Consultants: Are They Really Worth the Money?

The past several years have seen a growth in outsourcing and an increase in the number of consultants of varying types. The bad economy has spurred the growth of entrepreneurship as people realize that jobs just aren’t there and start their own businesses instead. The government and many companies see outsourcing as way to reduce overhead costs and purchase services as needed.The interesting thing is that there is no certifying body or job qualification to becoming a consultant. You’re a consultant if you say you are and if someone is willing to pay you for your services.So with all the money being spent on consultants, it begs the question, “Are they really worth it?”Contractor or Consultant?An educated consumer is my best salesperson. However, many people don’t really know what they are buying when they hire a consultant. I personally make a distinction between contracting and consulting.Contracting involves the performance of a specific task and is characterized by an emphasis on deliverables and hourly rates. For example, the contractor may be asked to develop a specific plan or report or provide training. While there are exceptions, most of this type of work involves tasks that are well within the capability of the client organization. In essence, the contractor is doing work that the client could be doing but cannot do because of lack of time or resources.The problem with contracting work is that it is focused on a predetermined deliverable. Further, the deliverable can usually be developed by any competent contractor. This means that the contractor has very little latitude for creativity and hence must compete on the basis of price rather than expertise.Consulting is something quite different. As a consultant, my goal is to improve my client’s condition. My focus is not on specific deliverables but on the end result the client wants to achieve.Let me give you an example of what I mean. A client decides that his or her company needs an emergency plan and decides to hire a consultant. A contractor approaches the project by studying the requirements of the plan and estimating the hours required to produce the plan. A consultant realizes that the actual output is not the plan but increasing the company’s ability to respond to an emergency.This can be a hard sell sometimes. I once lost a potential contract because the client felt that I was asking their organization to do some work. They just wanted someone to revise a plan to meet an administrative requirement.Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not against contracting work or suggesting that it is somehow bad. I actually do a fair bit of contract work, usually as a subcontractor to a larger firm. But during these types of assignments I am just another member of a team. I am neither particularly challenged by them nor is the client getting the full value I could provide.Who’s the Expert?A common misconception is that a consultant must always be an expert in your particular field. This is certainly true in many cases. However, particularly when you’re working with contractors, the individual working with you may not have any real expert knowledge. They may indeed have a background in your particular field, such as being a retired emergency manager, but that does not necessarily translate to expert knowledge nor to any special training in consulting practices.So who is the real expert? Actually, it’s you. You’re the one with expert knowledge about your field, your organization, and your problem. A consultant brings experience cleaned from working with other clients but will never have the in-depth knowledge that you possess.The fact is many consultants, myself included, are what we call “process consultants”. Our strength is not expert knowledge in your field but the skill set that we bring to your project.What this means is that a consultant can guide you through a process that leverages your expert knowledge to help you achieve your desired outcome. We help you build on your organizational strengths to achieve the results you are seeking.If there is a need for expert knowledge in a particular area, a good consultant will be able to access a network of professionals to find the information you need, much like a general practice physician will consult specialists.Because many clients don’t understand this concept, they tend to narrow their options by only considering consultants with specific knowledge, experience, and/or certifications. There are times when this is appropriate and necessary but in many cases the demonstrated skill set a consultant brings to your project may well be more important than specific knowledge of your industry.Working with ConsultantsTrue consulting work is about relationships. What will set one consultant above another is the level of trust that the consultant engenders in the client. If you have the slightest doubt about the ethics of a consultant or his or her ability to help you achieve your desired end state, get someone else.The relationship extends to how you work together. Unlike a contractor, a consultant is your peer, not a just a hired hand. You’re paying for the consultant’s advice and counsel, so make use of it. The consultant is a guide who helps you through the process to achieve your goals but this means you have to be part of that process. If your total involvement is to review deliverables prepared by the consultant, you are not getting your money’s worth.This doesn’t mean that you can let a consultant have free rein to do as he or she pleases. It is important to agree up front on metrics for progress. These are not the same as deliverables, by the way. They can be performance milestones or comparative surveys. The important thing is that you mutually agree on how you will define the success of the project and the metrics you will use to demonstrate that success.Getting More ValueOnce you understand these facts about consultants, you can make more informed decisions and get more value for your consulting dollars.Begin by looking at your project and defining what it is you want to accomplish. Forget the deliverables for the moment. You must first understand your expected outcomes. Once you have done this you can consider whether a specific deliverable is the true measure of achieving that outcome. You can also determine whether you need a consultant or a contractor.A common mistake is to try and work out all details of the project in advance. Contractors like to see this as it provides them detailed information on which to base their proposal costs. Consultants are not hourly workers – we’re paid for our results, not our time. If you can describe your desired outcome and the value of the project to your organization, we can usually offer a creative solution that would work for you. Again, do not focus on deliverables but on what you’re trying to achieve.Consider what it is you need in a consultant. Does your project require specific in-depth knowledge of your industry or field or will general knowledge suffice? What skill set should the consultant bring to the project?As you assess candidates, don’t just look at resumes, certifications, and other projects of a similar type. Focus on whether the candidate has the skill set you want and whether or not you feel comfortable with him or her. For example, instead of asking, “Have you ever done a similar project?” ask how they would approach your project. Past performance on a previous project is not necessarily an indicator that the same techniques will work in your corporate environment.As you begin the project, establish your metrics up front. It’s amazing the number of times I have had a client look uncomfortable when I ask how they will measure whether I have been successful with their project. They’re uncomfortable because they haven’t really thought about the end result of the project.So are consultants worth the money? That ultimately depends on you. If you haven’t defined what you want out of the project, then you’re not getting the full value out of your consultant. If you don’t allow the consultant to propose creative solutions, you’re not getting full value. If you don’t trust your consultant and seek their advice, you’re wasting your money and the consultant’s time.It’s really up to you to answer the question.

