Consulting

Excel Consulting Buyer’s Guide

Introduction

If you’re in the market for an Excel consultant, you may have some questions. Or you may not even know enough to have a question. This document provides information about freelance Excel consulting and what you can expect if you contract with a consultant.

How do I find an Excel consultant?

I don’t know of any list of Excel Consultants. You could certainly search the web for one, but you didn’t come to read this page for that nugget of advice. You might consider an MVP. Not all Excel consultants are MVPs and not all MVPs are consultants, but here is a list of Excel MVPs that may give you place to start.

Excel MVPs

How do I know if a consultant is qualified?

There is no certification for Office developers. A good way to get an idea is by checking out his website (but not all consultants have one). Another useful resource might be Google: Just search for his complete name and see what that gives you. Does he have a presence on the web? Can you see samples of his work? Also, check the social networking sites like Linked-in, Facebook, etc.

Should I ask for references?

It certainly can’t hurt. Just like any situation where you get references, you likely will only get the one’s the consultant has already vetted. However, if a consultant can’t come up with at least two good references, you may want to look elsewhere. Also, check for testimonials on the consultant’s website.

Should I avoid part-time consultants?

No, but you should consider the availability of the consultant. Will you require frequent meetings during your normal business hours? If so, you’ll definitely need someone who consults full time. Having said that, part-time consultants can be just as professional as their full-time colleagues. Consultants who are engineers or accountants by day can bring a wealth of experience to your project.

Is my job too small?

Maybe. Some Excel consultants do any size job from one hour to full blown systems requiring many months. Other consultants have minimums, such as four hours or one day. If your job takes less than an hour, expect to pay for a full hour (or some other minimum amount) at the consultant’s normal rate.

How much time will it take?

Be prepared for it to take longer than you think, especially if you’ve never hired an Excel consultant before. When clients consider how long a project will take, they generally only consider the core aspects of the program. To build a robust solution in Excel takes more than just a few lines of code. Besides the business logic for your application, the consultant will need to code error handling, design a user interface, and testing.

Ask the consultant for an estimate. And if you don’t have a specification, don’t be surprised if the range is quite large.

How much will it cost?

A good range is $80-$140 per hour depending on experience, specialization, etc. Also, the assignment duration can affect the hourly rate. Your consultant may well discount their rate for a longer commitment of effort. Don’t bargain shop – find the consultant that’s right for you.

What about travel costs?

Almost all Excel projects can be done remotely. If you think you need the consultant to be on-site, you probably don’t. With cheap long distance, GoToMeeting and other collaborative tools, almost no projects require a site visit.

Some consultants don’t travel at all. For those that will, you will be expected to pay travel costs, lodging, per diem and all normal travel expenses.

Should I require a fixed fee or pay by the hour?

Most consultants won’t do a fixed fee contract unless you have a pretty good specification (See the next section). Some consultants will provide a not-to-exceed budget or number of hours. Others will quote you an hourly rate and bill you for whatever it takes.

The key to managing your project cost is to communicate with your consultant about project status and estimated time left to complete. If there are certain features that aren’t essential and the project is running long, you and your consultant can work out what features to complete so the project stays within budget.

Do I need a written specification?

No. Most clients don’t have a well defined specification, written or otherwise. It is to your benefit to have thought through all of the issues so that you can use the consultant efficiently.

A good consultant will ask you questions about your project to 1) determine if the project is right for him or her and 2) to determine if Excel is the proper tool for what you want to do. During this process, the framework of a specification will start to emerge. As you and your consultant work through the project, the details will fill in. You will be forced to think about your business processes in ways that may be new to you.

Do I own the code the consultant writes?

No, unless you negotiate that in advance. If you do want the consultant to hand over the full rights of the code you will need to:

a. Agree on that with the consultant and if successful:

b. Put that in writing, signed by the consultant.

Many consultants have a storehouse of code that they will use in your project. It allows them to complete a large, complex project in a reasonable amount of time. Don’t be surprised if the price or estimated time to complete increases dramatically if the consultant is forced to write this general purpose code from scratch. Note that some consultants will not take an assignment if it requires relinquishing all rights to the code.

What is the consultant’s liability in the event his code causes damage?

As always, consult your lawyer for definitive legal advice. If the damages can be proven to have been caused on purpose, the consultant may be liable. Note that most consultants will contractually limit their liability to meet insurance company requirements.

How many status updates can I expect?

Don’t expect more than one per week. You’re probably not the only client the consultant is working on. It’s best to set some milestones up front and get updates at those milestones.

How often will I get billed?

Most consultants will bill monthly with a final bill when the project is complete.

What are common payment terms?

Most Excel freelancers are small, one-man shops. You should pay those invoices on receipt. However, consultants are smart and they know that it takes time to get paperwork through the system. No consultant should accept terms greater than 30 days.

What should I expect in terms of documentation, user help functionality, training materials, and support services?

If you need documentation, help files, training materials, or training, include that in the project’s scope before the project starts. You should not expect that they will be a part of the project by default. Writing documentation is a difficult and time consuming task. It can easily take as long as the rest of the project. If there are a limited number of users, documentation is usually a waste of your money.

You can expect that your consultant will fix bugs in the program. If the bugs are consultant’s fault, you won’t be billed for them. However, if something changed or there was an unexpected business case, you will be expected to pay for the modifications. It’s difficult for you to imagine every possible thing that could affect the program. Since the consultant doesn’t know your business as well as you, it’s impossible for him to imagine them.

Custom Excel solutions do not generally come with end user support. You can expect that the consultant will train you how to use the program. If the training will be for more people than just you, it needs to be included in the project’s scope ahead of time. Don’t expect the consultant to answer questions about usage from end users beyond delivery of the finished project. It will be your responsibility to train the end users. Of course, like anything, you can contract for that by including it in the scope.

You Didn’t Answer My Questions

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8 Comments

  1. Topher says:

    This is the coolest guide I have seen. So many people could learn from this.

    Can I use this in the new linkedin group I created? It is for consultants, programmers, and developers, to go over stuff just like this!

  2. Dick Kusleika says:

    No problem. Just include a link back to here.

  3. Paul says:

    Thank you. This is a great guide

  4. Excellent Guide!!! Based on this guide I think my hourly rate is too low :P

  5. Holly says:

    There are a number of female excel consultants. Might want to consider revamping your verbage.

  6. JVC says:

    Thank you very much for this book. I have never see this type of book in Excel Consultant. It was very interesting. I want to be a spredsheet-based application deveLopper and your guide edify me about how to process ! I just have a little question: How can a beginner Consultant on Excel do to have some good references ?

  7. Tim says:

    This is really, really helpful. Thanks a lot for putting it together.

  8. Sam Bright says:

    Brilliant guide, could I please extract a few bits for my site – of course I will include a link to the original source?

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