Highlights from our 'working with consultants' live chat

Yesterday we hosted a really informative live chat about working with consultants.

We heard first-hand from consultants about why their work is important and how it can help with your HLF application or project delivery, how to go about employing them and who much it costs, and importantly, how to get the most out of the relationship.

We’ve rounded up some of the key highlights and comments from the chat, below:

Why employ a consultant?

  • Expertise: you’ll get access to the consultant’s wide range of experience.
  • External input can make for a clearer vision and highlight potential issues you haven’t noticed.
  • Constructive, unbiased feedback and advice.
  • In-depth knowledge of what HLF requires from an application and the best way to achieve it.
  • Speed and focus: the consultant won’t be distracted by other day-to-day activities and tasks related to the project.
  • “Appointing a consultant will enable you to buy in specific skills that you and your team do not have.”

What should you put in your brief?

  1. Background to your organisation or group.
  2. Description of the project and what you want to achieve.
  3. Extract of the HLF application (if you are at that stage).
  4. What you want the commission to achieve (but not exactly how you want it to be achieved, the consultant should be best placed to work out the most efficient methodology).
  5. Timetable for assessment and delivery, including potential interview dates.
  6. The criteria you will assess the proposals against.
  7. The information you would like the applicant to include in a proposal.
  8. Your budget.
  • See also: 'Working with Consultants' PDF, pg13: http://www.powertochange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Working_with_Consultants_Merged_FINAL.pdf
  • “Include concrete outcomes so you can measure success, eg: ‘engage and work with X number of community groups to deliver X number of sessions that meet XXX social and learning outcomes’.”
  • “If you know what your budget is, say it. The budget helps the consultant understand what level of work you are wanting from them.”
  • And remember - allow time for consultants to respond to the brief (at least 3 weeks is recommended), and allow enough time to start after awarding the work.

How much will it cost?

  • Most consultants charge by the day - start by estimating how many days you think you will need, including meetings, report writing, etc, plus travelling expenses if necessary, and then add some contingency, just in case.
  • Compare tender prices in detail, based on what you’re being offered. You shouldn't assess proposals on cost alone, as this probably won’t result in the best project. Assess quality, experience and methodology, as well.
  • You employ a consultant for their expertise: what’s the best way you can extract that expertise? Is it a training session? A collection survey? The design of a consultation process? Mentoring?
  • If you have a limited budget think about the best way of spending it: does it make sense having an external consultant to write your Activity Plan if you only have a small budget or are you better off writing and owning it yourself but getting a consultant in as a Critical Friend?
  • “Most consultants are flexible and keen to help. If you only have a small budget speak with your consultant and see how they think they can best support you. We can often offer some creative and flexible solutions!”

(Also, you can refer to this post about how much to budget for consultants and freelancers: https://www.hlf.org.uk/community/general-discussions/how-much-should-you-budget-consultants-freelancers)

Where to advertise:

  • For Activity Planners: the Group for Education in Museums (GEM) JISCmail list and Arts Jobs.
  • For archives: the Archives-NRA Jiscmail list.
  • For museums: regional federation/museum development sites such as SE museums development and the SW Fed, and https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/museumstudies/JobsDesk

Choosing the right consultant:

  • Interview the top applicants so you can assess how you might work together. They’ll want to interview you, too.
  • If you've seen a consultant's work on another project that you like, that can be a good starting point for a conversation. Personal recommendations are also really helpful.
  • “You need to feel that you can work well with them! However you don't want someone who is exactly the same as you - you need a consultant who will challenge your thinking not echo it.”

Top tips for a successful relationship with your consultant:

  • Communication: be clear about the responsibilities of both parties, schedule regular calls/meetings, and provide timely feedback.
  • Make sure the consultant has met or spoken with all the key people they’ll be working with and everyone is clear of their role.
  • Have a clear brief/contract and review it throughout the process, and make adjustments if necessary.
  • “If you've been happy with a consultant's work don't forget to send them a thank you or even a testimonial at the end of the contract to say so.”
  • “Also, don't forget to tell them if the grant application they have supported has been successful.”
  • Oh, and paying on time will make you a very popular employer!


We'd love to hear your thoughts – if you’re worked with a consultant and want to share what you learned along the way, if you’re looking to employ a consultant and have further questions, or if you are a consultant keen to work on an HLF project, please share your comments below.

Submitted by Karen Brookfield (not verified) on Tue, 05/22/2018 - 10:57


Thanks to the great heritage people on Twitter I just came across some really helpful tips on writing briefs for freelancers from Marge Ainsley (@margelicious) and Lyndsey Clark (@ltclarkuk) who have a wealth of experience as freelancers; we all need to avoid the common mistakes they highlight (watch out for No 5 'The Krypton Factor brief'.)