Taking On a New Business Advisory Client? Assess the Potential Working Relationship Up Front


If you work as a business advisor, you know that engagements can be unpredictable.  Whether helping the owner take advantage of a changing marketplace, or optimizing the business to prepare it for sale, these initiatives typically involve significant planning, coordination, and effort from both advisors and their clients.  Despite the best of intentions, these large-scale projects don’t always proceed smoothly.

There are many things that can affect the advisor-client relationship and make it harder for clients to accomplish the tasks associated with the project.  This article is the first in a series that will highlight matters that should be considered by advisors and their clients before they agree to work together.

Why take the time to examine the potential working relationship?  Both parties have a shared interest in the project going smoothly.  Clients invest a considerable amount of time, energy, and money, and they expect (or at least hope) that the process will be relatively effortless and pain free.  As an advisor your client’s success is paramount, and satisfied clients can be a good referral source.

Yet too often advisors proceed full speed ahead with a prospective client, eager to assist, only to wish they had taken more time to explore issues that affect compatibility.  They come to realize they are a poor fit for their client, they encounter stylistic differences that impede progress, or they discover that the client is uncomfortable with the process.  In some instances, things move forward even though in retrospect it’s clear that the project should have been deferred, either until the client found a better advisor match, refined their goals, or completed some pre-work.

The other rationale for taking time up front is that clients may have multiple strengths that ought to be identified and capitalized on.  For example, a client may be particularly innovative and thus quite comfortable with a state-of-the-art solution.  They may embrace change and expect that the advisor will propose initiatives that are truly transformative.

Initiating the Discussion

Some advisors may feel unsure about how to explore the potential working relationship.  Here is one way to introduce the topic with your client:

“We both have a shared interest in this project going smoothly.  I appreciate that it represents an investment of time, energy, and money on your part, and it may require new approaches and changes to your business.  It’s also important to me that we’re successful in meeting your goals.” 

“Of course, it makes little sense of us to proceed if we’re not mutually comfortable, and I certainly don’t want you to go down this path if we determine there are significant obstacles to our success.”

“Every client comes to us with different characteristics that contribute to our progress together.  If there are things that might affect our working relationship, we should talk about them in advance.  For example, if you’re the sort of person who might benefit from assistance tracking key deadlines it would be helpful for me to know that up front.  By learning more about your work style ahead of time, I’ll be better able to adapt to it and optimize my efforts to assist you.” 

At this point the advisor can then raise various topics for discussion.  This can include questions about the client’s prior advisory experiences, attitude toward change, persistence in the face of obstacles, and so forth.

This is the first in a series titled “Assessing the Advisor-Client Relationship”.  Each week, I will explore a new element affecting the advisor-client relationship in some detail.  These articles will help you understand potential opportunities and obstacles when working on long-term strategic engagements.  The next article will address the client’s experience with past projects.

Please feel free to reach out for more information or assistance proactively assessing the potential advisory relationship.

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

About the author
Larry Gard of Hamilton-Chase Consulting is a member of XPX Chicago

I provide brief pre-retirement coaching to help your clients transition to a satisfying next chapter. Please visit www.donewithwork.org