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2 Resolutions Every Family Business Advisor Should Have for 2020

By Kyle Danner

The New Year is all about planning for the future. As advisors, we’re always thinking ahead, so resolutions come naturally to us. We want to help our clients’ businesses succeed, and we want our business to thrive as well.

But too often, our resolutions for the new year fall flat. Perhaps we focus on the wrong things. Maybe, our hearts are in the right place, but we don’t have any tangible steps to take to achieve our goals. In some cases, life just gets busy, and we forget about our resolutions altogether.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should give up on New Year’s Resolutions. With the right strategy and focus, you can start off 2020 with a set of goals that will improve every aspect of your business—both for you and for your clients.

Here are two resolutions every advisor should make for the upcoming year...

1. Ask More Questions

Clients come to you for your expertise. They expect you to have the answer and to genuinely want to help. Sharing your knowledge is one way to do that, and it’s likely something you’re already good at. 

However, in your rush to help, you could miss the real issue. The problem is, your client may not know what she’s looking for. Or, she may not have a clear understanding of how you can help. The only way you to find out is to ask questions. Lots of questions. But you need to ask the right kind of questions.

“Tell me” is an excellent way to start the conversation. “Tell me” is neutral, open-ended and is useful for simply gathering information. It’s ideal for when you’re first starting the conversation about any topic. It gives her control of where the conversation goes. Examples of “Tell me” include:

“Tell me what I can do for you.”

“Tell me about your plans for the next five years.”

“Tell me your thoughts on exiting the business.”

Of course, she may be struggling to articulate the situation or the outcome she wants. In that case, begin at the end. Ask, “What would it look like if everything were perfect?” Then give her a few minutes to answer. As a warning, being quiet for even a few minutes will feel like an eternity. Hang in there and give her the time she needs. She’ll appreciate it and you’ll learn more.

These follow up questions will help fill in the details:

  • What will you first notice?
  • How will you feel?
  • What will you do differently?
  • What will other people notice?

If your business owner client is thinking about an exit plan, here are 3 essential questions she must answer. If your family business client wants to undertake a new initiative, like opening another location or entering a new market, here are 5 questions he should ask himself.

If things are getting emotional, use fact-based questions to keep the conversation on track. Ask Who, What, Where, When and How. For example, the owner just unloaded his uncertainties about whether he should keep the business in the family or sell it. In situations like this, take some heat off by asking:

Who should be involved?

What are you trying to accomplish?

Where will this transition take place?

When will this happen?

How will this happen?

Avoid the “Why” because that invites speculation and mind-reading. Sticking to the facts engages our thinking instead of our feelings. And it’s a great way to redirect an emotional conversation rather than telling someone to “calm down.”

2. Listen More

We touched on this slightly in the first resolution, but it’s so crucial it deserves to be a priority on its own. Listening sounds so easy, yet it is often the hardest thing you do as an advisor. And it’s the most critical. 

Clients come to you in a time of need. Perhaps there was a blow-up in the family, or maybe your client sees one coming. They need your objective guidance. Unfortunately, when we start to listen, we lose our objectivity fast. As he shares his side of the story, you might hear things that bother you, like brothers and sisters fighting. Maybe he shared something from his family that reminds you of yours. 

Or it’s even worse. What he shared is so outrageous that you’re offended or it goes against your personal values. Like a family member is caught embezzling money. Whatever it is, you’re triggered by your client’s story and you’re upset.

In an effort to calm yourself and him down, you offer him lots of advice. That seems like the thing to do. After all, he came to you for help. But overloading on advice doesn’t help your client. Really, you just made it about you. 

When a client emotionally dumps all over you and you’re sitting there dripping in their frustration, rather than respond with lots of unhelpful advice, pause for a minute. Then, say, “You’ve shared a lot. Thank you for trusting me. How can I be most helpful to you?”

These pauses can feel like an eternity. Just remember, making sure your client feels heard is key to building a healthy relationship with them. And when you take the time to listen you give yourself time to cool off so you can be in the right frame of mind. 

Make 2020 Your Most Productive Year Yet

So much of your success is dependent on the success of your clients. A client who is dedicated, focused, and on track will be more receptive to your services. They will also be more invested in your help, which makes everything easier for both of you.

On the flip side, a client whose business is struggling to gain traction won’t be able to give you their full, undivided attention. They’ll be more likely to drag their feet, question your advice, and make decisions that ultimately harm their business.

That’s where the Entrepreneurial Operating System comes in. EOS is a simple set of tools your client can use to get a handle on their family business. That way, they’re confident in the direction they’re headed and can focus on seeing your partnership through.

If you think EOS could be a good fit for your client, send them a free chapter of ”Traction: Get A Grip on Your Business”. This book breaks down how EOS works and shows what the process looks like in action. 


And if you would like more tips on managing clients, read my book, “The Advisor’s Guide to Successful Family Business Engagements.” In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about navigating the complexities of family businesses, keeping your clients on track, and maintaining profitable relationships beyond 2020.

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