So what does an ex-accountant know about choosing a new advisor? Well as the one often being asked to tender for my work over the years, quite a bit as it happens! Also one advantage of being a long-term advisor yourself, you are the trusted professional that clients come to for advice as to other professionals. At this point you are thinking that the old boy network comes into play; you scratch my back I will scratch yours; the old school tie; the masonic handshake; the friend at the golf club. You could not be further from the truth!

Of course if you recommend another professional to your client you hope you might get something back but there is a bottom line.  The person you recommend has got to be up to the job. Not only is it a disaster for the client if the recommendation is not up to scratch but who do you think is going to get the blame for your recommendation and it is the fastest way to lose a client that I know!

Whether you are starting in business, feel that your advisor is not performing or need specialist help, your choice of advisor can be absolutely fundamental to success or failure. So if you are choosing an accountant, solicitor, banker, HR professional, surveyor, estate agent, business coach etc etc. who do you go to, who do you ask and who do you trust? In the old days believe it or not, apart from personal recommendation, my biggest source of work was Yellow Pages. I always used to ask a client how he found me and why he chose me to come and chat with. Believe it or not, the answer was always" I liked your advert it seemed so friendly" Just for the record I used the words" a caring, personal advisory service" ; it was and I was but they were not to know that! However the bulk of my work came from recommendation from existing clients. Now this was good from my point of view but it is not the be all and end all. For example, the prospective client might have been from a specialist industry I knew nothing about, the client might have been in need of specialist tax advice my firm could not deliver, my face may not have fitted or indeed the clients face may not have fitted with me.

So by all means ask a friend or another trusted advisor for a recommendation or even google prospective advisors but make sure you have a choice. I don't care how small an organisation you are, that prospective professional advisor needs to sell themselves to you and you need to feel comfortable with the person or persons with whom you are working. It's nice to have a one-stop shop when you are dealing with a professional firm but remember that the more services that firm can supply, the bigger they are likely to be and sometimes it is better to source your work from different suppliers. For example, most start-up businesses chose a small local firm of accountants but feel when they grow to a certain size they have to change to a larger firm. The same can be true of charities. However, often you can retain the small firm to carry out your compliance work but use a larger firm for specialist advice at the same time. Likewise, not all small firms of accountants have the skills to service specialist industries. So for example some charities are poorly served by their small firms of accountant who do not maintain the specialist skills needed to advise those clients properly. So when looking for your new accountant quiz them about the number and type of similar clients they act for and seek references.

The same is true for lawyers, bankers, business coaches etc. For example although many lawyers deal with employment matters, there are some specialist employment lawyers out there who might be more familiar with your specific employment issues. Not all lawyers are good at commercial work, not all deal with specialist law such as charity law. Not all banks like dealing with all industries, not all business coaches have a wide frame of experience. A 28 year old who tells you he is a business coach may have a great deal of theoretical knowledge but how much practical experience? Likewise the 57 year old ex senior manager may have lots of practical experience but why is he a 57 year old ex senior manager?  Why even is a 65 year old ex partner in a national firm of accountants telling you all of this? The reason is that I have seen these things go badly wrong when you hurry to appoint an advisor. Take your time, do some research and do your own wish list of what you need from the particular advisor and see how they measure up. When you employ someone to work in your organisation you draw up a job spec. Why not do the same for your advisor?

Remember this is not just a professional appointment; this is a personal appointment too. Whoever you appoint has to be able to work closely with you and your team so the face has to fit. The nicest person may not always be the most competent advisor and sometimes your advisor may tell you things you don't want to hear but you need someone who is able to show both sides.

Finally, even when you have done your due diligence on your advisor and taken all the precautions you may still get it wrong. In the unlikely event that you do get it wrong, after you are sure you have given them a fair chance then be prepared to cut the chord. However, getting it wrong is not them telling you things you don't want to hear!


Good hunting!