Advising Clients Through the Business Life Cycle

As we progress through life, we move through a series of stages, each of which is characterized not only by increasing levels of age and maturity, but also by a set of circumstances, desires, challenges, needs – and sometimes powerful emotions. By taking the time to understand the personal aspirations or challenges of friends and family, we connect on a deeper level that allows us to offer relevant advice or comfort. The same can be achieved with business relationships when we approach them with the proper perspective.

This is especially important as professional service firms wrestle with how to transition their compliance-focused business transactions to more holistic and fulfilling advisory relationships. Consider the Business Life Cycle. Much like people go through stages of life, so do businesses. Regardless of size, industry, or location, virtually every business can be identified in one of several phases ranging from the initial concept to its eventual wind-down or transfer. And although a business doesn’t feel emotion, the people who run it certainly do. The ability to connect facts and figures to hopes and fears is a critical skill in business development.

Perspectives and Needs Change with Life Stages

Think about the personal life stages we all go through and how dramatically our priorities shift, along with the way we view the world around us. Infants depend on others for virtually all their needs. Adolescents begin to push boundaries and stretch their wings. Young adults may face mounting obligations and responsibility for others. Mature adults may be preparing for retirement. Seniors may be considering the kind of legacy they want to pass down.

As a professional service advisor with the ability to view a client’s business in much the same way – as being in a phase of a cycle that virtually all businesses go through – you can achieve a distinct advantage in the marketplace. You will possess a powerful, sought-after ability to sympathize with your clients’ hopes and concerns, identify challenges or opportunities, and ultimately align strategic solutions that can help them achieve their goals.

Let’s step briefly through the phases and consider potential client needs in each:

  • Assess – At the beginning, a business is only an idea. Excitement is high with dreams about what the future may hold. It can also be a time of fear given uncertainty about the viability of the idea. A client may need advice on feasibility of a new business or the value of an existing one to be purchased.
  • Launch – This is the big step of turning the idea into reality and actually starting up the business. Risk is high, as a fourth of new businesses do not make it five years. It can be a turbulent time, with owners wearing many operational hats and trying to settle into a sustainable structure and scalable model.
  • Stabilize – As revenue becomes more consistent and operations smooth out, owners and executives may focus more on improving the infrastructure to support continued growth, establishing processes and procedures, and building a healthy corporate culture.
  • Expand – At this point, the business begins to look at opportunities to leverage the brand and core infrastructure that it has built. This may include acquisitions, geographic expansion, or product diversification. Executives may need help with an expansion strategy and exploring the feasibility of its options.
  • Transition – This stage represents the implementation of an exit strategy for business owners and executives. Proactive leaders will have thought this through years in advance while others may put it off or not think about it, only to one day find themselves having to decide quickly on their end game. A skilled advisor is in an excellent position to help a client prepare early and then implement a succession plan or sell the business.

Explore Needs and Solutions by Life Stage

Having identified your client’s business life stage, and perhaps also the stage it is approaching, you can step through the following advisory process. Consider the following questions and use them as a guide for a consultative discussion with your client.

  1. Client Goal – What is the primary outcome the client hopes to attain at this stage?
  2. Client Challenges – What barriers are likely to impede progress toward the goal?
  3. Potential Solutions – What advice or services could help the client tackle those challenges?
  4. Triggers – What are questions or observations that could help identify or confirm the need?
  5. Action Steps – What steps should be taken if a need is discovered? Who should be involved?

Next Steps

By using the Business Life Cycle as an advisory framework, combined with a genuine desire to help clients succeed, you can build more holistic, enduring, and personally fulfilling client relationships.

If you or your team are interested in learning more, please contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation, or attend an upcoming Rainmaker Growth Teams™ workshop.

Scott Moore – Executive Vice President of The Rainmaker Companies