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The Trusted Advisor: Delivering More than Widgets and Billable Hours

Trusted Advisor
I recently sat down for what ended up being an impromptu viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. Patriarchy aside, the film stoked my holiday cheer (much to my husband’s chagrin!) and reminded me of a few key messages about the potential of building business value through relationships. In the movie, set in the mythical town of Bedford Falls, protagonist George (Jimmy Stewart), keeps looking out for the “common folk,” using his modest savings and loan outfit to put clients into affordable housing. When the Christmas Eve balance sheet shows an $8,000 shortfall (keep in mind these are 1946 numbers) because of a misplaced deposit, George contemplates taking his life because of the potential damage. Enter Clarence, a journeyman angel in search of his wings. Showing George what Bedford Falls would look like if George was not around to advocate for the “little guys,” Clarence convinces George that he’s impacted people in a profoundly positive way. George values his clients and not just their payments. With minutes to spare before the close of the business day, the residents of Bedford Falls make deposits at the Bailey Savings and Loan to keep old George solvent.

Beyond the obvious cheese factor of the film, It’s a Wonderful Life offers some insight into the business/client relationship. What we would give for a “George” at our brokerage, bank, legal office or marketing firm? At the end of the day, most of us want to do business with individuals who are invested in us and our vision for the future. While every business transaction turns on the deal and the exchange of resources, we all appreciate the trusted advisor who’s really committed to standing in our corner as we face the shifting currents of life, business, and family.

The Trusted Advisor

Trusted AdvisorWhether you’re selling widgets to your clients or managing their retirement nest eggs, your clients will work with you as long as they trust you. But how do you earn the trust of those who are underwriting your lifestyle? You must do the little things well. Promptly returning phone calls or emails, mentioning their significant other by name or remembering that your client’s daughter was trying out for an elite basketball team are among the basics of trust-building. (If you read my last post on the Side Hustle, I can assure you that the customer buying a used $20 item from me through some online sale app receives these little things in the same way a multi-million-dollar business client does). If you’ve made a commitment to a client, meet your commitment. If you are overcommitting to “close the sale”, take a moment and step back and be honest with the client about what you can deliver and when you can realistically deliver it. In my own work, I recognize that employees and clients want straight shooting, not slick selling. The trusted advisor is always honest; brutally honest when the moment calls for it – radical candor at its finest.


Unless you’re selling used cars, throwing some floor mats and cup holders into the pot to sweeten a deal is not a value proposition. The trusted advisor delivers value to the client by offering information, by challenging and leading with insight. What can this look like for you and your work? For those of us engaged in the tech sector of the economy, sharing information means telling clients about technology opportunities that are out over the horizon. If I know that my company, for example, will be launching a platform in six months that is perfect for my client’s needs, I will encourage the client to delay today’s purchase and wait for the better offering that’s down the road. The short-term hit in revenue or the sales target is offset by the positive vibe and the trust that I create with the client I’ve advised to stay the course.

If your business is information – stocks, legal advice, etc. – the value proposition centers on offering some of your valuable research findings or insight and doing so “off the clock.” Telling your legal client, “I think the new tax laws can be a win for you and here’s why…” costs you nothing. It does, however, tell your client, “wow s/he’s trying to help me out… I need to schedule an appointment with them this week.” Even if you don’t generate billable hours from the information you’ve shared, you’re reminding your client that they made a wise choice the day they put you on retainer.

Bedford Falls

Trusted AdvisorYou don’t have to be as selfless as George Bailey to deliver value to your clients. That said, honesty and value propositions will move you from the “hired help” or “vendor contact” silo to the “trusted advisor” level of relationship. In a crowded marketplace, businesses and entrepreneurs providing a little extra value to their clients, will keep their constituents for the long-haul. Helping your folks aspire to a wonderful life, will mean wonderful business opportunities for you.