Apricot Database Consultants, How to Select the Right One
Social Solutions Apricot™ software is a flexible and customizable database for tracking and reporting on your nonprofit’s many data sets, but it can also be complex to manage and maintain.
Whether you need support for a specific project or are looking for ongoing database administration services, sometimes it is more time and cost effective to partner with an independent Social Solutions Apricot consultant.
If you’re seeking outside support, your next step is to find a qualified consultant.
But how do you select the right Apricot software consultant for your organization?
Step one is to vet potential consulting partners and identify a consultant that will bring the right expertise and know-how to your project. You need to find someone you trust.
If you haven’t worked with an Apricot database consultant before, the task of finding the “right” partner for your project may feel uncertain and even risky.
You can mitigate the risks, define unknowns, and develop trust with potential candidates by asking prospective Apricot consultants these five questions.
1. What is your experience with this type of project?
An Apricot consultant will draw upon past experience to deliver your project, and a consultant’s expertise on Apricot’s various domains and features should be evident during your initial discussions.
Consultants are problem-solvers. Leverage a consultant’s desire to solve problems to your advantage. Evaluate their knowledge and know-how with your Apricot use cases.
Ask the consultant to brainstorm how they would approach your challenges and the solutions you hope to implement. While an initial brainstorm may not offer perfect or fully formed solutions, it should demonstrate a consultant’s subject-matter expertise and boost your confidence in the consultant’s ability to deliver your project.
2. What is your process for starting a project?
The scope of a consulting engagement may be tough to nail down during your initial conversations with a consultant. The consultant will need to dive deeper into your Apricot database.
There are a few ways a consultant can learn about your system and acquire more information before presenting a formal proposal to you.
- Offer a paid service to complete an assessment of your Apricot database
- Offer a limited (small-scale) engagement as a spec project to learn about your system
- Offer a free consultation of your system to uncover challenges and potential solutions
A consultant will need to learn your system (nearly every Apricot database is unique), so you should expect to invest in a consultant’s initial discovery of your Apricot database.
Note a few details about the logistics of an initial discovery phase, like:
- How long will an initial discovery phase last?
- How much of your time is required in the process?
- What is the cost of the initial discovery phase?
- What is the outcome for you (always expect an outcome, even if the initial discovery phase is a limited-scope engagement)?
As an example, we (Sidekick Solutions) vary our approach depending on a prospective client’s needs. We like to start with a free consultation. From there we generally recommend a limited engagement to learn about your database. During these initial engagements, we invest equal amounts of effort in learning your system and helping you to learn how your system works as well. We want you to build capacity in your system alongside our discovery process (a tangible outcome for you in a limited-scope engagement).
3. May we contact some of your existing clients?
Request to speak with two or three references, but keep in mind that references will speak positively about their experiences with a consultant.
With that said, you can often rely on references to be honest. If you ask the right questions, you should be able to gather the information you need to make an informed decision.
- What do you like most and least about working with the consultant (strengths and limitations)?
- If you were to start over with this consultant, would you approach your relationship or a specific engagement with them differently?
- Are you a current client? If you are a current client, will you continue to use the consultant’s services? If you are not a current client, do you plan to use the consultant’s services in the future? Why or why not?
For your purposes, focus on the outcomes and benefits a reference received from the consultant. What did they get in return for the services? How did the consultant solve their challenge? Is there another approach they would have taken to achieve an even better outcome?
You can extrapolate your potential relationship with the consultant by focusing on the outcomes and benefits a reference received in prior engagements with that same consultant.
4. How do you structure your projects: hourly or by deliverable?
The structure of an Apricot consulting engagement affects the outcomes of your project.
- An hourly engagement may or may not be tied to a specific outcome or deliverable. There is potential for cost overruns and missed expectations in an hourly project. On the other hand, an hourly project may offer more flexibility to tackle topics that you can’t identify at the start of a consulting engagement. Flexibility is an advantage if you require a fluid level of support.
- A deliverable-based project will define concrete outcomes and a budget for a project that matches your expectations, but it may be too rigid if the assumptions of the project change (especially with projects that require long timelines). Expectations are clear with a deliverable-based project and you receive a stated outcome, but a deliverable-based project may not be a fit if you need flexible support in an ongoing or recurring format (like outsourcing Apricot database administration to a consultant).
The important part of this question isn’t the eventual structure of your consulting project (you can work on that during your discussions with the consultant), but to understand the consultant’s philosophy and approach to projects.
For example, at Sidekick Solutions, our preference is to offer deliverable-based projects so expectations are clear and you receive defined outcomes for a set budget. When we offer hourly services, we prefer to define a loose set of deliverables that we hope to achieve with hourly services so you know what to expect from the project.
The structure of a consulting engagement sets expectations for both parties. Whether hourly or deliverable-based, a consultant should work with you to define how you will benefit in a partnership with them.
5. What is the project’s scope of work?
A consultant is hired to complete a specific task with a specific set of deliverables. As a result, the goals, outcomes, and level of service of a consulting engagement should be clearly defined in a scope of work.
A Scope of Work (SOW) defines a project and sets expectations. You should expect a SOW document or summary from a consultant. Within a scope of work, look for the consultant to define the project’s:
- Availability and timeline
- Pricing and payment terms
Defining the specifics of a project in a scope of work is the only way for you to ensure that the consulting relationship will deliver the outcomes you expect. In addition, you can use a scope of work document to compare multiple consultants side by side and evaluate the cost-benefit ratio of using a consultant rather than completing the project with internal staff resources.
Selecting the best Apricot database consultant
Selecting an Apricot consultant for your organization is an important decision. Asking targeted questions and conducting a thorough evaluation of potential Apricot database consultants is the best way to guarantee that you will select the “right” one for your organization.
Looking for an Apricot consultant?
Sidekick Solutions is an independent software consulting firm and Social Solutions Certified Implementation Partner, specializing in Apricot software. We help new and existing Apricot users set up, streamline, and make the most of Apricot software with a range of professional services for implementation, reporting, consulting, data migration, and database audit/cleanup. Team up with an Apricot Sidekick and let us do the heavy lifting!
Let’s start with a conversation and see if we are a fit for your project.
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