Opinion

How to find the perfect business adviser

5 min read

10 June 2013

It's a bit like an arranged marriage: the "union" between business leader and adviser. How can you ensure a good match?

How did you find your soulmate (if you are lucky enough to have one)?

Chances are you were introduced to each other by someone who knew you both and believed you were the right match. Or you may have met online, lining up your “must-have criteria” to theirs. Or you may be one of those very lucky few who serendipitously bumped into each other outside the club and fell head over heels in love.

I don’t condone any form of forced marriage but an arranged one, where both parties enter the union willingly, seems to have a lot going for it. The parents know both parties well; they understand what will work and what won’t, perhaps better than the two individuals concerned know at such an early stage. And so these unions often have a longevity mere by-chance matches lack.

Finding the right adviser for your business sale, be it a corporate financier or a lawyer has many such martial analogies. Recommendation is always best. Finding and engaging an adviser via a website link could be amazingly successful but highly unlikely.

Talk, talk, talk

Chemistry is all important; an adviser will be part of your life for up to a year. You have not only to trust them, respect them, but you have to like them, too. I have made some of my closest friends by helping them sell their business.

Recommendation is therefore crucial; but so are references. As much as you like and respect your adviser, if they can’t do the job you want and need it’s never going to work. So always speak to past clients. Yes, that’s “speak”; testimonials are all well and good but there is nothing like talking to someone who has used their services.

Fees are always a sensitive subject for both parties but by and large the “moneys and peanuts” theory is a truism, that isn’t to say two things: one, the most expensive will be the best; and two, everything is negotiable within reason.

The key is to talk about this sooner rather than later. Any adviser worth their salt will be more than able to validate their fees by the substantial added value that they can prove they can add.

Only engage the organ grinder. I openly acknowledge I’m the best sales person in my business but when I am engaged it’s on the basis that the client has engaged me for the critical negotiation work in a transaction and not one of my very, very able team. They will of course be involved in the process but the key matters will be dealt with by me.

The same applies with the legal team; you want the partner and not the associate on line and in action when things get hairy. 

Make sure everyone is entirely clear about these requirements from the start; you need to understand who is doing what and when.

Get the team work right

Advisory teams should be just that: teams. That means the lawyers should work with the corporate financier, accountant, tax advisers and indeed anyone else at the party and not against each other in some sort of point scoring, antler waving contest. It helps if the teams know each other and have done deals together in the past.

Some clients believe that industry experience is essential. I’m pleased to tell you that it really isn’t. Selling a business, any business, whether it makes widgets or sells services, is essentially the same process. 

However, deal size is relevant and those advisers used to working on gazillion pound deals with teams of advisers on both sides will not easily understand an owner managed deal where for the vendor, this is a unique experience. The same applies vice versa, of course. 

So when choosing your bride or groom, choose your adviser with care, as this marriage may be short lived but it helps if it’s a happy one.

Jo Haigh is partner at fds Corporate Finance and Cracking Boards. She is the winner of the Sunday Times NED of the year award, and her latest book, ‘The Keys to the Boardroom: how to get there and how to stay there’, is due for release October 2013.