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Experts: What qualities help business advisors succeed?

By: Gabrielle Piché

Being a good listener, an empath, a coach – What qualities make a business advisor good at their job?

“Just being able to really listen to people and take that time is an undervalued and very important skill,” said Katherine Breward, a business and administration professor at The University of Winnipeg.

She said advisors should be able to realistically appraise businesses and determine if they’ll succeed in the market. They should also be able to assess entrepreneurs’ skills.

“Many entrepreneurs are really good at one or two things, and that’s why they become entrepreneurs,” she said. “(For example), ‘I’m a great baker, so I’m going to open a cake shop.’”

Most business owners don’t have a full range of business training, Breward said. It’s an advisor’s job to identify an entrepreneur’s weaknesses and help them or guide them to help.

“Often it’s those other areas, the accounting, the marketing, things like that that trip them up,” she said.

The trick is to present the information in a way that entrepreneurs will want to hear — and that requires emotional intelligence, Breward said.

“People don’t like being told what they’re bad at.”

Some people are naturally gifted with emotional intelligence, just like some are gifted at athletics, Breward said.

“Even if you aren’t a good athlete, or even if you lack emotional intelligence, if you get coaching and education, you can get better,” she said.

Finally, advisors should consider how changing one aspect of a business can affect all other aspects of the business, Breward said.

Women from many different backgrounds receive help from the Newfoundland & Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs (NLOWE), said Jennifer Bessell, NLOWE’s CEO.

“We need to be able to meet them where they’re at,” Bessell said.

Like Breward, Bessell voiced that listening and being empathetic is important. She said advisors should leave their preconceived ideas at the door. Instead, they should lead entrepreneurs through the pros and cons of decisions.

“The judgement call, in order for it to be a good one, needs to be made by the entrepreneur, and that takes a talented coaching skill,” Bessell said.

Jennifer Bessell, NLOWE

Great advisors are usually open, friendly, and excited about what their clients present, Bessell said. Some advisors come from entrepreneurial backgrounds, which is beneficial to helping other entrepreneurs.

“Being an entrepreneur is very different from being a business person,” Bessell said. “You often have to be a Jill of all trades.”

Another expert mentioned the importance of listening and being empathetic — both were at the top of Suzanne Gagnon’s list.

Gagnon is a professor at the University of Manitoba’s business school, and she’s one of Manitoba’s regional hub leads for the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.

“(Business advisors are) a crucial role for a lot of entrepreneurs,” Gagnon said. “I know women entrepreneurs who think about the advice they’ve gotten, and they realize how important it was.”

She said business advisors should be able to think creatively while operating “inside the box,” especially during crises like pandemics and recessions.

“In a time of change, often you’re very limited,” she said. “The limits around you seem a little bit tighter — there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

So, entrepreneurs need to be creative with what they have. And it helps if business advisors are modelling that creativity, Gagnon said.

“You’re leading, you’re helping to lead the other person, and you’re helping them lead themselves.”