Choosing the right advisers as a small business owner

Jonathan Richards discusses how entrepreneurs should go about selecting experts to consult.

Ever since I set up my first business I’ve tried to seek the advice of experts – sometimes with more success than others. There are many types of experts out there, some of whom a new business owner needs to run a mile from, but find the right advisers and your business will benefit.

I tend to split experts into three camps – paid professionals, mentors/coaches and people selling something. All three have something to offer the entrepreneur but you need to be aware of which type you are dealing with.

Paid professionals have usually spent a lot of time (and money) learning their skills. In this camp I include the usual suspects of lawyers and accountants but also anybody that specialises. If someone has taken the time to become an SEO expert then in my book they deserve the title of professional and should be paid a fair fee for their service.

Of course the usual gripe made against professionals is that they overcharge and underdeliver. This is where you need to find a good one and don’t be afraid to negotiate on terms. Talk to a few, always ask for references – better still ask for recommendations across your network. Earlier this week I was meeting with an HR adviser, who has just signed to be a partner with us, and their Ops. The director told me of her frustration with a client who wouldn’t pay £100 for a tailored employment contract when it would be free via Google! Some advice is worth paying for.

Mentors and coaches get their own group because the best ones are in it for more than money. They have a built-in desire to help and support. I have always taken the view that a great coach or mentor arrives at the moment when they are most needed. A few years back, I was looking to make a pretty serious pivot in one of my businesses but the management team wasn’t gelling around idea. I came into contact with a coach I’d known for a while just as this was kicking off. Over a couple of coffees we talked around the issue and the obvious next step seemed to be to set up a series of workshops for my management team. The pivot took a little while to come but was much better for the discussions and led to developing my present company. In short, hiring him was one of the best business decisions I’ve made.

Lastly, I’ve grouped together the experts who are trying to sell something – maybe this sounds unfair. The key here is their approach – if you are confronted by a salesman who barely knows his stuff and definitely doesn’t want to know your business you should run a mile. However many companies have learnt that this approach doesn’t work anymore (did it ever?). When you meet the new breed of sales people you barely know they are pitching (because they aren’t – not yet). They listen first, then use their expertise to help you and only when they’ve earned your trust do they try to sell. It used to be called consultative selling but in my book it’s the only way to do business.

I believe it’s always right to question spending money on expert advice but you get close enough to the expert and buy wisely then the benefits are worth the expense.

Also see: Why mentoring is so important for growing your business

Jonathan Richards

Eva Franecki

Jonathan Richards is an experienced non-exec director and CEO at HR software provider Breathe.

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