The author, from Orefield, Pa., is a veterinarian with a master of business administration degree (MBA). He is a business development manager with Cargill Animal Nutrition Consulting Services.

"I want you to consult with us, and insult us when needed!"

A new client made that statement to me many years ago. His point with the word "insult" was that he wanted me to have a critical eye and speak up when I saw management shortcomings.

How about you? What do you expect of your consultants?

Whether you pay a defined consulting fee, or purchase a product from them, you probably have several people who advise you on various aspects of your operations. Cropping, nutrition, herd health, and finances are four parts of your business where consultants are often used.

Make the most of them
To get the most from those who advise you, I suggest the following:

1. Determine your expectations and clearly communicate those expectations to each consultant. I am convinced that misunderstood expectations lie behind most failed consulting relationships (and other relationships, as well).
How often do you want them to visit?
What do you want done every visit?
What do you need done quarterly or yearly?
How much time do you want to spend with them?
What information do you want from them?
Do you expect written reports?

2. Be proactive and make sure you inform consultants of changes on the farm, ideally before they occur. I am often surprised when I visit a customer and learn that a significant forage change occurred last week. A phone call would have allowed me to adjust the ration immediately, rather than wait for my visit and risk a potential feeding problem.

3. Despite my client from years ago using the word "insult," don't be insulted when advisors point out problems. Instead, focus on understanding how the problem is impacting your business and then on how to resolve it. You may not even agree that there is a problem, but listen to their opinion, and then share your own.

Whether or not you take their advice is up to you, but don't tell them you will make a change unless you truly plan to do so. An open and honest relationship will deliver the best results.

4. Try to get all of your consultants and team members together now and then. This is the concept behind "Profit Teams." Group brainstorming will often generate creative ideas that are better than any one person can do alone. You do need someone to serve as a facilitator during these sessions to keep the group on track.

5. If you are dissatisfied with a consultant, be honest with them. Tell them specifically what they need to do differently. I never mind constructive criticism but hate losing a customer when I honestly did not know they were dissatisfied. Again, communication can solve many issues.

Consultants can help you reach your goals. Their effectiveness in helping you depends in a large way on you.

Make your expectations known, and keep them informed. Don't be offended if they suggest you need to make changes, but don't hesitate to disagree if you think they are wrong. Get them together to collaborate and brainstorm now and then, and be honest if you are not satisfied. Help them to help you!

This article appears on page 603 of the September 25, 2011 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.