I was having my back manipulated when, for some inexplicable reason, my thoughts turned to consultants. After all, I did have a column due and maybe lying on my stomach made my creative juices percolate.

Definition first. What is a consultant? He's the person you look at and ask: “What time is it?” In reply, he asks to borrow your watch. He takes it, glances at the time, returns your watch and, finally, he tells you the time. When you get to the office, he's already sent you a PDF invoice charging you some outrageous rate.

Chuckle, chuckle, that's a consultant joke. But some people look at consultants with questioning dismay. And that feeling probably intensifies when the invoice arrives. Two major reasons contribute to the weary acceptance of hiring consultants. First, you're implicitly admitting they know or do something better than you. It's particularly galling when they offer suggestions about your business or industry. The other reason is that often, especially in retrospect, the advice seems so obvious.

Does that mean you should really fire your consultants as my purposely incendiary headline suggests? No. Some of my best friends are consultants, and even I do some consulting work. But I would strongly urge you to re-examine your consultant roster and see if they are worth keeping or dismissing.

I would strenuously argue that if you DON'T have an outside person looking at your business, you are missing that fresh look that you would be incapable of getting from your staff, no matter how smart and motivated they are. We all fall prey to a certain similarity of thinking within an organization.

My friend, Brian Kraff, is the CEO of Bethesda-MD-based Hardware Market. They specialize in creating custom websites for various industries. Because Brian and I swim in the same circles and spent some time in Atlanta recently, he asked if I would look at his company's media kit. He wanted me to assess whether his media kit would be effective. His reasoning is impeccable: I am an editor and I did write a book on PR. Frankly, his kit was excellent. I rated it an A-. I would rate most kits somewhere between a C- and C. I offered him a few minor tips that could only come from someone who has been in the editorial trenches. As savvy as his team is, and they are very smart, he was astute enough to ask someone in the know for a last look. (True confession: Because Brian is a friend, my suggestions were pro bono, though there was talk about some liquid refreshments.)

This happens all the time in my world. For years, I've maintained that EVERYONE needs an editor — including this editor. I would be appalled to send out early versions of this column without the deft hand of a hardened editor that keeps me from looking ridiculous.

And if everyone needs an editor, they also need the best consultant they can get for their business. No matter how clear-eyed and clear-thinking you think you are, every organization needs the assessment of does-not-carry-the-burden of group think, family or political considerations or future rewards.

But how do you know who's the best? I turned to some of the best consultants in our industry (and others, too) for one example. I'm purposely disguising their names so that no one can say I'm guilty of favoritism. Of course, they are well-known in our industry, so maybe a small hint is in order.

  • I drew this from a Philadelphia-based expert with solutions. He says, find a person of character and integrity who provides references to verify results and one who commits to results more than to just drawing a check and sticking to a set number of days.

  • Marked along Madison Avenue is this piece of advice: Does the consultant practice what he preaches?

  • Echoing this is a marketing guru from Down South who has more power in his marketing pack than most. “If the consultant doesn't follow his own advice, be very, very suspect. Example: Web designer approaches us for revision to our website. Says it'll help conversions, clarity. I asked for his domain name, he stumbles and gives me two of his clients. I say ‘No, I want to see YOURS.’ It looks like 12-year-olds designed it.”

  • If you're committed to contractor selling, who better than to ask this West Coast video master: Tie their pay to the results they project or at least ask for a guarantee.

There you have it. Advice from the best. Forgot. Here's your watch back.

HVACR Distribution Business welcomes letters to the editor. Please send correspondence to: Tom Pericˊ, Editor 2040 Fairfax Avenue Cherry Hill, NJ 08003 856/874-0049 or e-mail tom.peric@penton.com.