Clients are with you because they need assistance and this is what you should be providing. It is very easy to offer to do things for clients, but your role as a business adviser is to help clients to do things for themselves. You might need to provide information – about grant aid, for example. You may need to provide know-how; how to write a market research questionnaire or prepare a financial forecast, for example. You may need to provide advice – how to structure a business plan, for example. Business advice will also frequently include helping the client to learn how to do things themselves.
Define the Problems
Many people will come to you with an ‘I-want-to-start-now’ attitude and will often expect immediate action and results that day. Such considerations as market research, business plans, financial forecasts and business registration may never have entered their heads.
Business advisers may need to be able to scale down the expectations of clients and to expand their time-frame. Enthusiasm of this type is not altogether a bad thing. If
channeled correctly, it can be made to work to the client’s advantage.
It is your job to help your client identify problems and formulate possible solutions.
Explain New Concepts
Explain new concepts as they are introduced. Do not assume that people understand such terms as market research or cash flow forecasts. If you feel it is important to use technical terms, then ensure the client understands what you mean. Whenever possible avoid using jargon and complex vocabulary. Do not use abbreviations or initials without first explaining what they mean.
Business advice is all about helping your client to explore options! How will each option affect them? It is not so much critical assessment as guidance: pointing them in the right direction in such a way as to give them the motivation to investigate avenues that they had not previously explored.
If you are not certain of someone’s commitment it may be a good idea to set them some simple tests – gathering information as part of a market research plan, perhaps. This can be doubly useful as it will help you to assess your client’s commitment and persistence and will also help them to look more carefully from the outset at the viability of their business idea and the options available to them.
Establish Help Required
It is important not to leave the client feeling unable to cope. Although you are testing commitment, not everyone is cut out for all the tasks required and may be grateful for help. On some occasions it may be appropriate to do some work for a client, or go with them to see a customer or a supplier.
You will need to signpost clients to sources of information and training. Sometimes you can arrange appointments for specialist help whilst they are still with you; this will give them more confidence.
Once a number of options have been identified, the client will need to start making decisions. It is important for the client to understand the implications and difficulties in choosing any route. But remember it is the client who should take the decisions, not you. Some people will need a push to take a decision, but beware of pushing too hard.
For some of your clients the decision will be not to start in business. Treat this as a successful result – the person will have benefited from your help and may well have been saved from making a disastrous choice.
You will also have to agree next steps with the client – perhaps through drawing up an action plan.