Choosing the right advisers is a crucial task for any growing business. The right advice can super-power your business growth. Bad advice can leave you treading water for year – or worse!
But choosing can be hard – especially for an entrepreneur who is used to running things his or her own way and taking business decisions without much of a sounding board.
And an issue you should put out of mind – at least to begin with – is cost. Everyone knows the expression ‘pay peanuts, get monkeys’ You may even have used it yourself (at least in your own head) as a penny-pinching client moans about your charges. Quality advice costs money – but it pays for itself ten times over. Especially as you don’t end up pouring resources into a bad plan and spending months reversing a poor strategy.
Fees are important. But different advisers charge in various ways. Fixed fees, commission or an hourly rate – the price they charge reflects the value they believe they can add. Cheap rarely mean cheerful – at least for your business growth.
You are being asked to trust an outsider with the very life of the company. Bad advice whether it be on marketing, PR, tax, the law or finances might be worse than no advice. So, you are going to need to ask some questions – and none of them are ‘do you feel lucky, punk?’
Before even holding an initial ‘scoping’ meeting with an adviser, ask yourself ‘Is this a person I can completely trust?’. That takes more than the word of a mate down the golf club. Take some time to find out your potential adviser’s reputation. If you are thinking of bringing in a well-known company there will be plenty of feedback on the internet. But if you are going to a smaller organisation then you may have to be more creative – talk to your network, try your local chamber of commerce or other business organisations.
Next you need to understand exactly what services are on offer. The world of consulting is filled with tiny niches so you need to assess whether a possible adviser truly matches your needs.
Beware also that – especially with the consulting arms of big financial institutions – there may be a tendency to promote the parent company’s products and solutions.
Going into the relationship, keep an eye on the ‘soft stuff’ as well as hard tacks. Is this a person you find it easy to talk to about your business? Do they appear to understand my industry and the model I use? And try and get a feel for whether they will be around when you need them.
As you get down to negotiating with a new adviser, it’s important that the agenda under discussion is yours – the whole point is for the adviser to deliver the service you need, not the service they want to sell. Go in prepared.
By now, you’re sure the adviser understands your business and its needs. You need to understand them too. Be clear in your mind about what is going to be delivered and make sure that there is a time-line that both sides agree. Things might take longer than you expect so this is the time to get grips with the process from the adviser’s point of view. Any business deal is a two-way street but if both sides understand what their responsibilities are then disputes need not arise.
None of the points I’ve made should discourage you from looking for an adviser. With the right partner, taking business advice, whether on accounting, tax, funding or anything else, is among the best decisions an entrepreneur can make.