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Choosing the right professional advisers

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Last updated on June 17, 2014

Assessing potential advisers against specific criteria can assist you in the search for the best advisers for your business.

You may have professional advisers who are accountants, lawyers, bankers, insurance brokers or other specialist for your business.

When choosing your advisers, take your time to gather information and talk to people, so that you make the best decision for you and your business.

Consider the following elements as you undertake the selection process.

Personal recommendations

  • Seek personal recommendations from your bank, business colleagues or other professionals whose judgement and business sense you respect.
  • Don't rely completely on the recommendations of others – still make your own assessment.

Qualifications and memberships

  • Enquire about qualifications and memberships of professional bodies that your potential adviser holds.
  • Keep in mind however, that qualifications and memberships do not necessarily mean that the person is a dynamic, innovative or creative business adviser with specific experience suited to your needs.

Nature of client base

  • An adviser with a solid base of small to medium-size business clients will probably be most suited to your needs.

Professional fees

  • Enquire about fees early in your discussion. Determine what is included in the fee and how it has been determined.
  • Be prepared to negotiate.

Technical competence

  • Ask questions about your potential adviser's experience in your industry and their understanding of your type of business.

Style and personality

  • Look for a proactive, ethical style – a person who is an initiator rather than a reactor.  You want someone who anticipates and performs before matters become serious and who displays the right professional ethics when doing so.
  • This type of adviser is more likely to produce creative solutions to problems, be a useful sounding board, and become an effective part of your management team.

Confidence

  • Be aware of your personal compatibility with your potential adviser – if you don't feel confident when dealing with your advisers, you are less likely to take their advice.
  • Determine whether your potential adviser's approach to handling conflict is compatible with yours.

Communication

  • Select an adviser who communicates openly and doesn't use jargon. 
  • Your adviser should be able to explain principles and concepts so that you understand issues involved and decisions that have to be made.

Commitment

  • Make sure you feel confident that your potential adviser will be committed to your best interests and your success.
  • Be alert to an adviser who may become indifferent to your needs because of their involvement with larger, higher-paying clients.
  • Check remuneration structures within advisory firms, to ensure they are not influencing the behaviours of the people you will be dealing with.

Accessibility

  • Ensure that your potential advisers will be available when you need them – you may not have immediate access if an adviser is frequently out of town or, in the case of a lawyer, frequently in court.
  • Make allowances however, if the adviser is of top quality and ideally suited to your business.
  • Length of time in practice
  • Check how many years' experience your adviser has in the areas relevant to your needs – there is a direct link between level of expertise and length of time in practice.

Ability to assist growth

  • Ask about the history your potential adviser has in assisting growth in other clients.
  • A good adviser will be able to anticipate growth problems and provide guidance to deal with them.

Size of firm

  • Whether you choose a small or large firm will depend on the size of your business and your personal style.
  • Large firms have highly specialised advisers and good sources of referral. Their fees, however, are generally higher and they often experience a higher turnover of staff.
  • Smaller firms usually relate well to small businesses, offer a more personalised service and their fees can be lower.
  • A sole practitioner generally charges lower fees (due to lower overheads) and may be more accessible – you'll need to weigh this against the possibility that this type of adviser may be too generalised in areas of practice and may lack a solid referral base.
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