The Right Advisor for the Job

by Shaun R Smith on May 18, 2010

Post image for The Right Advisor for the Job

Choosing a Great Advisor

Last week, we discussed some of the frustrations that arise when your expectations and your advisors’ skill set are not aligned. This week we will explore how to successfully find and engage the right advisor for the right challenge or opportunity in your business.

Retaining a Great Accountant

The first thing to remember when looking for a great advisor is that you are the client.  When you are looking to hire a new employee for your team, you are looking for an A player. You must bring that same commitment to excellence when looking to build your team of advisers. When you start looking for a new team member, one of the first things you must do is define you are looking for: what skills must they have, what experience level must they possess, what is their attitude and character like, what are their values. To successfully hire a great advisor, you must start the process the same way. You must define your needs and expectations for this position.

There are many articles online that provide guidance in how to interview an accountant to become an advisor for your firm (such as this one, this one, or this one). In addition to the detailed questions on the accountant’s background, you want to make sure that you have a clear understanding of what defines success in your relationship. Do you expect your accountant to be reactive or proactive? Do you expect her to just be responsible for minimizing your tax liability or to also help you understand your financials and provide assistance with budgeting? Do you want to operate on an hourly basis or do you want to define the scope of services and receive a flat fee estimate? How does your accountant prospect work with other clients, and what does she consider her area of expertise? What is the range of service that she offers? Are there additional services that her firm offers that she might not offer directly?

The key to success here is for you to be clear about what you want and to make sure that your prospective provider has that skill set within her offering.

Selecting a Great Attorney

Similar to the discussion we had above about retaining an accountant, hiring the right attorney for the right situation is about being clear in advance what your expectations are. Most attorneys tend to specialize in a particular area of the law. If you go to a medium or large firm, they will probably have much of the expertise you need in-house; however, these firms tend to charge a premium relative to their smaller competitors or to solo practitioners. If you’re working with a very small firm or a solo practitioner, you might have to find separate attorneys for each issue you are facing — or rely on referrals from your attorney or his of counsel relationships.

Before you begin your search, define exactly what a successful engagement will entail. While most business owners I know would prefer to work on a flat fee basis with attorneys, most attorneys prefer to work on an hourly basis — arguing that they cannot foresee the amount of legal services you will need in advance. If you find a specialist who truly knows her business practice, she should not be afraid to give you a fixed price for a certain scope of service. This arrangement is better for your budgeting and also prevents the negative incentive to unnecessarily rack up hours. I do not believe attorneys do this intentionally, but their primary concern is not your business’s ROI. Their primary concern is doing the best, most thorough job for you that they are capable of doing. However, that level of service might cost you more than the value it creates in your business. So even though they have specialized knowledge and expertise that you need and value, you must always remember that YOU are managing THEM, not the reverse.

Do You Need a Business Coach or Consultant?

This series started by discussing the frustrations that many business owners experience when they are trying to get the wrong advice from the wrong professionals. This week we discussed how to find great professionals to match your needs in the areas of legal and accounting. Next week, we will discuss when, why, and how to hire a business coach or consultant at the top level advisor to your business.

Photo by: Sam Ilic

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: