How Do You Find Your Team of Advisers?
Updated: May 17, 2020
Finding people who know how to do a business deal well and whom you can trust to protect your best interests takes work. Nowadays, it’s common for people to search for help using the Internet. The Internet can provide useful information about potential team members, but I don’t think it’s the best place to start.
The best way to identify potential advisers for your team is to ask other people - i.e., by word-of-mouth. Ask people you trust whom they trust. Asking friends and family is a good start, but they may not have needed an adviser for a business deal. Consider asking other business owners and other professionals whom they would recommend.
Don’t try to identify all of your advisers at the same time. You should start by looking for one adviser - a business lawyer, accountant, or lender. Once you have identified that first adviser, then ask them to suggest other advisers. Most business lawyers, accountants, and loan officers I know have a group of other advisers they trust. They like to work together with them on projects. Often these people work together because they have similar personalities and approaches to getting deals closed.
For example, if you select me as one of your advisers, I would be happy to recommend an accountant and loan officer with whom I have had lots of good experiences working on deals. They take care of my clients, so I always want them involved. My clients also give me frequent positive feedback about the accountant and loan officer, so I know my recommendations are sound. In addition, they approach working on business deals the same way I do (e.g., they work cooperatively to make deals, rather than combatively in a manner that might break the deal).
Receiving recommendations should not be the end of your vetting process, however. You should research the recommendations. This is where the Internet can help. Check out the website for each recommended individual. Do they clearly have business deal experience? Do they focus on business deals, or does their business deal practice seem like a small portion of their practice? Are they too big or too small for you? For example, you probably don’t want to engage a business lawyer at a large law firm to purchase a small business because the legal fees will be disproportionately high.
You also should interview potential advisers. Even if they look good on paper (or on their website), I recommend you meet each adviser for 30 minutes to determine whether the information you heard and read about them rings true (some professionals are great at puffing on their websites). Tell them when you make the appointment that you are interviewing advisers to help with an upcoming purchase of a business. They should meet with you for free.
When you meet with potential advisers, you also should determine whether their personality and approach to doing deals fits well with yours. Can you work with this person? Buying a business is stressful enough. You don’t want to multiply that stress by engaging an adviser with whom you don’t get along well. But limit your questions to making those determinations; don’t try to get free advice from them. They won’t appreciate that and might be less inclined to want to work with you if they feel like you are taking advantage of them from the start.
Some potential clients like to imply or suggest that if they are inclined to engage an adviser, they might use them for other projects after the deal has closed. I suggest you not bring up that possibility during your interview. Many seasoned professionals will understand the possibility of being engaged for future projects if they do a good job on the business purchase. If you bring that possibility up during the interview, the professional might sense you are trying to manipulate him, and that’s not a good way to start a relationship.