Consultants are an important part of a small business owner's game plan. Whether it's to help manage SEO efforts, accounting, or content production, these people help alleviate much of the stress associated with those day-to-day tasks.

But when you're thinking about hiring your first small business consultant, it's tough to know where to begin.

Brad Farris of EnMast says, 'A consultant can be your cheerleader, your task master, your sounding board and your advisor. In short, your consultant is there for you — to support and push you to achieve more.'

But you still might have other questions. You might ask yourself, 'What should I look for?' or, '[pullquote]How do I know if one consultant is better than another?[/pullquote]'

That's why we've put together a small business consultant checklist for you. As you consider different options, see how they cover these bases.

1. Resume

Obviously, the jumping off point is to study the consultant's resume and see what his or her track record looks like. This will give you an idea of the experience level as well as what major accomplishments are under the consultant's belt.

Also look for:

2. Testimonials

Look for testimonials from other entrepreneurs as a form of social proof. If the work a consultant has provided for others has been high quality, past customers will be more than happy to share their positive experiences. Look for testimonials on:

3. Hands-on experience

When searching for a consultant, you want to keep an eye out for someone who has been a small business owner. A major red flag is when you come across consultants who claim years of experience helping others but who have never actually been in the shoes of the people they consult for. Ask the consultant a few questions such as:

4. Availability

It's bad news when you have to schedule an appointment with a consultant three weeks out. That might be an indicator that they have too many clients and are spreading themselves thin. Make sure to find out what hours they are readily available to work with you on any given week and try to gauge what their current workload looks like, too.

5. Portfolio

If your consultant has expert status (like he or she should, if in consulting), seek out the materials they are producing. Maybe it's a podcast, regular blog posts, books, or a history of public speaking--find those examples and get a taste of what your expert shares with other audiences.

6. Niche

Most consultants have a well-defined target audience. They work with small business with less than 50 employees, write about the financial industry, etc. Make sure you find a consultant that aligns with your business so you're both on the same page. Any consultant who claims to be an expert for anything and anyone might be a little over confident.

7. Cost

Consulting fees come in a variety of forms: Hourly, project-based, or retainer. Before hiring a consultant, make sure you clearly understand how you will be charged and the rate for the work being completed. Then, check those costs against what other consultants are charging for similar work to see if it's a fair price. You can accomplish that by:

8. Contract

It's important that the consultant you choose is willing to sign a contract that clarifies goals, time frame, expectations, and deliverables. Everything needs to be in writing so the two of you have common ground on where the job begins and ends. Be leery of a small business consultant who isn't willing to put things in writing.

Finding the Perfect Small Business Consultant

Is there such a thing as the perfect consultant? Maybe, but we haven't found one yet. The secret to hiring a consultant is to find one you connect with on most points, can communicate with easily, and whose expertise has been vetted.

There may come times when the two of you don't see things the same way, but remember: You're hiring a small business consultant for their expertise. Trust them. Value their past experience and try to find a compromise in those instances.

What about you? Have you ever had a really great (or really bad) experience with a consultant?