Owner Managed Businesses & Consultants 
Redefining the Business-Owner/Professional Relationship:
Moving From Dependency to Collaboration

by Harvy Simkovits and Paul Faxon

Small business owners cannot effectively run their businesses, or even personal lives, without an array of fee-for-service providers (lawyers, accountants, consultants, financial planners, coaches, etc.). Sometimes they think about these folks as “necessary evils” because of their feelings of dependency on these professionals in helping them to operate their business and lead their personal life. Also, sometimes those professionals keep their expertise and know-how secretive, thus perpetuate that dependency stigma.

Consequently, many business owners shy away from leaning too heavily on their advisors, and only seek professional service or advice when experiencing a crisis. As a result, the business owner may reduce his or her options or possibilities to resolve festering situations. They may also increase their overall costs by not engaging the right providers early enough before their challenging situations turn into chronic problems.

For example, one business owner (because of his fear of losing control) allowed many business problems to fester until they blew up into major crises. When crises happened, he would call in his advisors for a “big powwow,” with the hope of a quick fix for his problematic situations. Then when things were starting to move in the right direction, he would suddenly and prematurely stop involving his advisors, thinking that he did not need them anymore. However, with most festering situations, the problems need to be managed and reduced over time. And, with his advisors now sidelined, the business owner would eventually fall back into crisis. He would then repeat his pattern of arbitrarily bringing in, then pushing out, his advisors. This business owner eventually went bankrupt from the recurring problems that were never fully resolved. And, interestingly, the advisors all were dumbfounded as to how it all happened.

To prevent situations like this, both business-owners and service providers need to change their mindset about their relationship. The business owner’s thinking must move from service-provider “dependency” to one of “collaboration.” And, the service provider’s thinking must change from “content expert” to one of continually “serving and supporting” the business owner.

A second business owner, clearly knowing that he needed outside help to start and grow her company, would have quarterly meetings with all his advisors (usually one-on-one, but sometime in appropriate groupings) to review past successes and failures, her current situation, and future needs. These ways, this entrepreneur made sure all her advisors were continually aligned and had the right focus on her needs.

Some ways to consider building greater business-owner/service-provider collaboration are:

1. The business owner, being the lead player in the relationship, must be willing to examine their intentions and motivations for seeking advice and council. They need to consider whether they are just out to get quick fixes or obtain long-term solutions. (Actually, the most elegant solutions that professional can provide are ones that produce significant improvement in a short period of time, but then work to support and sustain that improvement over time.)

2. The business owner needs to seek and select the right kind of service provider, one that is willing to collaborate and educate, not keeping their craft and process a mystery.

3. The business owner must be willing to work collaboratively with the professional to a) identify their needs and desired outcomes for engagements, b) determine a workable process to accomplish those desired results, and c) establish appropriate fees and value for the work. If there is not an acceptable return on investment, then projects should be renegotiated or abandoned. An open purse string on any effort is tantamount to obtaining insufficient value.

4. The business owner must get to know their service provider well and use them for their best talents and capabilities. Too often, business owners (after a successful engagement) allow their providers to get into areas that don’t fit their expertise, which can lead to wasted money and disenchantment. Also, the service provider needs to act ethically and prudently by setting boundaries as to where their expertise lies and where it does not.

5. The business owner must openly communicate, coordinate and collaborate on project work and in reviewing the efforts of their service provider. And the service provider must play their part in keeping their client continually informed of their progress and results. The worst thing that can happen is losing that ongoing communication, for it can lead to misunderstanding and wasted efforts.

6. The professional service provider must look to provide solutions that simplify, demystify, and not overly complicate the entrepreneur’s world. They must produce significant improvements in a relatively short period of time, but then work to support and sustain effective change in the long run.

7. The service provider must continually work to build trust with their client, from the beginning to the end of any engagement. Without trust there can be no attainment of partnership in the professional/client relationship.

8. The service provider must adhere to a set of ethical standards, and speak the truth in a way that it best serves the business owner and their company, and not just tell the client what they want to hear.

The old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure,” is very true in professional/client relationships. By building more progressive partnerships, rather than dependency relationships, service providers and business-owners can more greatly empower each other, thus generating greater success for the business owner in operating their personal and business lives.