Note: Provided as a service to decision-makers planning to employ the services of an external service provider as a consultant, facilitator, coach, speaker, trainer or organisational change, improvement and culture interventionists. South African spelling conventions have been used throughout.

"Consultant" in this context includes Consultants, Facilitators, Coaches, Speakers, Trainers , and Oganisational Change / Improvement / Transformation / Culture Interventionists.

It is a universal truth that you get what you pay for – but in no industry is this more true than when it comes to employing the services of a consultant, facilitator, coach, speaker or trainer. There is a reason why the cheap guys are cheap – in spite of the fact that they will often tell you that they charge less because it is their mission to “give back”, to serve the universe or to provide good value for money. Likewise, there is a reason why the top-end providers cost what they do – and generally, they make no excuse for this.

This does not go to say that all big-ticket providers are competent, or that all of them provide real value... but as a rule of thumb, fees are an indication of where your expectations should be pitched. A quick look at their track-record will separate the contenders from the rest. Here’s mine (track-record, that is).

But occasionally, everyone has an “off” day – no matter how solid their track record may be. So it’s a good idea to have your provider back up their claims with a guarantee of sorts. Here’s mine.

A Scale for Understanding Consulting and Speaking Fees

There are essentially three tiers of service providers in the consulting business – obviously fees are commensurate with these levels of proficiency:

  • The new kid on the block: Some of these newly commissioned consultants are just wannabees, and some will go on to establish themselves over the next few years. Whilst it is quite conceivable that you may buy a bargain in this category, you also run the risk of investing in a disaster. If you want to hedge your bet in favour of making a good investment, don’t buy here.
  • Emerging players: If you are able to identify a consultant in this class, cement a relationship immediately. In the long run, it will pay dividends time and time again. If your service provider functions on higher moral ground, they will always remember that your belief (and, quite frankly, your investment) in them set them on the road, which will stand you in good financial stead. I have relationships with clients who were willing to bet on me at a time when I did not yet have the credentials to merit their investment: and I continue to go to great pains to ensure that they continue to be rewarded for their early investment in our relationship.
  • Established providers: There are two sub-categories: (1) established consultants who just don’t deliver, but who get away with billing high fees because they have been around forever, and, you guessed it... (2) those who consistently add value. Your only gauge is track record – you want old references to prove that they have been good for a while, and fresh endorsements to confirm that they have not lost their touch. Find a consultant in this category with an area of expertise that matches your needs, get the references, and book the consultant. They cost, but it’s an investment worth making.

How to tell where your Potential Consultant fits in

New Kid on the Block

  • Jack-of-all-trades approach: they can speak on anything, and will try most things – even if only once. And always at your expense.
  • Fees are calculated on an ad-hoc basis.
  • They will do free sessions in exchange for the promise of possible future business.
  • Their material is mostly reworked versions of previously published concepts – they are merely information merchants.

Emerging Players

  • They have started to develop their own spin – they have translated previously published works, and have made it their own. They offer knowledge.
  • They will do discounted work with the hope of obtaining future work.
  • They have achieved success with a few clients.

Established Providers

  • They trade in wisdom: their material has matured, and they bring new insights.
  • They know what their strengths and weaknesses are. There are certain projects that they will not take – regardless of earning potential.
  • They are well-connected, and have the respect of their peers: they will invariably be in a position to recommend other consultants for those projects (or parts of projects) that they are not able to deliver on.
  • They have a well-constructed fee structure – there is no thumb-sucking.
  • They do not discount their fees.
  • They have a solid track record.

