂

      Reply
  2. I guess I am boring, Maria, but then anyone who has hands on experience like the professor in your example and backs it up with an extra set of hard earned credentials would not be as appealing on the internet as the flashy website owner with the 5 international awards. At least I match the 4 criterion that you suggest in your post and which frankly is an essential part of due diligence when hiring a coach, mentor or any service provider.

    In the audit world, we are restrained from calling ourselves experts – a ‘bad’ word post all the wonderful lawsuits against accounting & auditing companies, and my eyes glaze over when I hear the word and start auditing the ‘expertness’.

    As in real life, one MUST check and talk to these experts to see if they really can help us at whatever stage we are. Some of them are good but as they say, caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. I mean, would you buy a car online or would you go to a showroom and talk to someone and take the car for a test drive?

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comments Vatsala – when I referred to the boring lecturer, I was referring to that lecturer who has a PhD and all the relevant qualifications but has never actually worked in the real world of the industry he’s teaching about – i.e. – that ever so important connection between theory and real world experience. I think 9/10 times I’d prefer someone without the paper qualifications, who had been ‘qualified’ by learning and succeeding in the school of the real world – life – the exception being a surgeon of course ha ha! 🙂

      I also hear you on the word ‘expert’ – it seems everyone is an expert these days – I prefer to think of myself as a life long learner who is gaining more knowledge and experience on a daily basis!

      And yes – I’d definitely go and take the car for a drive – which is why I offer free 15 minute introductory sessions to all prospective clients – if it’s not a good fit, you’ll find out soon enough, before you’ve committed to working with them long term!

      Reply
  3. Agreed 100%
    I am resisting the urge to rant about the 24yr old who had a breakdown or a bad boss who now thinks she is qualified to be a coach or leadership advisor. 😬
    If, as a business person you have chosen the right niche or avatar then goddam it you’d better be an expert in that field. You need to have an acceptable level of qualifications, have credibility in the field, have outcomes that “prove” your effectiveness and “raving fans” who can and will testify that you are awesome. Products like books, publications and awards will help to cement your profile.
    Experts also have a growth mindset and always acknowledge their is much to learn and even they might make mistakes
    Experts are not paid by the hour but for the years of experience and hard graft that led you to being so awesome.
    All of this is leading to ….: if it has a whiff of “my shit don’t stink” then it’s probably bullshit.

    Reply
    • “Experts also have a growth mindset and always acknowledge their is much to learn and even they might make mistakes
      Experts are not paid by the hour but for the years of experience and hard graft that led you to being so awesome.”

      Certainly agree with this Jenny!

      Reply

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