Hire professionals who will help you run, grow and protect your company.
Over the life of your business, you’ll receive guidance from a wide range of experts. Some of them, such as your mentor or the counselors at your local small-business center, will help you for free.
Eventually, though, you probably will need to pay for someone’s expertise. Most businesses benefit from hiring a lawyer, a banker, an insurance agent, an accountant and other paid “subject matter” advisers.
These are the professionals who will help you run, grow and protect your company. They’ll be a part of your inner circle, so it’s important to make sure you choose well.
There are many things to consider before spending money on advisers. For starters, what kind of help do you need? A frequent mistake business owners make is assuming that “having an accountant” covers all the accounting needs of the business.
First, let’s understand how the accounting industry is structured. CPAs work from an engagement letter, which spells out the scope of the services they’ll provide to you.
If you’ve engaged an accountant to help you with your taxes, it is unreasonable to assume that person will also help you figure out what daily business financial decisions you should make. That type of financial counsel is called management accounting. It’s a separate engagement from tax accounting. It’s also different from bookkeeping services.
One firm or individual may well be able to provide each of these accounting perspectives, but maybe not. It’s best to know that they are distinctly different services.
The Process for Finding Great People
Entrepreneurs should first seek referrals and then interview at least three recommended professionals for each role.
To start, create a list of possible vendors by asking around. Entrepreneurial support organizations like your local small business and technology development center can make recommendations. Inquire with your mentors, industry associations and other successful entrepreneurs, and if you have some of these paid adviser roles filled already, ask those folks for recommendations.
Once you’ve created your list of advisers, begin the interview process. That process begins with a list of qualifying questions.
» Does the vendor focus on business clients? You’re looking to work with someone whose book of business contains 50 percent or more business clients. You don’t want to end up being sold business insurance by a person who spends 90 percent of her time working on individual home, life and auto insurance.
» Does the vendor you’re interviewing have experience working with others in your industry? The challenges of the startup and the growth stage are different, and finding a vendor with expertise with those common issues can be important.
» How do they prefer to communicate?
» How will you be charged?
Once your question set is complete, meet and interview at least three vendors for each role before making a selection. Does the person seem to “get” you and your business? Working with someone who is easy to talk with and seems to understand you makes everything much easier.
Welcome Them to Your Team
Once you’ve selected your advisers, introduce them to one another. Hosting a lunch is a great way to do so. That way, the lawyer, banker, insurance agent and accounting professionals can meet one another and create their own relationships.
This pays off greatly, for example, when legal and accounting advice may conflict.
Keep in mind that all these advisers make money by selling services and advice. No matter what, the owner is the one required to synthesize and implement any plan of action in the end. You’re creating a team, with you as a quarterback.