You should have a shortlist of qualified professionals to whom you’ll turn for advice if the need ever arises.
Early on, many small business owners like to take the do-it-yourself approach for as many items on their to-do list as possible to save on out-of-pocket expenses. But sooner or later, every small business will need some professional advice on some issue. So even if you plan to prepare your own legal documents, keep your books, and make all of your tax filings yourself, you should still have a shortlist of qualified professionals to whom you’ll turn for advice if the need ever arises.
But how do you select the right ones? Here are six steps to try:
Which professional advisors you’ll need will largely depend on the stage of your business and the nature of the field in which you operate. Almost every business will have a need for a lawyer at some point, and while some businesses may be able to get away with a generalist, other businesses will eventually feel the need to have an employment lawyer, corporate lawyer, business and commercial litigator, debt finance lawyer, or regulatory lawyer. Unless you love yourself some general ledgers, you may want an accountant and a bookkeeper. You’ll certainly want to have a point of contact at the bank where you conduct most of your banking, and you’ll want to have several contacts in the insurance space. Again, all of this depends on the specific nature of your business, and the right answer is that you need to have whatever advisors you need to feel comfortable with the level of risk that you’re taking on a daily basis.
When it comes to finding professional advisors, some of the best information comes from word of mouth. You can’t really know whether a professional advisor will actually be a good fit for you until you use them, and since it’s the same situation for everyone else, people talk. A person who has had a bad experience with a professional advisor will let you know it, and people who have a great connection with their professional advisors will tell you that, too. Do some homework through the grapevine because that’s the best source of information for a professional advisor.
For a lot of small businesses, your professional advisors are likely to be local. That actually makes finding them really easy because most professional advisors will have a website that Google Maps will pick up and plot on the map. Do a geographic search for the type of advisor you need and you’ll probably get a pretty good list in Google Maps that you can call on.
Many professional advisors may be willing to meet with you for coffee or lunch so that you get a chance to get to know them and they can assess whether their services are actually a fit for your needs. In fact, many view this as part of the business development process, so use it as a chance to do your due diligence. Half an hour to an hour face to face should be plenty of time for you to judge the cut of someone’s jib and decide whether you could trust that person in a moment of need.
If you don’t have a good rapport with a professional advisor, then don’t feel compelled to use them. When you’re in a situation that requires professional advice, you need to trust your advisor, and that can only happen if you get along well with him or her. You should enjoy working with your advisors, and if you just don’t click, then look for another.
At the end of this process, put together a chart of the advisors you want to have access to at a moment’s notice broken out by area of expertise and include their contact information. Don’t feel obligated to narrow it down to just one professional advisor for any given area of expertise, either. In fact, you shouldn’t. You should have a list of multiple advisors for each functional area that you think you might need advice on. The point here is to have a stable of professional advisors whom you can call on when you need them. And if any of them disappoint, then you can easily move to another one.