What makes a great business adviser? Brilliant technical skills alone are not enough; you also have to understand how to create real value for your clients. Shane Lukas, managing director of AVN, explains
Everyone will have their own way of delivering advisory sessions but I believe that the key elements of a really effective business advisor are universal.
Here are what I see as the seven vital elements to be a great business adviser.
Keep asking questions
Your role is not to know your client’s business better than they do. Make it clear that you’ll be asking question to make them reconsider even the most obvious elements of it. I often find that knowing very little about their area leads to the best questions.
Listen to the answers
Are you listening properly or are you just waiting to speak? Questions are incredibly important but always remember that their purpose is to elicit a response from the client. So you have to really listen to what they say. Don’t move on to your next question until you have fully understood the first answer.
Let the business owner develop the idea
By asking the right questions and really listening to the answers your role is to get your client to look at things differently. And there’s a much greater chance of getting their buy-in if they develop new ideas themselves. So your role is not to continually offer solutions but to help them come up with answers themselves.
Quantify the impact of taking action
As an accountant you know the impact that numbers can have. So measure the numbers that matter to the client – reducing the number of hours they work each week, for example. If implementing a new system could save them half an hour a day, then extrapolate on that. 'Half an hour a day equates to three weeks per year – what could you do with that?'
Gain consent to challenge existing plans and thinking
People can be very defensive over decisions they’ve made in the past, even – or particularly – when they know the decisions were wrong. Obtaining their consent to challenge and question them, to understand more fully and to hold them accountable, encourages them to drop their guard. You could do this by saying something like “Do you mind if I dig a little deeper?” or “Do you mind if I challenge you on that?”
Make your client accountable for taking action
Find a way that works so your client takes action, whether it’s setting deadlines, looking at possible obstacles or helping them to delegate. People often need to be reminded of what’s important to them, especially once they return to their business and face all the usual demands on their time. Asking 'Can I hold you to that? Do you mind if I follow up in week’s time to see how you’ve got on?' is simple and very powerful.
Offer praise and encouragement
Running a business can be lonely. It’s not condescending to give your client a 'Well done! You did a great job there'when they’ve completed an action. Praise and recognition are powerful motivators.
If you’ve previously only done compliance work, shifting into advisory may feel daunting. But when you look at these seven elements, they really aren’t so difficult. Establishing a connection with your client by asking the right questions and listening to the answers is really just being human, after all.
About the author
Shane Lukas is managing director of AVN, a training and coaching organisation for accountants and author of What’s Next For Accountants (in Part 2 – Becoming a sought after business advisor). This includes my six step LUKASS process for developing ideas, considering possible outcomes and dealing with challenges. You can download a free copy of the book here.