Assembling your team of advisers: one size does not fit all!

By Hugh Latif

A lawyer, accountant, and banker walked into a new business. No, this isn’t the start of a joke. It’s what should really happen when you set up your company. You need to recruit a team of outside advisers for your business, which in most instances includes at least the three listed above. The team should be recruited before you need them, not in the middle of a crisis.

Consider the story of Jerry. When he first set up his business, Jerry had an opportunity to lease a great space at a reasonable rate. He had to put together the deal quickly so he hired a lawyer in the strip mall across the street. After he settled into his new business, Jerry forgot all about needing a lawyer until he was faced with a client threatening a lawsuit. That’s when he found out that his “lawyer” specialized in real estate, not litigation.

Jerry had to scramble once again. This time, the stakes were much higher than negotiating a lease!

Selecting the right-fit lawyer

This kind of scenario can be avoided by setting up your team ahead of time. The days of a lawyer who practices general law are long gone. Select a lawyer, and perhaps a law firm, with specialty areas where you are most likely to do business. For instance, if you are doing work outside the country, you’ll want someone with foreign taxation experience. If you are developing proprietary intellectual property, consider someone with trademark and patent expertise.

Depending on the issue, be prepared to bring in a specialist. A good lawyer isn’t afraid to say, “That’s not my area of expertise, but let me refer you to someone I trust.”  If you are dealing with a large firm, specializing may be available under one roof. A mid-size firm is often best for balancing reasonable rates with good service and access to specialization.

Picking an accountant

The same goes for your accountant – you need to have your accountant in place ahead of tax season, not mid-April! Ideally, your accountant is with you at the beginning in order to advise on setting up your books and accounting system.

Like lawyers, accountants vary by the size of firm they come from and their areas of specialization. A service-based business, for example, has different accounting needs from a business that exports products or sells retail. There is another distinction that I’ve found: some accountants are good at looking at past and present procedures; others are “future accountants” because they are more strategic in their thinking. They’ll help you find the best way to position yourself for the future. Try and get an accountant who can do both!

Selecting your banker

The third external adviser you should bring in is your banker. Canadian banks may seem to be all the same, but they are not. Some have a greater reach into the US; others, a greater international presence. My recommendation is that you work with two banks so you are less vulnerable to changes in the bank’s vision and direction.

Other advisers on your team may be a coach, mentor, and/or a consultant. These advisers question, listen, and challenge you as you develop your skills and grow your team. Look for experience, a proven track record, and adherence to high ethical and professional standards. Remember, you don’t have to implement their advice or recommendations, but their knowledge and the different perspectives they provide for sound decision-making can be invaluable.

Making the decision

Once you’ve found a few suitable candidates, how do you pick the right one?right-advisor

  • Speak first to their clients. Ask directly, “Would you hire this person again?”
  • Check their reputation through professional associations.
  • Set up an information meeting to get to know them. Like hiring staff, you are looking for the right qualifications as well as the right chemistry.

Finally, once you have your team in place, make effective use of them. Keep them updated on your corporate progress and future plans, and nurture a strong, healthy relationship. You’ll want to meet with your accountant and banker at least twice a year.

As a maverick leader, I compare these external advisors to the turbo power in an engine. Power on demand. Surround yourself with those who are experienced, trustworthy, and committed to your success. You don’t need them all the time, but when there’s trouble afoot, or a major decision to be made, the right power has to be there!


hughlatifHugh Latif has over 40 years of experience in management consulting and general management. Since 1996, his consulting practice has successfully completed over 350 assignments. Previously, he held senior executive positions with the Dun & Bradstreet – A.C. Nielsen Group in Canada, Italy, Brazil and France. He specializes in strategic planning, sales and marketing, succession planning, advisory board governance and business turn-arounds. In his book, Maverick Leadership, Hugh shares his insights about the fundamentals of leadership and business success.

 For more practical advice for general managers, entrepreneurs, and CEOs, Hugh Latif has put his wisdom from 40+ years of business experience together in Maverick Leadership, now available in Canada and the USA. Click here to learn more!

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