S&P 500 Biotech Giant Vertex Leads 5 Stocks Showing Strength

Your stocks to watch for the week ahead are Cheniere Energy (LNG), S&P 500 biotech giant Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX), Cardinal Health (CAH), Steel Dynamics (STLD) and Genuine Parts (GPC).

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While the market remains in correction, with analysts and investors wary of an economic downturn, these five stocks are worth adding to watchlists. S&P 500 medical giants Vertex and Cardinal Health have been holding up, as health-care related plays tend to do well in down markets.

Steel Dynamics and Genuine Parts are both coming off strong earnings as both the steel and auto parts industries report optimistic outlooks. Meanwhile, Cheniere Energy saw sales boom in the second quarter as demand in Europe for natural gas continues to grow.

Major indexes have been making rally attempts with the Dow Jones and S&P 500 testing weekly support on Friday. With market uncertainty, investors should be ready for follow-through day breakouts and keep an eye on these stocks.

Cheniere Energy, Cardinal Health and VRTX stock are all on IBD Leaderboard.

Cheniere Energy Stock
LNG shares rose 1.1% to 175.79 during Friday’s market trading. On the week, the stock advanced 3.1%, not from highs, bouncing from its 21-day and 10-week lines earlier in the week.

Cheniere Energy has been consolidating since mid-September, but needs another week to forge a proper base, with a potential 182.72 buy point formed on Aug. 10.

Houston-based Cheniere Energy was IBD Stock Of The Day on Thursday, as the largest U.S. producer of liquefied natural gas eyes strong demand in Europe.

Even though natural gas prices are plunging in the U.S. and Europe, investors still see strong LNG demand for Cheniere and others.

The U.K. government confirmed last week that it is in talks for an LNG purchase agreement with a number of companies, including Cheniere.

In the first half of 2021, less than 40% of Cheniere’s cargoes of LNG landed in Europe. That jumped to more than 70% through this year’s second quarter, even as the company ramped up new export capacity. The urgency of Europe’s natural gas shortage only intensified last month. That is when an explosion disabled the Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia that had once supplied 40% of the European Union’s natural gas.

In Q2, sales increased 165% to $8 billion and LNG earned $2.90 per share, up from a net loss of $1.30 per share in Q2 2021. The company will report Q3 earnings Nov. 3, with investors seeing booming profits for the next few quarters.

Cheniere Energy has a Composite Rating of 84. It has a 98 Relative Strength Rating, an exclusive IBD Stock Checkup gauge for share price movement with a 1 to 99 score. The rating shows how a stock’s performance over the last 52 weeks holds up against all the other stocks in IBD’s database. The EPS rating is 41.

