How do I find a decent business advisor?

I’ve just had another rubbish experience with someone that I thought was going to help me but made me feel inadequate. This is the third and final time. The first business advisor fired so many questions at me I thought my head was going to explode and the second one was just not interested because I do not think they understood what I wanted to do.

I am starting my own business. There’s been a variety of projects and programmes open to me as I am starting in the creative sector. Unfortunately each time I have been along it’s been a very mixed experience. So far I have had a young (like myself) and an older (late 50s) business advisor, one male, one female, and to be honest I cannot pinpoint what went wrong. Was I expecting too much – they are free after all?

What are your tips for finding a really good business advisor who does not make you feel depressed at the end of the session?

Dear Andrew,

I will be honest. This is a very complex area and you are not the first person who has raised this question with me. It’s really simple – change your attitude and mindset. Just because someone has a white coat it doesn’t mean they are a doctor. And even if they are a doctor it doesn’t mean they are any good. The same applies to business advisors.

Let me also correct your impression that somehow they are “free”. Your session is free to you, but you are paying for it via taxes so if you meet a great business advisor, fantastic! But if you do not, complain.

Over the years I have worked with some really dedicated people who love helping people with their start up. They have the title of business advisor and they are professional and there to help you. Then there are the people who love being a BUSINESS ADVISOR. I put the title in block capitals because that is how they see the relationship – you are the inferior party and let you know it.

I appreciate that you are a new start up and are perhaps seeking funding, so inevitably you will be dealing with a business advisor. So to help you get the most out of your meeting here’s … top tips.

Three Big Things To Do Before Seeing A Business Advisor Click To Tweet

Three Big Things To Do Before Seeing A Business Advisor

1. Ask yourself this. Why do I actually want to see a business advisor?

I mean, this might seem daft but trust me, this is a critical question and it is rarely asked.
Do you want someone to act as a sounding board? Are you looking for funding? Are you lonely or frightened about starting a business? Be honest with yourself, because everyone on the start-up trail is apprehensive to say the least! Are you seeing a business advisor because you have been told to? Do you think they will have all the answers to your questions?

Once you have answered this first big question not only will you be better placed to get more out of your meeting, you will be in control – and not matter what the outcome is you will feel good.

2. Ask Yourself: What do I want out of this meeting?

It is a little known fact that business advisors have targets to hit and boxes to tick and shed loads of rubbish to fill in. Gone are the days of a friendly chat. So you need to know how to play things. Usually the scenario goes like this. You want to start your own business, you want to find someone to help you. You may be looking for money – oh go on, admit it, everyone is. You see a shiny advert and you book a meeting. It’s free. What can go wrong ? Everything can go wrong – so do your homework. Before you even set foot over their threshold you need to prepare your list of questions. Questions that you would like answered.

Personally, I would avoid the usual one of, “Do you have any money?” You have no idea how many advisors are asked this at the beginning of a meeting. My advice is so do not even mention it – that comes later. Rather, ask for things that will help you to make your business happen. If you don’t have an idea for your business, ask if they can help or know someone who can. If you want to meet like minded people, ask if they know of any sessions or get-togethers where this happens. If they say – and they will: “Do you have a business plan?” respond by saying:
“Yes, here it is,” or “No, what can you offer to help me make it?”
Why not bring your list of questions along and see if they can answer them? Take control, be precise above all remember that you are buying a service. Be nice but be focussed.

3. Ask yourself: Can I work this person?

The first rule in finding a good business advisor is to trust your gut instinct. Are they friendly and relaxed? Do they put you at your ease? What you want is someone that understands you and someone with humility, who knows what it is like to put themselves on the line. When I started out years ago I met a really great guy who said, “Welcome, have a seat. Can I start by saying that I have never started a business so I applaud your courage in doings so. My speciality is sales – I was the Area Director for Nestle and I know the food industry. How can I help?”

That was just brilliant. I felt at ease, the guy knew what he was talking about and was honest and practical.

The next thing is note whether they listen to you or talk at you. Value a great listener. Now the clincher. Over the years I have found the best business advisors are the ones who help you test your ideas and yourself. The weakest are the ones who fire off more things for you to look at. Typically this will be: “Have you thought about a? Have you considered b? What about x, y and z.” I hate those kind of questions – they take you nowhere. Say, “No, I have not thought about that. What do you think?”

Do not be passive. The only person who is starting the business is you and you make the decisions. At the end of the day you take the risks the advisor does not. A good one will point out new ways of doing things, pointing you to great people, sharing their experience. Look for somebody who helps you test your idea and narrow it down – not add to your workload.You are starting a business, not being assessed for an exam.

Summing Up

How to find a good business advisor? Prepare your questions before hand. Work out what you want. Trust your gut. Finally,if they make you feel good after, proceed with caution. If they make you feel like an idiot, run!

If they make you feel great,stay!

Enterprise Iain
the world’s first enterprise agony uncle