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Business advice can make or break your company

Posted online

by John Qua

for the Business Journal

With $267.9 billion in transactions as of July this year, the financial services sector is dominating the record-breaking mergers and acquisition market. In fact, activity in this sector has accounted for more than 40 percent of this year's M&A transactions, according to Houlihan Lokey's Mergerstat.

Consolidation can often result in increased efficiencies and other benefits. However, it can also fundamentally alter the relationship that a business owner has with his or her traditional financial advisors. Your access to both people and resources may disappear as geographic presence or personnel, including advisors you have relied on, change.

Who you might need.

In this kind of environment, it may be time to reassess your financial relationships. Even if you're only a one-person operation, you need the same quality of professional advice and consistency of personal service that larger businesses seek.

As your business evolves from the time you set up shop to the day you retire, you may find that where once your financial advisor was essentially a source of capital, now you need advice on a wide range of business issues.

At any given time during the life cycle of your business, you may need the advice of any or all of these business financial specialists: business lender; business succession planner; investment advisor

or financial planner; cash management consultant; insurance broker; business valuation specialist; retirement plan specialist; and merger and acquisition specialist.

While you may think you can't afford their help, be sure that you don't shortchange yourself when considering the services of these professionals. Their knowledge and experience could mean the difference between achieving or not achieving your objectives.

How to find advisors.

Finding the appropriate business advisors may require some effort on your part. You might begin by asking other business owners, your lawyer or your accountant for their recommendations. Look for a firm that provides the broadest base of high-quality expertise coupled with a consistent local presence.

Make appointments to meet with the most promising firms. You'll need to determine whether each candidate's services, philosophy and performance matches your needs and goals.

Try to assess whether they really want to know your objectives and help you meet them. The best way to do this is to be ready to share a clear picture of your business's current situation and needs, as well as possible future directions and goals.

Ask about their credentials and, if possible, obtain references from the firm's current or former clients. Call several names on the list to ask for an honest evaluation of the person's services. Check with your local Better Business Bureau to see whether any complaints have been filed against the firm.

Finally, determine whether the firm has the capability and experience in handling your particular business need.

For example, if you have received an unsolicited offer for your business, determine whether the firm has solid

experience in valuing companies and representing them in the sale process.

Working with your advisor.

For convenience and more effective business planning, you might want to consider looking for all your professional advice under one roof.

Within the financial services industry, for example, you might be able to establish a relationship with a single business advisor who has access to specialists in all the key areas of business services.

Establish and maintain a relationship with your advisor even if you don't have any pressing problems to resolve.

He or she may be able to help you improve your business' operations and profits by making suggestions concerning such issues as cash management techniques, financing practices or employee benefits programs.

And, an advisor whose view of your company is up-to-date will have a sound base from which to work when issues or new opportunities surface.

If you've been trying to make a success of your business alone, start your search for an experienced business advisor who can give you access to resources that help you achieve your

goals.

By making an informed and careful choice about your business services provider, you can increase your chance that you'll enjoy years of personal and individualized service.

(John Qua is senior vice president and director of business financial services for Merrill Lynch.)

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For more effective business planning, you might want to consider looking for all your professional advice under one roof.[[In-content Ad]]

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