It can be extremely valuable for a business owner to have someone from outside their business who helps them work on the business. There are literally thousands of people offering business advice – some are fantastic, some are dreadful.
Here are some tips on how to find the best and how to work with them:
1. They Do Something!
A good advisor should be able to help you create improvements that deliver several times their cost to your bottom line, add to cashflow and create efficiency. They should also be able to quantify the value outcome of your work together.
2. You Don’t Work More!
Work with someone who doesn’t just give you loads more work to do. You need someone who is hands-on who will actively participate in the implementation of strategies with you and your team. They should also be clear about how you can implement actions and not leave you to
figure it out for yourself.
3. They Speak Your Language!
Someone who speaks your language – ‘plain English’ rather than jargon. Don’t feel stupid if you don’t understand what they’re saying – if you’re paying the bill you’ve a right to understand.
Someone who understands the key drivers of your business is a must. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are a fantastic way to measure improvements in all areas of business. Most businesses can be segmented into five main areas:
• Product and service development
• Marketing and sales
• Operations and finance
• Human resources
• Customer service
5. They Want to Learn!
Someone who is prepared to learn about your industry, but not charge you for their learning. They don’t necessarily already need to have knowledge, as a good advisor can be a generalist in all types of businesses.
6. They Have a Track Record!
Seek someone who has good credentials and a proven track record. Ask them what they’ve helped other clients to achieve and how they did it and ask them for references.
7. Do They Walk the Talk?
Look for someone who ‘walks the talk’ and demonstrates what they are advising you to do. Look at how they present their service, how they market themselves and handle sales, how they operate and handle the financial side, how they work with their own staff and how they handle customer service.
8. They Are Accessible!
Make sure they are accessible and available for you. If you’re working together as a team with them, you need to be able to communicate effectively and bounce ideas off them readily. Having said that, it’s best to be organised about communication and plan for meetings, but
occasional ad hoc calls shouldn’t be a problem.
9. They Don’t Have an Agenda!
Someone who doesn’t just push their own hobby horse. It could be that their area of interest is not your problem, yet this is what they want to focus on, because it’s what they know best. An all-round focus is vital as key areas needing attention can be overlooked at high cost, but …
10. They Understand the Numbers!
Someone who understands the impact on all areas of business, especially the financial side. Getting your financials right helps you understand the impact of changes in other business areas, such as sales and marketing. Top sales are great, but the cashflow at the right time to
fund them is critical to success. Once you find the right advisor, you will never want to let them go, because they can help you take your business from strength to strength. The fees charged should pale into insignificance when compared to the results achieved. A monthly retainer of $2,000 can work out to be a bargain when compared to the cost of employing such a person who may command a salary
of several hundred thousand dollars. Don’t fall into the high up-front fees trap. Agree on a ‘trial period’ to minimise your risk if they turn out to be no good.
As well as expecting professionalism of an advisor, you should reciprocate as follows:
Schedule set times to meet with your advisor with no interruptions or distractions
Prepare for meetings with notes of what you wish to discuss with them
Perform any agreed actions by the agreed time and provide information required by
Be accountable to them – as a business owner, it’s easy to get away with not doing things, but it’s far more profitable to stick to the arrangement
Treat them as part of your team and introduce them to all staff and stakeholders
Pay them on time – it’s very hard for advisors to keep motivated if they aren’t being paid, unless there is a specific reason not to
I can highly recommend working with a trusted advisor, because I do so myself! It can really help you to crystalise what’s important in your business. It’s easy to get bogged down in business with everything you’re responsible for. Someone who comes from the outside, whose
perspective isn’t clouded by the day-to-day activities, can help you to see the clear way ahead.