"my name is Adrian, and I've been a business advisor for about 15 years..." - sometimes I feel like I've a shameful secret about who I am that I can only be absolved of in a similar way to attending a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous...
And its nothing to do with me, but with those other guys - the small group of ill-informed advisors out there who through their practice end up causing more difficulty for the enterprises they're supposed to be supporting than they started with by directing them down paths that are wholly unsuitable or not making sure they've connecting them to sources of funding or further support that might be available to them.
And you won't always be able to spot them until its too late - because they look the part, they know the jargon and they exude a confidence that makes you feel you can't question their counsel. But you should - after all, its your enterprise, not theirs; you're the one who has to live with it while they can walk away; and what they think they know may not be appropriate for what you need to know.
If its starting to sound like getting a good business advisor is a bit of a lottery, take heart for there are some simple steps you can take to assure yourself that the person you've asked to walk alongside you does actually have your interests at heart (rather than their accountant friend who they're strongly encouraging you to sign a contract with...) -
- ask them for references: after all, if you were employing someone to do a job for you, you'd want to know that they've done good by others, right? And crying 'client confidentiality' really doesn't wash in these days of LinkedIn recommendations and testimonials...
- are they a member of a trade body? As a member of several myself, you can't get in without proving your merit, and if it starts to go badly between you, at least you have someone to complain to who can take actions against them (i.e. kicking them out of the club)
- finally, do they subscribe to a professional code of conduct? Codes of Conduct set out a transparent and ethical framework of what you should be able to expect of your advisor, and to which you can (and should) hold them. (the institute of consulting has a nice one for reference, but your advisor should be able to show you one which is relevant to your business type or market)
'but what about qualifications?' I hear you cry. Well, I'm afraid I don't see these as an indication that your advisor is any good at being able to support you, merely that they can pass some exams - after all, you may have got your Maths O-level or GCSEs, but how many of you could easily solve simultaneous equations now if I asked you? My experience is that while qualifications have a purpose, they're not the automatic assurance that you should be seeking;
after all, if your business is going to be ethical, shouldn't everyone else be who you invite to be involved with it..?