Very Rough Guide to Fees

Employing a good consultant, facilitator or speaker is never a cheap affair – as I have said time and time again... there are no bargains to be had in this business. With currency exchange rates always fluctuating, there is no point trying to give an indication of what a top consultant from the UK will cost to work for a company in say, Africa, and so on. But as a very rough guide the cost difference between the bottom and the top is as follows:

New Kid on the Block

  • South Africa: R3 500 for a keynote presentation to R5 000 per day
  • Australia: AU $1 500 / keynote presentation to $3 000 per day
  • UK: £1 500 / keynote presentation to £3 000 per day
  • USA: US $2 000 / keynote presentation to $3 000 per day
  • Rest of the world: €2 000 / keynote presentation to €3 000 per day

Established Providers

  • South Africa: R20 000 for a keynote presentation to R40 000 per day
  • Australia: AU $7 500 / keynote presentation to $12 000 per day
  • UK: £6 500 / keynote presentation to £10 000 per day
  • USA: US $15 000 / keynote presentation to $20 000 per day
  • Rest of the world: €15 000 / keynote presentation to €20 000 per day

The above is a very broad (although reasonably accurate) reflection of the costs involved when employing the services of a “career consultant” – someone who has made a life of consulting, facilitating, or speaking. Of course there are celebrities who charge as much as US $250 000-00 for a one-hour keynote presentation – or more.

On that note... beware celebrity speakers. They cost around double the rate of the career professionals described above – but do not always leave the audience with real take-home value. Of course this is a generalisation – I have heard celebrity speakers who are profound. (“celebrity” in this context refers to sporting, personal-accomplishment and media celebrities... of course the business celebrities bring value for money, even at the rates they command). Having said all off this, the sporting, personal-accomplishment and media celebrities do indeed have a distinct role, which they perform way better than the career professionals... namely that they offer exceptional corporate entertainment. But don’t expect anything to change because they enthralled your audience for a while.

Back to where we were...

What will you be billed for in addition to the fee? Hard to say... there are as many (if not more) billing structures as there are consultants. In general, you will find that they bill for time (as opposed to charging a “per head” cost per person attending a session). In addition, you will probably be faced with travel charges (which is likely to be extended to include excess baggage costs), accommodation, materials (books, workbooks, and other products and programmes), and other agreed upon expenses. Air travel will generally be in business class (this is an investment, not an expense... you want your presenter to arrive well rested and on top of their game, don’t you?), and rented cars are likely to be executive class (I insist on this class of hire – for safety, not comfort).

In addition, they may add an overnight charge in the event that they need to sleep away from home just to present a short session, or where they spend a disproportionate amount of time travelling to, say, another country just to undertake a one-hour speaking engagement. You may also face additional charges for resources, video rights and copyright transfer.

Seasoned veterans have all of this figured out, and a quick conversation will ensure that there are no hidden costs. Then get it in writing! Insist on a contract. My fees are here, and my terms are here

Why the Guys who are Big on Delivery Cost More

Good consultants who are big on delivery would more likely than not have just cause for charging the fees they do for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Their contribution has a strategic impact on the organisation. Unlike artisans, their worth is not measured simply in terms of the number of hours they work for you (in spite of fees being time-based) – the pay-off for their contribution will often be seen in immeasurable ways throughout the organisation... sometimes for years after they leave the site.
  • Most would have invested huge sums of hard cash – in addition to time and effort – in enriching their knowledge base and developing their resources. This includes ongoing self-study, formal study, and ongoing international travel to stay abreast of the latest cutting edge developments in the fields of organisational and people development.
  • Programme and system development: we consistently invest large sums of money back into the development of materials, programmes, products and systems used to impact on client organisations – and you reap this benefit when you contract an established provider.

Where Stef's Fees are Pitched

As one of the most booked consultants, facilitators and speakers in South Africa, with a global clientele, I am very well established among the upper echelons of the consulting fraternity. My fees are in line with that segment of the market, but are not pitched at the very top of the scale. In order to ensure that my fees have credibility, I do not discount my fees – but will employ whatever means I can to enhance your investment by adding whatever value I can without additional charge.

Limit of liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: While the author has used his best efforts in preparing this article, he makes no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of the article and specifically disclaims and implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for particular purpose. The information, advice and strategies herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a professional where appropriate. The author shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. E&OE