How to Wear the 'Business Advisor' Hat

Read more articles by Sally Glick here.

When blogging and sharing information with small- to midsize CPAs regarding how to best market your firm, one area that I want to be sure we never overlook is the importance of promoting your role as a trusted business advisor for your own clients.

Your best marketing tool is the unsolicited and honest testimonial you receive from your own satisfied clients. People who are loyal advocates for your firm will willingly help to confirm your strong reputation and they are typically happy to talk about your competencies and how effective you are through the application of a distinctive approach. They are able to advocate for you with their peers and their word is trusted by their colleagues. In other words, they are impartial and objective—but they are also your champions!

With that at the front of your mind, it is critical to never forget what these clients most value: your time, you proactive attention and your wise counsel.

Remember too that many of them will be privately owned, family businesses. As such you need to be aware of the needs of the family as well as the needs of the business when you work together to identify the best solutions for them. Whether they are grappling with a decision about compensating a nonworking family member, adding an "in-law" to the staff, forming a family advisory board or transitioning to the next generation, these thorny issues require drawing on your previous experience, offering professional insights as well as your ability to defuse emotionally charged issues.

You can do this by building trust, by being fair and reasonable, by recognizing the reality of everyone's point of view (giving them a voice without allowing them to take over) and, ultimately, by dealing with the challenges before they get out of control:

  • A good starting point to accomplish this is through a one-on-one conversation. You can begin with an informal "assessment" that asks key questions and identifies areas of greatest vulnerability. This conversation can take place with current leadership and future leaders as well.
  • After having the initial conversation, you can use the information to help create a strategic plan that will address the most pressing concerns. You can prioritize the challenges for the family, working together to get the toughest problems on the table first.
  • Next you can suggest they assemble a family business council meeting; as the facilitator you can assist in setting the agenda and managing the conversation in a positive and productive manner. Everyone has one thing in common: they want to help the business thrive. That common denominator is a great stabilizer when conversations grow heated.
  • Decisions that are made must be implemented; you can help here by assigning tasks to family leaders with deadlines for execution. (And you can hold your clients accountable for doing what they have promised to do.)
  • Measurements and feedback can also help the family stay on target and focused. You can provide a tracking mechanism that demonstrates the progress they are making on some of the toughest and most complicated issues. This may create come further momentum and provide a hopeful attitude even amongst the most negative and doubtful family members.

The key is to keep all of this discussion at a very practical level, presented in a nonthreatening manner with the family business' best interest as the main objective. As your clients begins to see successful outcomes, they are likely to trust you more and give you the formal and informal authority to continue guiding them.

These are just some of the ways you will distinguish yourself and your firm with clients and with prospects: by showcasing how you can help them achieve successful solutions without destroying the family.

With a well-earned reputation as a trusted advisor, you are more competitive in the community you serve. Leverage your status as a family consultant to build and deepen your practice.

About the author:
Sally Glick is CMO and principal of Sobel & Co. LLC. She was named Accounting Marketer of the Year for 2003 and was voted into the AAM Hall of Fame in 2007. She can be reached at sally.glick@sobel-cpa.com.


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