Business owners grapple with multiple issues: business planning, accurate financial projections, client and customer acquisition, employee development and management, etc. With numerous aspects to manage, business owners naturally seek the assistance of an advisor to address the niche requirements of their business.
A business advisor is a strategist who works with your company to help with planning, finances, marketing, and even development. They lend their expertise when needed and spend time researching aspects of the business requiring their input.
Business owners prefer to engage an advisor specializing in the same industry and speaks the same business language. The advisor should also understand the industry’s myriad concerns and be familiar with the client’s competition.
So even if you have served as an advisor several times or if this is your first business engagement, what matters is your positive qualities and the value you bring to the table.
Master the following top skills to become a successful advisor.
Related: How to Succeed at New Client Acquisition.
Be an Active Listener
Listening is an important skill; your client’s first expectation is to feel heard and understood. They should feel like what they say about their issues and problems matters to you. Your listening skills have a significant impact on the outcome of any conversation.
How well you listen has a definite impact on your professional efficacy and the quality of your relationships.
When you improve your listening skills, you invariably enhance your productivity, your ability to influence others, and your persuasion and negotiation skills. Active listening also helps avoid conflict and misunderstanding. All these are essential for professional success.
Active listening includes managing body language and nonverbal cues and periodically following up with the client on solutions to feel genuinely heard and understood.
How to Become an Active Listener
- Pay attention. Listen to the speaker with undivided attention (put that cell phone away!), acknowledge what is being said, and refrain from interrupting others mid-speech, as they may forget to share some critical information.
- Use nonverbal cues. Show that you are listening by incorporating body gestures and body language that indicate you are paying attention.
- Provide feedback or reconfirm if you are unclear about the information. Judgment, generalizations, filters, and belief systems influence comprehension. As an advisor, your role is to understand what is being said, not what you think the client said. Reflect on your client’s words and ask questions to clarify unclear points.
- Do not interrupt. Active listening facilitates your understanding and encourages respect for the speaker. Refrain from interrupting the speaker, as it limits complete comprehension and also frustrates the speaker.
- Listen to respond and not react. Most of the time, people listen to reply, not to understand. That often leads to a communication gap. As an advisor, you should listen with an open mind and respond instead of reacting.
An advisor must enhance their listening skills. Your clients shouldn’t wonder whether you are listening to their problems. If their message is getting across it, it’s even worthwhile to continue talking. At no point should your clients feel as if they are talking to a brick wall.
Ask the Right Questions
The heart of effective communication is asking the right questions to verify the correctness of the information exchanged. Skilled questioning improves the quality of your communication.
For an advisor, asking the right questions is fundamental. If you ask the wrong questions, then you will not get the information you need.
Skilled inquiry complements active listening to achieve better understanding so that you can better assist your client.
Questioning helps you to:
- Gain clarification to ensure that you have the whole story and that you understand it thoroughly.
- Draw information from people who are trying to avoid telling you something.
Improve Your Inquiry Technique
When you consciously apply the right questions in the right way at the right time, you will get the information, response, and outcome you hoped for. Use questioning to:
- Learn new information. Ask open, closed, and probing questions.
- Build relationships. People like to talk about themselves, so they will respond positively if you show genuine interest and ask what they do or their opinions. Do this to build open dialogue and rapport with a new client.
- Avoid misunderstandings. A misunderstanding, if left unresolved, may lead to significant consequences. Use questions to avoid jumping to wrong conclusions and to seek clarification.
- Defuse arguments or unpleasant situations. The surprisingly emotional side of the business may get the better of your client’s composure, requiring that you defuse a situation. Questioning will help to get to the root of the issue so it can be fixed.
Business owners need your first-hand experience and knowledge and value your assistance in helping them to fill gaps within their organization. Your possession of specific expertise or skill-set applied to fulfill specific company needs makes you a critical asset that helps overcome challenges or take on new opportunities.
A lack of the tools and knowledge limits your ability to help business owners. Like doctors, an advisor must, first, not harm. Therefore, few advisors share advice unless they are sure that it won’t cause any harm. To help your clients, you need a comprehensive knowledge of business processes, how to execute strategic plans, and access to the right business tools.
So, continue to deepen your knowledge within your industry specialization. This means taking advantage of training opportunities to stay tuned to industry updates or update your knowledge and grow with other advisors like you.
Every advisory service must manage the client’s expectations. This includes what they need, what they want, where they are currently, and who they can refer to you next. As an advisor, you know there is no business for your firm without clients, so you must be an expert in engaging existing clients while finding new ones.
The key to success is understanding and managing your client’s expectations. For example, a few of your clients might only want to hear from you once a year, while others gladly welcome quarterly or even monthly reports and personal contact.
Stay involved with your clients even after the project concludes. Not only does this help you maintain a connection, but it also shows that you, as an advisor (and human), care about them.
Stay in touch with your old clients increases the chance of them sending new referrals your way. Referrals expose you to opportunities that may otherwise not be available to you or may be challenging to access alone.
Remember the Soft Skills
Advisory work provides you with an excellent opportunity to develop good leadership skills, traits, and characteristics. Skills such as refined presentation and communication skills, personality traits like increased confidence, and accountability towards yourself and others associated with you earn your clients’ respect and appreciation. It’s important to remember that soft skills—the “people” skills—are just as critical as business acumen when being a good advisor.