David Molian takes his latest look at how to go about reviewing your business advisors.

In November’s column I discussed approaches to choosing the right accountancy firm once you’ve decided that you need to upgrade the financial advice you receive to support the business you aspire to create. This time we’ll focus in greater detail on the process of selection.

In most cases the appropriate choice will be a mid-market firm, with a national footprint and local presence. I don’t need to name the usual suspects. I know very few entrepreneurs who complain about having time on their hands, so you want a process that’s reasonably quick and efficient. This is an all-purpose template that’s worked for a number of businesses:

1: Narrow down your search to three candidate firms. That’s enough for you to make comparisons, but not so many that it becomes an administrative chore. If you can get personal recommendations or introductions, great – but don’t commit too early. After all, if you were looking for a new house you probably wouldn’t make an offer on the first property after one viewing.

2: Detail your requirements on a single sheet of paper, including a brief description of the business and the markets it currently serves. This is a useful exercise in its own right, as it obliges you to reflect on what it is you really want. It’s almost certainly a good idea to circulate a draft to key members of the team to get their views and comments before you finalise it and send it.

3: The firms’ websites should enable you to identify the appropriate partner to approach. Once you’ve made contact, if you like the response, arrange to visit him or her at their office. The accountancy profession has made great strides in the marketing area in recent years, so they’ll almost certainly be expecting to pitch to you. Don’t spoil their big moment but make sure the meeting covers the following agenda:

Who will be the partner with ultimate responsibility for looking after you?

Who will comprise that partner’s support team [though both of these questions, and their supporting credentials, may already have been addressed in the pitch]?

What options do you have to “pick and mix” from their service offering?

What initial commitment from you is required?

What are their basic terms and conditions?

What kind of networking events do they host or facilitate – and, related to that, how are they tied in to the supporting “ecosystem” which will enable you to broaden your contact base?

Some of these items may look familiar. That’s because they’re the sort of questions you’d ask of any supplier who is likely to play an important role in developing your business. Prepare thoroughly, and press hard for the answers to questions that matter to you.

If the meeting at their premises goes well, and the chemistry seems to be working, invite them to visit you and introduce them to members of your senior team, not just those in finance or accounts. When they attend, what is their level of engagement? Are they interested not merely in how you manage your current financial processes, but in the wider issues of customers, suppliers, and planning? Are they curious about your business model and margin structures? In short, are they keen to engage with you as a business? In the long-term, you will be seeking a trusted adviser to help you move to the next level.

At the end of this process a leading contender should be emerging. Discuss this with your team, take account of their concerns, and make your decision!

That’s all for 2017. Have a very happy Christmas and here’s hoping for a prosperous New Year.

David Molian is a Visiting Fellow at Cranfield School of Management and former Director of Cranfield’s renowned Business Growth Programme