How to evaluate an adviser you may hire

by Michele on March 20, 2012

How to evaluate an adviser for your solopreneur businessI was talking to someone I know recently who is thinking of starting a solopreneur business. When I mentioned I could help with this, his replied that the only way he would take advice from me, or anyone, is to know exactly, in detail, how much money I had made in my business. His thinking was that if I had made X dollars then I have something that he could replicate.

There’s a few problems with this response. First, let me state that I admire anyone who checks out a coach or adviser before hiring them. It’s really important to make sure the person knows their field before you trust them. Anyone can appoint themselves guru, expert, etc. so title alone won’t tell you anything.

The first problem with this is personal boundaries. While I understand the logic of asking the question, I would not reveal something like this in detail. I think it’s great when business coaches share their successes in general terms like 6 figures or multiple 6 figures, but that’s as far as I would go. It simply feels icky to me to have to reveal so much personal data in order to win a client.

The second problem with this is that it ignores how long the person has been in business. If I had answered this question within the first 6 months of my business, the figure would not have been very impressive. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t already helping people. I had 10+ years in business in a variety of settings before I ever started my business, so from the onset I was able to offer something valuable.

The third problem is that there isn’t one business model to work from. Just because I have success with mine doesn’t mean someone else, in a different kind of business, could replicate it.

The fourth problem is the difference between revenue and profit. Revenue is all the money that comes into a business, where profit is what is left after paying expenses. If I said I made 1 Million dollars in revenue or sales, that sounds impressive but what if I spent 2 Million bringing that in? That’s pretty dismal.

The last problem using this to check out an adviser is that you have no way of knowing if the person is telling the truth. Anything can be fabricated, even tax returns or account data. The person who asked me this question already knows me well enough to know I wouldn’t lie, but how could you have this knowledge of someone you just met?

So, having established that asking for detailed personal financial information is not the way to evaluate an adviser the next question is what is the right way?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Know enough about what you are seeking advice on to have a conversation about it. The same way you do your research on a new car before setting foot in the showroom, do your homework here as well. Learn what pitfalls to ask about, and learn some best practices so if you hear something different you know enough to ask about it.

Look for testimonials or ask for references. This is proof that they’ve already gotten results for people.

Look for long-term consistency such as a blog or newsletter. Almost anyone can look good in one conversation but to publish solid information over an extended period of time is a strong indicator that the person has a depth of knowledge and experience to share.

How do you check out someone you are thinking of hiring? Tell me about it in the comments.


  1. Don Talbert says:

    I have a very strong opinion of people who are so bold as to ask such a totally irrelevant question. It tells me so much about that person’s character, and their disconnect with what’s really important.
    If someone was considering hiring me and asked that question, we’d be finished. It’s inappropriate to ask.

    1. Michele says:

      Thanks for your input. I have to say, it took me aback and made me sure that even if this person decides later he wants to work with me that I’ll decline. It struck me as a shortcut way to assess someone’s knowledge, and that’s not someone who would be successful with what I teach.

  2. Yvette says:

    wanting to know what I earn before you enquire about my personableness (if there is such a word) really says somthing about your shallow thinking. If your person was a business owner then they don’t want to know about people and sustainability they just want to know how to make the next financial breakthrough for themselves. If it was for personal coaching, then they are not yet ready to deal with what is at the core of them, eating into their life.

    1. Michele says:

      Yvette, this was a someone thinking of starting a business who was checking me out as a potential coach. I agree totally with your statement that this is shallow thinking. Assessing a business coach is a process, and not something that can be done by asking just one question. If that’s the way this person approaches building a business then I’m definitely not a fit. Like you, I work more in the long-term sustainable model.

  3. I know everyone is different, but for me this definitely would have been a very big red flag! Anyone who views things so strictly in terms of money is someone who clearly values money very highly – which is not itself a problem, but to me there are some jumbled priorities there. It’s almost like asking someone how successful they’ve been in life based solely on their bank account balance…success is about so much more than that. Interesting post, Michele! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Michele says:

      Thanks Jennifer! I thought it was kind of uni-dimensional myself, and it seems like a shortcut to doing the work to really check someone out properly before hiring them. Being efficient is great, but if someone is into shortcuts instead of real work, they’re not a good fit for me.

  4. Don Talbert says:

    I must comment on this again. Someone like this, could easily forgo the opportunity to work with world class talent, because he put a high priority on am irrelevant criterium for choosing a coach.
    I’ve never asked an attorney doctor or accountant to show me a copy of their paycheck stubs. I seek them out for what they can do to help me in certain situations.
    My response to him may have gone like this: “I need a copy of your tax return, to determine if you qualify to work with me. “

    1. Michele says:

      Don this is so true and so funny that I really laughed out loud! I wish I had thought to tell him to cough up his tax returns before I’d think about working with him!

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