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.

Business Loans In Canada: Financing Solutions Via Alternative Finance & Traditional Funding

Business loans and finance for a business just may have gotten good again? The pursuit of credit and funding of cash flow solutions for your business often seems like an eternal challenge, even in the best of times, let alone any industry or economic crisis. Let’s dig in.

Since the 2008 financial crisis there’s been a lot of change in finance options from lenders for corporate loans. Canadian business owners and financial managers have excess from everything from peer-to-peer company loans, varied alternative finance solutions, as well of course as the traditional financing offered by Canadian chartered banks.

Those online business loans referenced above are popular and arose out of the merchant cash advance programs in the United States. Loans are based on a percentage of your annual sales, typically in the 15-20% range. The loans are certainly expensive but are viewed as easy to obtain by many small businesses, including retailers who sell on a cash or credit card basis.

Depending on your firm’s circumstances and your ability to truly understand the different choices available to firms searching for SME COMMERCIAL FINANCE options. Those small to medium sized companies ( the definition of ‘ small business ‘ certainly varies as to what is small – often defined as businesses with less than 500 employees! )

How then do we create our road map for external financing techniques and solutions? A simpler way to look at it is to categorize these different financing options under:

Debt / Loans

Asset Based Financing

Alternative Hybrid type solutions

Many top experts maintain that the alternative financing solutions currently available to your firm, in fact are on par with Canadian chartered bank financing when it comes to a full spectrum of funding. The alternative lender is typically a private commercial finance company with a niche in one of the various asset finance areas

If there is one significant trend that’s ‘ sticking ‘it’s Asset Based Finance. The ability of firms to obtain funding via assets such as accounts receivable, inventory and fixed assets with no major emphasis on balance sheet structure and profits and cash flow ( those three elements drive bank financing approval in no small measure ) is the key to success in ABL ( Asset Based Lending ).

Factoring, aka ‘ Receivable Finance ‘ is the other huge driver in trade finance in Canada. In some cases, it’s the only way for firms to be able to sell and finance clients in other geographies/countries.

The rise of ‘ online finance ‘ also can’t be diminished. Whether it’s accessing ‘ crowdfunding’ or sourcing working capital term loans, the technological pace continues at what seems a feverish pace. One only has to read a business daily such as the Globe & Mail or Financial Post to understand the challenge of small business accessing business capital.

Business owners/financial mgrs often find their company at a ‘ turning point ‘ in their history – that time when financing is needed or opportunities and risks can’t be taken. While putting or getting new equity in the business is often impossible, the reality is that the majority of businesses with SME commercial finance needs aren’t, shall we say, ‘ suited’ to this type of funding and capital raising. Business loan interest rates vary with non-traditional financing but offer more flexibility and ease of access to capital.

We’re also the first to remind clients that they should not forget govt solutions in business capital. Two of the best programs are the GovernmentSmall Business Loan Canada (maximum availability = $ 1,000,000.00) as well as the SR&ED program which allows business owners to recapture R&D capital costs. Sred credits can also be financed once they are filed.

Those latter two finance alternatives are often very well suited to business start up loans. We should not forget that asset finance, often called ‘ ABL ‘ by those Bay Street guys, can even be used as a loan to buy a business.

If you’re looking to get the right balance of liquidity and risk coupled with the flexibility to grow your business seek out and speak to a trusted, credible and experienced Canadian business financing advisor with a track record of business finance success who can assist you with your funding needs.

SPDN: An Inexpensive Way To Profit When The S&P 500 Falls

Summary
SPDN is not the largest or oldest way to short the S&P 500, but it’s a solid choice.
This ETF uses a variety of financial instruments to target a return opposite that of the S&P 500 Index.
SPDN’s 0.49% Expense Ratio is nearly half that of the larger, longer-tenured -1x Inverse S&P 500 ETF.
Details aside, the potential continuation of the equity bear market makes single-inverse ETFs an investment segment investor should be familiar with.
We rate SPDN a Strong Buy because we believe the risks of a continued bear market greatly outweigh the possibility of a quick return to a bull market.
Put a gear stick into R position, (Reverse).
Birdlkportfolio

By Rob Isbitts

Summary
The S&P 500 is in a bear market, and we don’t see a quick-fix. Many investors assume the only way to navigate a potentially long-term bear market is to hide in cash, day-trade or “just hang in there” while the bear takes their retirement nest egg.

The Direxion Daily S&P 500® Bear 1X ETF (NYSEARCA:SPDN) is one of a class of single-inverse ETFs that allow investors to profit from down moves in the stock market.

SPDN is an unleveraged, liquid, low-cost way to either try to hedge an equity portfolio, profit from a decline in the S&P 500, or both. We rate it a Strong Buy, given our concern about the intermediate-term outlook for the global equity market.

Strategy
SPDN keeps it simple. If the S&P 500 goes up by X%, it should go down by X%. The opposite is also expected.

Proprietary ETF Grades
Offense/Defense: Defense

Segment: Inverse Equity

Sub-Segment: Inverse S&P 500

Correlation (vs. S&P 500): Very High (inverse)

Expected Volatility (vs. S&P 500): Similar (but opposite)

Holding Analysis
SPDN does not rely on shorting individual stocks in the S&P 500. Instead, the managers typically use a combination of futures, swaps and other derivative instruments to create a portfolio that consistently aims to deliver the opposite of what the S&P 500 does.

Strengths
SPDN is a fairly “no-frills” way to do what many investors probably wished they could do during the first 9 months of 2022 and in past bear markets: find something that goes up when the “market” goes down. After all, bonds are not the answer they used to be, commodities like gold have, shall we say, lost their luster. And moving to cash creates the issue of making two correct timing decisions, when to get in and when to get out. SPDN and its single-inverse ETF brethren offer a liquid tool to use in a variety of ways, depending on what a particular investor wants to achieve.

Weaknesses
The weakness of any inverse ETF is that it does the opposite of what the market does, when the market goes up. So, even in bear markets when the broader market trend is down, sharp bear market rallies (or any rallies for that matter) in the S&P 500 will cause SPDN to drop as much as the market goes up.

Opportunities
While inverse ETFs have a reputation in some circles as nothing more than day-trading vehicles, our own experience with them is, pardon the pun, exactly the opposite! We encourage investors to try to better-understand single inverse ETFs like SPDN. While traders tend to gravitate to leveraged inverse ETFs (which actually are day-trading tools), we believe that in an extended bear market, SPDN and its ilk could be a game-saver for many portfolios.

Threats
SPDN and most other single inverse ETFs are vulnerable to a sustained rise in the price of the index it aims to deliver the inverse of. But that threat of loss in a rising market means that when an investor considers SPDN, they should also have a game plan for how and when they will deploy this unique portfolio weapon.

Proprietary Technical Ratings
Short-Term Rating (next 3 months): Strong Buy

Long-Term Rating (next 12 months): Buy

Conclusions
ETF Quality Opinion
SPDN does what it aims to do, and has done so for over 6 years now. For a while, it was largely-ignored, given the existence of a similar ETF that has been around much longer. But the more tenured SPDN has become, the more attractive it looks as an alternative.

ETF Investment Opinion

SPDN is rated Strong Buy because the S&P 500 continues to look as vulnerable to further decline. And, while the market bottomed in mid-June, rallied, then waffled since that time, our proprietary macro market indicators all point to much greater risk of a major decline from this level than a fast return to bull market glory. Thus, SPDN is at best a way to exploit and attack the bear, and at worst a hedge on an otherwise equity-laden portfolio.