Business Advisory Journey

Over the years I’ve watched many professional service firms build business advisory service capabilities and enjoy a myriad of benefits, from attracting and retaining quality clients, to overcoming margin erosion and enticing the best staff.

But for many it’s not an easy road; strong leadership, a clear vision, an openness to change and tenacity are just some of the characteristics required for success. For some, unlocking advisory is a treasure chest of opportunities, for others it’s a Pandora’s Box of angst.

At Mindshop we’ve seen how the journey pans out successfully for firms willing to stay the course, and have mapped a typical path to success in this advisory journey infographic. Importantly it also highlights how to avoid the many pitfalls that can lead to failure along the way!

The road to building an advisory business typically begins with a few false starts. Firms may try a multitude of ‘quick fixes’ from engaging lead generation suppliers, to buying franchises and hiring gurus to build a solution with as little direct work as possible. Unfortunately, the old adage that ‘if it seems too good to be true, it usually is’ fits here. There is no hyper-drive to success, after all, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. The hard facts are that providing quality business advise can’t come off the shelf, as it rarely follows a script with clients. Mature clients expect an advisor to be challenging them to help focus their minds and efforts. Starting on the right road involves learning the core skills to start thinking and acting like an experienced advisor – being much more a problem solver rather than a spouter of facts.

Learning advisory skills will enable you to fail fast, then learn and apply your knowledge by truly listening to your clients. In this way you uncover the actual cause of their issues or opportunities rather than just the symptoms, armed the tools to create and importantly, implement a strategy.

Key skills in the foundation kit bag of modern advisors include how to facilitate well, how to coach and implement change and how to problem solve effectively. This arsenal of weapons will help you resolve any client issue whether it be focused on profitability, growth, leadership, personal development or a myriad of other business issues.

Learning by doing is often key, practising by rolling out key tools internally can be a great way of generating confidence as well as delivering tangible benefits across the firm (why not start with something as simple as a ‘waste audit’ to improve profitability internally?). Move on to quick wins outside the firm by offering services ‘pro bono’ to friendly clients, often uncovering opportunities for paid engagements.

At this point, firms can experience ‘ground hog’ periods where they continue to loop back and sit in the safety of internalising their advisory capability. Alternatively, outward thinking means taking advisory to a wider client base and prospects. Fundamental to taking this next step is the need to develop a solid advisory model built around core brand values, unique selling proposition and market positioning. This model should encompass not only advisory ‘products’ – growth, profit, leadership etc. and delivery mechanisms – workshops, online coaching, webinars etc. but also operational aspects such as sales process, pricing and advisory learning and development.

Here professional service firms hit a big fork in the road, either tipping into the ‘dip of doom’ to stagnate due to a lack of focus or building a fluency bridge to growth. Descent into the dip could be brought about by any number of reasons: lack of time, loss of interest by leaders, lack of energy and sponsorship from senior management or perhaps a lack of acquiring the advisory skills they know they need to learn. If the plunge into the abyss is not arrested, then failure is inevitable.

However, building a fluency bridge over the dip of doom will avoid stagnation and forge a path to growth. An advisory model proven in the marketplace (often with tweaks and adjustments along the way) along with great fluency in key strategy and problem solving tools will build confidence in a team’s capability, from which client wins and growth naturally flow.

Growth for an advisory division then accelerates, building profitability through efficiency and leverage by tapping into innovative online technologies to coach and train clients anywhere, at any time. The path to success can only continue by avoiding complacency – continually improving the advisory model, accepting new challenges, learning new skills and refreshing talent.

Ultimately, to rocket the level of ‘leverage’ of their advisory skills out of this world, firms move into an entrepreneurship phase, buying established businesses or taking equity in start-ups to reap hefty rewards on exit.

Becoming a successful business advisor then becomes much more than just being successful and driving revenue for those service lines. Growing the overall firm and accelerating the success of equity stakes in businesses is the broader benefit which provides immense leverage of the skills in which each advisor has invested heavily.

Enjoy the journey!