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What Advisors Should Know About the Small Business Owner Market

What Advisors Should Know About the Small Business Owner Market

The bad news: despite mounting financial concerns, only one-half of small business owners use a wealth manager or financial advisor, according to a recently released survey by Securian Financial Group.

The good news: 50 percent of small business owners could use an advisor, and the best prospects, according to the survey, are women, younger owners, and owners who are thinking about retiring.

Securian and market research firm CMI surveyed 453 owners with between three and 250 employees earlier this year and respondents said they were very interested in consulting an advisor for help with cost controls, particularly rising healthcare costs; profitability; cash flow management; an exit strategy and securing business loans. Just over half of the firms surveyed (56 percent) had revenues of between $500,000 and $15 million last year.

The gap between owners who said they wanted outside help on certain issues and those who actually used an advisor to address those issues was also significant. For example, while nearly a quarter of owners surveyed said they wanted help with cost controls, only six percent actually did address that specific concern with an advisor. And while one-fifth of the owners said they wanted outside assistance to manage cash flow, only seven percent did in fact use an advisor for that problem.

What’s holding the owners back? “By definition, these are people who have an entrepreneurial tendency,” said Kerry Geurkink, marketing director for St. Paul, Minn.-based Securian. “They’re used to doing things themselves.”

A busy schedule and ingrained habits are also to blame, said industry observers. “Business owners don’t have much time to spare, and they tend to stick with ‘financial advisors’ who have been around from the beginning, like an insurance agent,” said David Tolson, managing director CapitalValue Advisors, an Englewood, Co.-based investment banking and valuation service firm that works with small and mid-sized businesses.

What Business Owners Are Looking For

Help with their capital needs in difficult financial times has become increasingly important for small business owners. “The main reason so many businesses don’t make it is they don’t have enough cash in tough times,” said Charles Sobel, a retired business owner who is on the executive committee of the New York City chapter of SCORE, the national non-profit association of experienced business executives who volunteer to help growing small businesses. “Banks aren’t lending and cash is king, but many owners don’t know how to budget or control cash flow. Advisors can also be helpful if they know sources of funding.”

The cash crunch for business owners has been particularly acute since the financial crisis of 2008, said Tom Orecchio, principal of New Jersey and Massachusetts-based Modera Wealth Management, which has a number of small business clients. “They need credit more than ever before,” Orecchio said. “Accounts receivable terms with customers used to be 30 to 60 days. Now terms are 60 to 120 days and its taking longer and longer to collect, and business owners often have to float a line of credit until they get paid. Advisors who understand cash flow can smooth things out and help take the pressure off.”

What can advisors do to get the business?

Female business owners are particularly likely to use financial advisors, in part because they are more likely to be first-time business owners, according to the Securian survey. Women business owners are “more worried” than their male counterparts “about the day-to-day finances of the business and with the debt load carried by their business,” the study reported.

In addition, younger owners were nearly twice as likely to use an advisor than not, according to the survey. “We found that younger owners were more receptive to working with outsiders,” Geurkink said. “They acknowledge that there’s a lot they don’t know, as opposed to Baby Boomers who are more experienced and tend to be do-it-yourselfers.”

But business-owning Boomers nearing retirement do represent a fertile market for advisors, the survey indicated. Retirement savings and insurance products were services most often sought by these business owners. What’s more, owners working on an exit strategy used an advisor by a margin of three to one over those who didn’t, and owners working on a business ownership strategy used advisors by a two to one margin.

The earlier an advisor can engage an owner about a transition strategy, the better, Tolson said. “If you come in after the fact, your chances of getting the business are not very good,” Tolson said. “Business owners want to work with someone who knows them and what they need. Advisors have to remember that selling is less about money and more about emotion. They need to give owners the confidence that they will be OK after the closing because the owners are thinking about the next phase of their life.”

Build a Network

Advisors targeting business owners shouldn’t waste their time on cold calls, industry experts said. Instead, they were advised to focus on building a network of partners among accountants, bankers, attorneys and insurance agents who can help them meet business owners and serve their needs.

Indeed, 86 percent of surveyed owners who currently or in the past used advisors “first learned of their advisor through a recommendation from those closest to them or their bank or accountant,” according to the report.

Advisors need to need to “broaden their listening skills,” when approaching business owners, Geurkink said. “You can’t just be thinking about what you want to sell them. Advisors are unlikely to have success if they’re not listening to the owners’ top-line concerns.”

Advisors should research an owner’s business market before meeting them, but he or she doesn’t need to become an instant expert, Tolson said. “You don’t have to know all the answers,” he explained, “but if you are well-connected and have good resources, you will be incredibly valuable.”

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