What to look for in a business advisor
“A consultant will just borrow your watch and then charge you to tell the time!” … “Attorneys and insurance salesmen are all alike – they confuse you and cost you!”
You may have heard these complaints and more.
Unfortunately, stereotypes abound, sometimes preventing our use of much needed professional help. Most of our clients recognize that they need advice but they don’t know where to find it or how to tell if the potential advisor is truly an advocate or a parasite.
In fact, one of the most common questions we are asked is, “What should I look for in an advisor and how can I trust what they tell me?” Here are some ideas to consider.
When seeking an attorney to assist with estate planning:
Look for someone who has had some business experience – preferably someone who owned their own business or was part of a family business at some point. Failing that, look for an attorney who has a dual background in accounting and law (as many do), or who regularly partners with another attorney who can bring corporate and business experience to the discussion. Sometimes estate plans are written in a way that may destroy the business or cause long-term disharmony in the family. Begin by asking your professional colleagues about their legal advisors – seek feedback on whether the advisors are proactive, fair, reliable, transparent and helpful. Ask whether he or she took the time to explore the business impacts of the estate plan and the long-term wishes regarding family relationships. If you hear positive feedback, consider interviewing several different attorneys. Avoid telling them what you want – instead, ask them to tell you about their approach, their philosophy regarding the balance between business and family needs and who they turn to as advisors and collaborators on projects.
Consider bringing all of your advisors to the discussion at the same time.
When selecting a financial or insurance advisor:
Look for the qualities above and consider working with someone who will actually consult with you, for a fee, rather than collecting their entire payment through commission on products. When an advisor is paid for their impartial advice, they are more likely to recommend plans and products that will work in your best interest. When they are paid entirely on commission, based on the products they recommend, some less professional folks may be tempted to serve their own interests first.
Finally, consider bringing all of your advisors to the discussion at the same time. It can be very frustrating and expensive to have your accountant, attorney, financial consultant and insurance specialists (to name a few) all giving you different advice and contradicting one another. In the best scenario, you might ask one advisor to become the conductor of the orchestra – someone who will bring all of the necessary specialists to the table, at the same time, to hammer out key agreements and help make faster, and more informed decisions. If any of your professional contacts balk at the idea of sharing time with others, you probably haven’t found the right match!