Vertex Stock
VRTX stock jumped 3.4% to 300 on Friday, rebounding from a test of its 50-day moving average. Shares climbed 2.2% for the week. Vertex stock has formed a tight flat base with an official buy point of 306.05, according to MarketSmith analysis.

The stock has remained consistent over recent weeks, while the relative strength line has trended higher. The RS line tracks a stock’s performance vs. the S&P 500 index.

Vertex Q3 earnings are on due Oct. 27. Analysts see EPS edging up 1% to $3.61 per share with sales increasing 16% to $2.2 billion, according to FactSet.

The Boston-based global biotech company dominates the cystic fibrosis treatment market. Vertex also has other products in late-stage clinical development that target sickle cell disease, Type 1 diabetes and certain genetically caused kidney diseases. That includes a gene-editing partnership with Crispr Therapeutics (CRSP).

In early August, Vertex reported better-than-expected second-quarter results and raised full-year sales targets.

S&P 500 stock Vertex ranks second in the Medical-Biomed/Biotech industry group. VRTX has a 99 Composite Rating. Its Relative Strength Rating is 94 and its EPS Rating is 99.

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Cardinal Health Stock
CAH stock advanced 3.2% to 73.03 Friday, clearing a 71.22 buy point from a shallow cup-with-handle base and hitting a record high. But volume was light on the breakout. CAH stock leapt 7.3% for the week.

Cardinal Health stock’s relative strength line has also been trending up for months.

The cup-with-handle base is part of a base-on-base pattern, forming just above a cup base cleared on Aug. 11.

Cardinal Health, based in Dublin, Ohio, offers a wide assortment of health care services and medical supplies to hospitals, labs, pharmacies and long-term care facilities. The company reports that it serves around 90% of hospitals and 60,000 pharmacies in the U.S.

S&P 500 stock Cardinal Health will report Q1 2023 earnings on Nov. 4. Analysts forecast earnings falling 26% to 96 cents per share. Sales are expected to increase 10% to $48.3 billion, according to FactSet.

Cardinal Health stock ranks first in the Medical-Wholesale Drug/Supplies industry group, ahead of McKesson (MCK), which is also showing positive action. CAH stock has a 94 Composite Rating out of 99. It has a 97 Relative Strength Rating and an EPS rating of 73.

Steel Dynamics Stock
STLD shares shot up 8.5% to 92.92 on Friday and soared 19% on the week, coming off a Steel Dynamics earnings beat Wednesday night.

Shares blasted above an 88.72 consolidation buy point Friday after clearing a trendline Thursday. STLD stock is 17% above its 50-day line, definitely extended from that key average.

Steel Dynamics’ latest consolidation could be seen as part of a larger base going back six months.

Steel Dynamics topped Q3 earnings views with EPS rising 10% to $5.46 while revenue grew 11% to $5.65 billion. The steel producer’s outlook is optimistic despite weaker flat rolled steel pricing. STLD reports its order activity and backlogs remain solid.

The Fort Wayne, Indiana-based company is among the largest producers of carbon steel products in the U.S. It engages in metal recycling operations along with steel fabrication and produces myriad steel products.

How Millett Grew Steel Dynamics From A Three Employee Business

STLD stock ranks first in the Steel-Producers industry group. STLD stock has a 96 Composite Rating out of 99. It has a 90 Relative Strength Rating, an exclusive IBD Stock Checkup gauge for share-price movement that tops at 99. The rating shows how a stock’s performance over the last 52 weeks holds up against all the other stocks in IBD’s database. The EPS rating is 98.

Genuine Parts Stock
GPC stock gained 2.8% to 162.35 Friday after the company topped earnings views with its Q3 results on Thursday. For the week GPC advanced 5.1% as the stock held its 50-day line and is in a flat base.

GPC has an official 165.09 flat-base buy point after a three-week rally, according to MarketSmith analysis.

The relative strength line for Genuine Parts stock has rallied sharply to highs over the past several months.

On Thursday, the Atlanta-based auto parts company raised its full-year guidance on growth across its automotive and industrial sales.

Genuine Parts earnings per share advanced 19% to $2.23 and revenue grew 18% to $5.675 billion in Q3. GPC’s full-year guidance is now calling for EPS of $8.05-$8.15, up from $7.80-$7.95. The company now forecasts revenue growth of 15%-16%, up from the earlier 12%-14%.

