Partnering for the Future

by Joseph Mallee

Tips for building a strong team of advisors

Aside from you, your business partners and your family, there are other key advisors who play critical roles in the business planning process. The reality is you need a team of advisors which may include your attorney, accountant, financial professional, property and casualty agent, and banker, to effectively manage and protect your business interests.
“One of the things that I’ve seen that causes some real problems is an advisor who thinks they can do everything—they can’t,” says Paul L. Sessions, Director and Center for Family Business at the University of New Haven. “A family is a system and a family business is a system and they are complex systems that need different kinds of advice.”

When choosing a financial professional, work with someone who is not only competent but also inspires your trust and confidence. The best professionals are good listeners who seek to fully understand your business, circumstances and financial objectives before ever proposing possible solutions. They should have access to products from multiple fine companies, clearly explain how they get paid for their services and provide references upon request. Lastly, make sure your financial professional has a solid support network behind them. Those affiliated with a strong, reputable firm will likely have access to better resources to support your specific needs as a business owner.

The issue that often arises is that these advisors work independent of each other and rarely coordinate efforts on your behalf. That’s why it is important to appoint a “quarterback” for your advisory team. One who will bring the best thinking of your advisors together and help ensure they are all working in concert with the best interest of your business in mind.

“You need a good team and you need your team talking to each other,” says Sessions.  “What I’ve seen happen in some cases is a dad who has an attorney, an accountant, a financial advisor and a banker but these men and women are not talking to each other so nobody knows what’s going on. Then, somebody dies and it’s chaos because they haven’t pulled it all together and made some sense out of it.”

Another trait that members of your advisory team should have is specialized training and credentials to work with family-owned and closely-held businesses. “Because of the emotional and financial complexity of succession planning, it absolutely requires the help of an experienced professional with specialized training,” says Donald Cooper, MBA, management speaker and business coach. “If the enterprise is a family business, the complexity and emotion will likely be even greater and sorting through all of that on your own without expert help, simply makes no sense.”

Some examples of specialized credentials include; accountants who hold an ASA (Accredited Senior Appraiser) or CVA® (Certified Valuation Analyst) as certified business valuators or financial professionals who’ve been trained as Certified Family Business Specialists (CFBS) through The American College.

The CFBS designation is only available to financial professionals with Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). MassMutual has nearly 200 agents located across the country who have earned the CFBS designation. These individuals have completed graduate-level course work focused on the unique dynamics and planning intricacies of family-owned and closely-held businesses.

But even before you embark on the business planning process, you should clarify what you want to accomplish as a business owner. Sometimes it helps to think about what motivated you to become a business owner in the first place. Then, look to partner with advisors who share that same passion and vision.

“Business planning is a minefield of process and emotion,” says Cooper. “Doing it alone makes no sense when expert help is available.”

To find a MassMutual financial professional in your community, visit and request to speak with a Certified Family Business Specialist.CRN201508-175005

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