We are often asked by clients and business associates if this firm or that firm is a good source for advice and professional guidance regarding (whatever). The need may be for a bank, a law firm, insurance agency, search firm or any of the myriad professional services that are needed in the conduct of business. Since we have interacted with hundreds of these firms over the years, we’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of professional performance. As they say, we’ve seen a thing or two.

Firms providing these services may be small, medium, or huge, and that’s often a determining factor in who we might recommend. It is a common reality that a very large service firm will typically be hard pressed to provide the level of service that a very small client needs or wants – their cost of providing that service is usually not justified by the amount of business revenue that a small client can provide. Small companies that want to have a big name bank or law firm to feel protected are usually disappointed in the quality of attention they are able to command. Usually, but not always – read on for the explanation of that waffling.

The same set of options and choices that small firms face are similarly faced by larger companies, not because they’re too small to get noticed, but because they’ve gotten into a situation that is often random based on the moment they engage with that resource – they got the wrong person assigned to them when compared to their needs.

So what’s the point of this discussion? Unless you’re hiring an army to storm the hill, you’re going to be working primarily with one person, so make sure that person is the right one for your needs. That’s it.

OK, then there’s the small question remaining: How the heck do you do that? How to make sure? Well, you can’t be sure on Day 1, but you can lower the odds that you got the wrong person. My view: you virtually inundate that person with carefully considered questions on Day 1. You listen carefully to the answers, but even more importantly you listen to the way the questions are answered. You’ll get a sense of the enthusiasm your person has about the subject of the question, whether he/she would dive into the substance of the question or instead would “have a ready resource at the firm” who would step in. Or would offer thoughts as to why that was an irrelevant question in the circumstances. And, you know, it really doesn’t matter if the question was irrelevant to the goal. It was important enough to you for you to ask. If your person doesn’t get that, listening may be a lost skill and you should consider moving on. Until you get a person who can provide the answers or at least knows how to listen with care to the questions.

We do that. We are Your CFO for Rent.

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