Consultants – what’s the point, what are the pitfalls?

By Gambling Insider

By Paul Sculpher, consultant, GRS Recruitment Director and regular Gambling Insider contributor.

If you’ve ever used LinkedIn, you’ll have seen the tiresome old made-up tale designed to justify the use of consultants in any field. It usually goes something like “the business owner’s machine stopped working, so he called in a specialist. The specialist looked at the machine for two minutes, then tapped it with a hammer, and it roared back into life. On seeing the bill for £200 ($279.45), the owner complained that it was only two minutes’ work. The specialist replied that it took 30 years of experience to know where to tap the machine after two minutes’ inspection, and he was owed his fee for the years, not the minutes”. I told you it was tiresome.

Leaving aside the fact that if I, speaking as a consultant in the casino industry, took that type of smug attitude with a client I’d run out of clients pretty quickly, there is of course plenty of truth in the concept. If you’re thinking about entering a new sector, or have a problem that is outside the experience of your current team, it makes perfect sense to bring in a specialist, much as you would hire a lawyer for a legal problem, or visit a doctor for a medical issue rather than bringing either function in-house.

Hiring people as employees, in the UK at least, comes with a vast amount of commitment, which doesn’t appear to be diminishing any time soon. Even short-term contracts can be troublesome, so bringing someone in on a day rate can give that flexibility you might need, and one you can cut off as soon as you have what you need. Why not have a resource that you can flex up and down in terms of hours required, to suck the knowledge out of the consultant’s head and bring your permanent team up to speed?

If you’re thinking about entering a new sector, or have a problem that is outside the experience of your current team, it makes perfect sense to bring in a specialist, much as you would hire a lawyer for a legal problem, or visit a doctor for a medical issue rather than bringing either function in-house

One of the biggest challenges is finding the right person to help you. There are a bewildering number of self-proclaimed experts in any field, and their level of expertise is very tough to compare. Many are would-be full-time employees who are currently out of work and are using consultancy as an interim job title for public consumption; just to avoid telling the world they’re looking for a job. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you might take a view on how comfortable they might be in this new way of working, and indeed what happens if they get a job offer while you still need them.

Given that they generally come with a pretty hefty price tag, and also given that using someone who doesn’t know the territory exceptionally well can set you on a very costly wrong path, selection is critical. References are obviously the best source of information, but if it’s a new field you’re entering – a pretty common reason why you might want a consultant in the first place – you might not know where to turn for those references.

There’s a new resource in the betting and gaming field to help in this area. Industry veteran Nick Harding has set up Spray Lakes Consultancy as a kind of one-stop shop related to betting and gaming consulting. Full disclosure – I’m on his books too – since it seemed too good an idea not to be a part of.

The idea is a pretty simple one: Nick has brought on board a squadron of experts in their field, divided into their respective specialisms both by sector – bingo, casino, online etc – and skill set - equipment sourcing, legal advice, marketing and so on. By using trusted people, and people about whom he has secured references and referrals, the plan is that he can provide a pool of experts to cover any support requirement from companies needing a clear-eyed view from an independent specialist.

The obvious concern is how to keep the pool of consultants up to date and best of breed, and no doubt there will be some difficult conversations to be had when it’s time to make a change; but industry experience and contacts go a long way.

One of the biggest challenges is finding the right person to help you. There are a bewildering number of self-proclaimed experts in any field, and their level of expertise is very tough to compare

I asked Nick where he sourced the experts from, given their reliability is presumably absolutely critical to his business model. He told me: “Over the years, being a busy chap (!) it was always easiest to open up the black book and point the enquirer in the right direction. Now, however, having finally hung up my corporate boots I thought I would formalise the process a little and use both my network and their referred specialists to create a resource that anyone looking for specialist help in either Europe (and shortly the US and Latin America) can tap into and find the help that they need."

In answer to my asking how the process actually works, Nick said “we just ask potential clients to work out what they need, (or if necessary call me and we discuss what they might need) and I’d then direct them to one of the team. I am very concerned about the short-term future of the gambling sector and now just might be the time to bring in an extra pair of eyes to make sure that, post-Covid, everything is being done to bring the business back in line”.

He wouldn’t be the only person concerned about the future for our industry – between responsible gambling concerns and AML issues, the future isn’t 100% plain sailing. Is it likely this service can future-proof a business? Nick added: “Obviously not, but a view from outside an existing company can refresh everyone’s thinking a little. Most challenges any company can face have been tackled somewhere before, and a view from outside, free of any kind of office politics, can be revealing."

It’s a fairly new concept – most of us as consultants are used to working as lone wolves, with our own (often mental) database of contacts. The key value from my perspective is that while I might know most of the operators currently comprising my sector of casinos, I can’t know all the potential market entrants, and they’re the people for whom I can most add value. Adding this one-stop shop makes it easier for us to reach each other, and surely that can only be a positive.

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