Visit the websites of most accounting firms, coaches or consultants and often the service line ‘Business Advisory’ or more broadly just ‘Advisory’ will appear.  This ‘catch-all’ definition often causes confusion on many fronts – to customers, prospects and importantly, team members and begs some questions:

  • What is advisory or business advisory?
  • What advisory services should we be offering?
  • What process should be used to assist clients grow their business and improve profitability?
  • Can all our team members deliver these services, and more importantly should they be delivering these services?
  • How long will it take to build the capability to deliver advisory services?
  • How much can we leverage these services? What can be scaled?
  • What would our clients value and where do they need assistance?

In essence, business advisory shouldn’t be confused with other types of advisory such as wealth, compliance, or preparing a business for sale. Business advisory is supporting clients improve the growth, profit and people through insights, problem solving, strategy and implementation support.

To simplify the complexity in this discussion, I’ve attempted to classify business advisory into five phases, describing what services can be delivered, the skills needed to deliver these services, the typical roles of the advisors delivering them and the tools to help an advisor in the delivery process. These phases are not intended to be a journey or progression, some will decide that they are best suited to phase one or two and will only focus there, while others will evolve their capabilities to deliver the more complex, but highly valuable offerings outlined in phase five. There is no right or wrong.

Phase One: Data – any team member with basic business acumen can provide valuable facts and figures to a client about their business and industry. Information can be gathered from client questionnaires, discussions, diagnostic tools and sharing independent papers and reports.

Phase Two: Insights – A deeper understanding of the data and information gathered in phase one can generate valuable information for a client. A ‘rising star’ in your firm is an ideal candidate to deliver services in this phase, a person who is inquisitive about business, has a moderate level of business acumen, and is confident having challenging client conversations. Business performance dashboards, ‘what-if’ analysis and surveys can be used to reveal these insights highlighting the ‘levers’ to pull in a business to drive change. Valuable discussions about these insights can follow on a regular basis.

Phase Three: Problem Solving – Advisors with problem solving skills can guide and advise on minor issues or opportunities impacting a business, adding significant value to a client’s business. Skills and attributes required for problem solving include the ability to control a meeting effectively, a high level of business acumen, ability to structure conversations with specific business tools that lead to action and confidence in holding challenging conversations.

Phase Four: Strategy – A strategic senior advisor with good facilitation skills, a high level of proficiency in strategic planning, open to change and a self-starter will be able to deliver strategic planning services to clients. Strategic advisors can tackle major issues or opportunities in workshops or strategic planning sessions to provide focus and clear actions to drive a business forward.

Phase Five: Implementation – Ongoing guidance and support for the successful implementation of strategies within an organisation requires the superior skills of an experienced facilitator able to address complex issues, and who is unconsciously competent in a broad range of tools and processes. Advisors displaying capability, energy and agility can deliver business advisory service offerings such as monthly or quarterly implementation support, project team implementation, in-depth coaching with the CEO or team members and annual support programs.

It’s clear when you break business advisory into these five phases that the skills and attributes needed for success and client value at each phase are understandably very different.

As you move further up the phases many things increase, such as the:

  • capabilities required to successfully deliver the service
  • customer value
  • chargeable fees

However, as you move up the phases, a few things also decrease such as the:

  • ability to leverage or scale the service
  • percentage of team members with the acumen or experience to deliver them

Advisors need to reflect:

  1. on the phase(s) in which they want to deliver services
  2. on their current capability in each phase
  3. on their ideal future position to continue to attract and retain the right calibre of customers
  4. who within the firm should be delivering the services at each phase (if in a larger firm)

Building new advisory capabilities regularly provides a ‘ticket to the game’ for advisors in any phase, but does not automatically guarantee success. In parallel with learning new capabilities, advisors embracing high performance habits will boost their probability of business advisory success.

To tease out the capabilities and high performance habits needed for success, Mindshop recently conducted a global business advisor survey. The research found ten capabilities plus ten high performance habits needed to bridge the gap to success. I will describe each capability in more depth in a later article but if you would like to skip ahead read the full report, click here.

The capabilities identified for business advisory success were:

  1. Clear business advisory model
  2. Strategic marketing
  3. Referral system
  4. Ability to convert
  5. Strategic planning
  6. Solving any issue
  7. Agile facilitation
  8. Time management
  9. Implementation & coaching
  10. Technology early adoption

In addition, high-performance habits are also needed:

  1. Strategic mental models
  2. Efficient tenacity
  3. Empowers great teams
  4. Intuitive decision maker
  5. Change ready
  6. Self-aware and authentic
  7. Leverages technology
  8. Life-long learning mindset
  9. Simplifies complexity
  10. Adaptable and agile

No matter in which business advisory phase you’re focused, there is no shortcut to success, as customers and their industry moves faster, advisors will need to keep pace. In the words of Mindshop’s founder Dr. Chris Mason, “If your education is finished, you’re finished.’

Good luck on your business advisory journey.