During the Covid pandemic, supply chain constraints caused a major upheaval in the auto industry, sending prices for new and used cars to record levels. This has made consumers more likely to hang on to their existing vehicles for longer, driving mileage higher and boosting demand for auto replacement parts.

Fellow auto stocks O’Reilly Auto Parts (ORLY) and AutoZone (AZO) have also rallied near buy points amid the struggling market. O’Reilly reports on Oct. 26.

IBD ranks Genuine Parts first in the Retail/Wholesale-Auto Parts industry group. GPC stock has a 96 Composite Rating. Its Relative Strength Rating is 94 and it has an EPS Rating of 89.

Vertical Vegetable Gardens Offer Health Benefits and Increased Self-Sufficiency to City Dwellers

Do you live in the city and would love to have a vegetable garden, but are constrained by a small garden space? If you really want to grow your own fresh vegetables, then there is an answer for you. You may want to plant a vertical vegetable garden right there in your small area. A vertical vegetable gardening can easily produce as much vegetables as a normal garden.Remember, you don’t need to limit yourself to only growing outdoor vertical gardens. While caring for a vegetable garden in your apartment or other confined area could be a little tricky, it’s not impossible and very rewarding. Gardening indoors will allow you to grow vegetables that aren’t found in your region’s climate, offer you better variety to choose from when planting. It has also been demonstrated that live plants can improve the air quality in small spaces. While it maybe necessary to have proper ventilation to prevent any possible odors, others felt that they can breathe better and are generally calmer because of the refreshing oxygen emitted by your plants.Vertical vegetables gardens are not a new ideal however at times they are mistaken with a living wall. Since both living walls and vertical vegetable gardens could be used for producing vegetables and fruits, living walls are more focused on beauty than production of food. This form of gardening could be done either in your apartment or in your small backyard garden.In vertical gardening you train the vegetable plants to grow upwards. They have designed specific structures that contain the entire garden within a small area. With the proper frames and cross shelving setups, you will find it’s rather simple to train your plants to grow vertically.There are ready-made vertical gardening kits you can buy that will eliminate the guess-work in constructing your setup, however if you want to you can do-it-yourself route. If you decide on a DIY method, be sure that the design structure you”re using to build your vertical vegetable garden is capable of holding the materials, soil, water, and the plants you want to grow in your garden as well as the vegetables it will produce. While you can find detail information online as to the weights of the different parts to your new garden. We have found that such ready-made kits can often save a lot of time – not only with setup, but also they prevented lost “growing” time that you may encounter with wilted plants that did not get the proper amounts of water or soil.If you decided to build an indoor vertical vegetable garden, spend some time looking for the ideal location, as your plants will need enough sunlight to thrive. If you are in the city area where large buildings block most of the natural light coming from your patio or windowsills, you will need to buy lamps that produced specific light to help in growing plants and vegetables.If you want a true organic garden, you will want to research how you can apply composting ways to the soil used in your vertical gardens. A proper drainage system is important, as well as good air circulation (whether indoors or out). NASA scientists have researched a variety of vertical gardening methods, which suggest that the supplies and processes of how to grow vegetables and herbs vertically will continue to get better with advance technology. While large grid systems and advanced hydroponic watering techniques may not offer possible solutions for your cement porch, we can use the concepts and the ideas they create and can scale them down to fit our own needs.It would be good to stick to some simple steps to make sure your success as you begin to learn how to work with your space and your climate restrictions when you grow your first garden. For starters, consider growing peas, green beans, cucumber, squash, lima plants, and tomatoes, as they are great climbing plants in nature. As you become more comfortable you can grow other types of vegetables in your vertical garden.Also, be sure you have the supplies you’ll need before planting your garden. This is important for plants that need vertical support, because seeds begin germinating almost immediately and it is best not to disturb the dirt by adding supports at a later time. Also make sure that your vertical vegetable garden is not entwined with shrubs or other plants that may divert water away from your plants or block out their sunlight. Once again, after some time, these issues may not be of a primary concern, as a beginner looking to start their first vertical garden you should keep these issues in mind.Vegetable and herb gardening has always been known to offer “green” ways to lower environmental footprint, but those opportunities has been limited by space and region. Fortunately, with the new fun trend of vertical vegetable gardening, those who live in urban area can enjoy a similar level of increased self-sufficiency as they raise their own, healthy, fresh grown vegetables.