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Practice Management > Building Your Business

9 Ways to Be the Advisor Your Clients Really Need

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What You Need to Know

  • Clients today want the professionals they work with to be more than just their lawyer or accountant or banker.
  • This doesn’t mean you need to suddenly be an expert in everything.
  • It means being your client's thought partner, sounding board or friend — when they need you to be.

There are a lot of talented financial professionals serving families and businesses with complex needs: wealth advisors, investment bankers, accountants, insurance brokers, attorneys — you name it. 

When asked what they do for their clients, their responses are generally along the lines of “I prepare their taxes,” “I provide legal counsel” or “I manage their investments.”

All of those responses are accurate, of course, but they are also unnecessarily narrow and miss perhaps one of the most important aspects that the best professional service providers understand: Clients desire more than just specific technical advice. They want to work with someone who can provide a more global perspective. 

Yes, these advisors and other financial professionals are experts in their fields, though too often they’re experts in only their fields. They really know their stuff when it comes to, say, tax law or investment advice, but that’s where their contributions end — because the advisors decide that’s where it ends. And therein lies the frustration for some clients. 

Clients today want their financial advisors and the other professionals they work with to be more than just their advisor, lawyer, accountant or banker. They want you to appreciate and understand the full scope of their financial, familial and business situations.

They want you to be their thought partners in more areas than the one in which you happen to have subject matter expertise. Often, they want you to be their friend. In short, they want you to be human.

The two of us share a client who used to run a dynamic company. After taking a COVID sabbatical, she’s working on a new business in an industry that neither of us knows much about. 

But we talk with her regularly about her plans, her capital needs, her market position … in summary, her hopes and dreams. And we’ve opened our networks to help her raise capital and find distribution channels. Our approach is holistic. And she’s our friend.

We can, and more importantly should, take that holistic approach with all of our clients. It doesn’t mean you need to suddenly be an expert in everything. That would be equally impossible and irresponsible.

Rather, it means you should make the effort to help where you can (if a client is interested in connecting with venture capital and you have a deep VC network, connect them), sympathize when you should (if the client’s dog dies, send flowers), and demonstrate at every opportunity that you have the client’s back, however the client needs it. It’s not that hard. 

Below, we provide nine suggestions to be the advisor your clients need you to be.

1. Change your mindset.

It all starts with reframing your role in your clients’ lives. Are you just their advisor, lawyer or accountant, or are you their strategic partner, however they need you to be? Become the latter.

Remember, you are a human first and (insert professional title here) second. You have more to offer than just your specific area of expertise. Be good at what you are trained to do, but be better at being human.

When you start and end a meeting and focus 100% of your time exclusively on your client’s business problem, you miss the opportunity to learn about what may really be driving that client’s business and behavior. Understanding a client’s motivation and what their goals are by talking about the personal often leads to deeper and richer counsel in the subject matter where you are the expert.

2. Focus on what your clients need, not simply what you have to offer.

With a new mindset in place, put it to work by continually asking yourself, “What do my clients need now?” This is more effective than myopically focusing only on what you have to offer. If you are a CPA and a client needs help with their taxes, great. Focus on that.

But if that same client calls a week later and is distraught because his adult daughter has just declared she has no interest in joining the family business, pivot to be sympathetic about the situation and (a) provide your suggestions and advice on how you would address the situation as a parent or business owner, and (b) offer to connect him with others who have either faced a similar situation or whose practice helps with the dynamics of family businesses. That’s what your client needs now.

3. Talk less, listen more.

And when you do talk, ask more questions. So you are doing well so far in reframing your mindset and being the advisor your clients need you to be, but be careful not to overdo it. By that, we mean spend more time listening and less time talking.

Ask thoughtful questions before you start offering advice. Sometimes a client simply needs to vent or commiserate. Have the EQ to understand that versus when they are genuinely seeking solutions from you.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “Have Better Conversations With Friends — or Anyone,” offers a number of suggestions about how everyone can have better conversations and the benefits that come from doing so.

4. Be authentic.

Nothing we have suggested above will work if you are not your authentic self. In other words, be who you are, not the professional “caricature” you believe your clients want you to be. They don’t.

Truly be yourself. If your client loves golf, and you can’t stand it, don’t pretend you do. Find commonality elsewhere. They will respect you for your candidness and the opportunity to learn who the real you is. That’s what clients ultimately want.

5. Be OK with not knowing everything.

As noted earlier, the goal is not to suddenly become an expert in everything a client needs. That’s not the point. The point is to be a resource and helping hand when and where you can.

You may not be the expert, but you likely know how to identify a person who is. So do so. Tap your network for your client’s benefit. And remember that when you introduce two people, you’re doing a favor for two people — that’s a pretty good ROI!

6. Don’t be afraid to have awkward conversations.

Many of the issues clients need the most help with can also be the most uncomfortable to discuss. Success. Money. Divorce. Family dynamics. Don’t shy away from those conversations thinking “it’s none of my business.”

It is your business if it is affecting your clients’ lives. Be sensitive and appropriate, of course, but let your clients know that you care, that you are thinking of them, that you want to help however you can. Doing so can bring enormous relief for clients who may have been bottling these issues up inside.

7. Speak the language of the client, not the language of the advisor.

Yes, you want to demonstrate your expertise in your field, but not at the risk of confusing or frustrating the client. In other words, speak your client’s language, not yours. The client already knows you are smart. You have nothing to prove there.

The CPA who talks in IRS code sections but who does not explain how the tax code relates to a client’s proposed business deductions for the family office is not helping the client translate the important tax knowledge into actionable items. Consistently check in with the client to ensure he/she leaves a meeting with something to consider and specific action items.

8. Think broadly.

Part of being more than a narrow subject matter expert is understanding that the client/family doesn’t have, say, a legal problem or a legal opportunity. They simply have a problem or opportunity. There may be legal aspects of the problem or opportunity, but it doesn’t end with a legal analysis. Always take the broad approach, and you’ll find you are often solving problems the client didn’t even know they had.

9. Do what you say you are going to do, and follow up.

This is perhaps the most important aspect of being a truly valued advisor. Don’t just offer advice or make a recommendation and consider your work done. Follow up to ensure the client has what they need. Close the loop so there are no loose ends. If you say you are going to introduce your client to an accountant, for example, or someone who can potentially provide equity capital to support their business, do it quickly.

You would be surprised how many people offer to do something but never actually do. This can help set you apart (and “win” new clients). When the client is fully satisfied and confirms completion, only then is your work done … until the next opportunity arises to be a trusted thought partner.

At the end of the day, being the advisor your clients need you to be is about being a human being who truly cares for, and acts upon, their best interests in all aspects of their lives. It’s about going above and beyond whenever and however you can. Ultimately, that is what clients want and need from their advisors. 


Bill Rudnick is executive managing director and general counsel for CressetScott Kapp is partner at DLA Piper. (Cresset refers to Cresset Capital Management LLC and all of its subsidiaries and affiliates.) 

(Image: Adobe Stock) 


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