Hiring a family business consultant
First things first: Define your goals when seeking the services of a family business consultant. Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
First things first: Define your goals when seeking the services of a family business consultant. Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” If you don’t clearly define the objectives and goals of your work with the consultant, the engagement can meander through hundreds of billable hours with little effect. Here are some thoughts on the best way to go about hiring a consultant:
1. Get buy-in ahead of time. Work with your family members before hiring a consultant to make sure everyone is on-board with the process. If a family member feels this process is being forced on them, they will resist, and the results will be disastrous.
2. References, references, references. Discerning qualified consultants from questionable consultants can be quite a task. Work to find references you can speak with about the consultant’s past work. Ideally, find references within your network that weren’t provided by the consultant themselves so you can be more certain the testimony wasn’t pre-coached.
3. Do your homework. You could be looking for help with succession planning, corporate governance or estate planning. No matter the topic, there is a plethora of resources you can read ahead of time (many in this very magazine!). Get yourself educated on current thinking on the topic before you go too far down the road with your consultant. It will make your meetings more productive and help you contribute toward a better result.
4. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Make sure the consultant has all the relevant history and context so they can do their job properly. In multi-generational businesses, this can be a lot of information, but it is important they have a complete picture before getting started.
5. Keep a written record. We are all juggling a lot of responsibilities, and it can be easy to misremember what was talked about in a meeting. “Were we creating a loan between the revocable descendants’ trust or the irrevocable founders’ trust this calendar year or next fiscal year?” Make sure there are written notes everyone can see to avoid any confusion on what was agreed to going forward.
Chris Yount led his third-generation family business before selling the company in 2018. He is a writer, consultant and frequent contributor to Family Business Magazine.