Nearly every small business owner will need the assistance of an accountant, attorney, banker and insurance agent at one time or another. Some also hire a management or marketing consultant.
In fact, if you decide that you do need the help of a professional, finding a good one should be one of the very first steps you take to start your new business. Some of the first steps you'll be taking — deciding on the form of your business, for example — will be easier if you already have professionals lined up.
Which professionals will you need? The first step in answering that question is for you to understand how each professional can help you. Here's a quick look at the types of assistance each can provide to you:
- Accountant: Sets up your books; prepares your taxes; provides you with tax advice related to the operation of your business, such as how to choose the best retirement plan and how to take advantage of tax deductions.
- Attorney: Helps you choose the right form of business; makes sure the proper papers are filed; drafts and interprets contracts and leases; defends you if legal action is brought against your business; represents you if you bring legal action against someone else; provides you with legal advice related to the operation of your business, such as the rules for hiring and firing of employees.
- Banker: Helps you get financing; helps you establish credit card accounts; works, in many cases, as your silent partner, providing you with business operation advice.
- Insurance agent: Evaluates your insurance needs; provides you with advice on which types of coverage you need.
- Management and marketing consultant: Provides basic business operation advice; provides pricing and inventory advice; provides sales and advertising advice.
The next step is for you to assess your own skills and the needs of your business. Do you know how, for example, to incorporate yourself or to set up your own financial recordkeeping system? If so, perhaps you can save some money by doing it yourself.
An assessment of your business needs does not have to be exhaustive, but it should be as comprehensive as possible. The reason the assessment is necessary is to enable you to make an informed decision about the services the professional will provide. Being aware of the business's needs allows you to consider suggestions from the professional and to make the best decisions for your business.
Once your business's needs have been assessed, the next step is to locate a professional. A good place to start your search is in your own home. If you have an accountant, lawyer, insurance agent or other professional who handles your personal matters, chances are they will be happy to handle your business matters, or at least provide a reference to someone who will. If you don't have a professional who handles your personal matters, seek referrals from friends and relatives.
You can also try to find a professional as follows:
Accountant: Ask business associates and other small business owners. If you have a banker, attorney or insurance agent, ask him or her for a recommendation. Or contact the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). If you're interested in joining a professional association, you can get more information from them or from your local chamber of commerce. When all else fails, look in the Yellow Pages. Be sure to shop around and compare rates. Negotiate the fees in advance.
Attorney: Ask business associates and other small business owners. If you have a banker, accountant or insurance agent, ask him or her for a recommendation. Or contact the American Bar Association. If you're interested in joining a professional association, you can get more information from them or from your local chamber of commerce. When all else fails, look in the Yellow Pages. Initial consultations are usually free, but make sure that's true before you make an appointment. Be sure to shop around and compare rates. Negotiate the fees in advance.
Bankers: Start with the bank where you have your personal accounts. If that doesn't work out, ask business associates and other small business owners. Or contact the Small Business Administration. They keep track of which banks in your area have the best small business–lending records.
Insurance agents: Again, ask business associates and other small business owners. Look in the Yellow Pages. Be sure to shop around.
Finally, trade associations, local chambers of commerce, rotary clubs and similar organizations may provide free or limited professional services. At a minimum, they should be able to provide referrals to professionals that serve the organization.
Tip: Work Smart
As a small business owner, you'll probably need several types of business insurance. Having a different insurer for each type of coverage can be a lot of trouble, while having all of your coverage with the same insurer can be needlessly expensive. Your best bet may be to look for an independent insurance agent because you can have one person handle all of your insurance needs and they can shop around for the lowest rates.