Clearly describe your project. A lack of communication is a common mistake. Be sure to provide the consultant with a clear understanding of what you want, including basic goals and objectives, any relevant timeline or schedule, what resources (staff and supplies) you can contribute to the project, and what you want the consultant to do.
Check the consultant's background. Consultants vary widely in their experience and knowledge. Ask for a resume, work history, and references (at least two). Contact the references.
Check the rate of pay. Do some research to find out the pay range for the services you need for the project. Remember that some funding agencies, such as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), have limitations on how much they will pay for consultants (generally $400 per day plus expenses).
Ask for a written proposal. You should request a detailed written proposal from no more than three consultants who make your "short list". The proposal should encompass information about what they will do, how long it will take, and how much it will cost.
Conduct a hiring interview. Based on the written proposals, interview the top candidates to determine if they will be a "good fit" for your organization.
Prepare a contractual agreement. After you have made your choice, complete a contractual agreement. Be sure that the agreement specifies the work to be done, the timeframe during which it will be accomplished, a compensation schedule, whether daily expenses are covered or not, and confirmation that any products created during the project belong to you.
Working with a Consultant
Give the consultant a thorough background to your organization. Provide any written plans, annual reports, or publicity materials, introduce the consultant to key people (director, board members, other staff, volunteers), and take consultant on a tour of your facility and its holdings.
Meet regularly during the project. Regular meetings will lessen the chances of misunderstandings and will demonstrate your continuing interest in the project work.
Involve other staff in the project. It is important to get a "buy in" from your staff about the goals and objectives of the project, especially those who need to work with the consultant or whose jobs may be impacted by the consultant's recommendations.
Prepare to implement the consultant's recommendations. If you have maintained regular contact with the consultant, the final report should not contain any surprises. Ultimately, this is what you paid for. While you may quibble about when the recommendations should be implemented or other details of the final report, ignoring the consultant's conclusions rarely makes sense.