When You Shouldn’t Hire a Data Viz Consultant

Hiring consultants to conduct studies can be an excellent means of turning problems into gold, your problems into their gold.
– Martin Marietta

Cheeky, Martin.

But there’s some truth to that – consultants are expensive.

In 99.98% of my consulting projects, my clients get so much value that the cost is easily worth it. I change people’s worlds and it’s awesome.

But there have been a few times when I shouldn’t have been hired and didn’t know it until it was too late.

So let me pass on the three circumstances where you are better off building company culture before investing in a consultant.

1. When internal people already know how to do it

Get your face ready to cringe.

I was hired by a big, lovely non-profit to build Power BI-based reports for all of their sites nation-wide. They’d already done a ton of work to get the data in the right shape. Let us not underestimate how much work is involved in that task.

As I started working with the data to build the prototype, I ran questions by the internal data person (who had done all the hard work up to this point). She was, let’s just say, less than helpful. In fact, at one point she was straight up hostile which was my big red flag that something else was going on here.

Turns out, she’d really wanted to be the one to make the visuals. I can’t blame her – that’s definitely the fun part. She had even already mocked up some of the report. This chick was 3 steps ahead of me! Why was I even involved?

I counseled my client to let us part ways on the contract and to let their talented (if slightly disgruntled) internal people do the job they were more than prepared to do. It’s faster. It’s less expensive. It’s better for company culture.

If you really want to work with a consultant here, bring them in as a resource for internal staff, who take the lead. And support your internal staff with intense professional development that matches their ambition, like my Graph Guides program.

2. When your team doesn’t trust consultants

In some corners of corporate America, consultants have as bad a rap as lawyers. I had no idea. But I was leading a workshop once when a guy in the audience tried to dismiss what I was saying by making this joke: A consultant is someone who takes the watch off your wrist and tells you the time.

(Ok is THAT when you cringed?)

Everybody laughed. I was like “Oh, there are consultant jokes?” Sweet, naive, young Stephanie.

Thankfully I’m charming so I turned that workshop into beauty. But if your team already doesn’t trust outsiders, it doesn’t matter how charming I am, the bulk of what I have to teach won’t get picked up. That’s a culture problem that’s gotta get fixed up first.

3. When leadership or communications isn’t on board

The best workshops are when leadership, data people, and communications people are in the same room at the same time getting on the same page. Magic happens there.

It’s reallllllly tough when I only get to work with the data people. I open their eyes to new and better ways of communicating and they get so pumped up and the energy in the room is so high…. until someone pipes up with “But my boss isn’t going to let me do this. He told me he likes tables.” Ambition deflates there.

If the approval-givers aren’t in agreement that upgrades to data viz are necessary, hold off on hiring a consultant.

Should you really want to work with a consultant on data viz, bring them in for a high-level keynote or workshop with the gatekeeping bunch and get them on board the train.

These days, I’ve added checkpoints in my early getting-to-know-you calls with potential clients to surface these issues so I can learn to say “no” or “not yet.” A good consultant won’t take your money unless they think the partnership will be effective and it can only be effective if these three obstacles are cleared.