One of the most overlooked aspects of business is the relationships you create. During our 13 years of business, we cannot count the number of times that we have been grateful for the friends and professional relationships we have made and their contribution to the success of our business.
Any time you are looking at making a major decision, you should get a second opinion. This will invariably save you time and money in the long run! At a minimum, you will want to have someone you trust in finance, law and insurance.
Here are some overall tips for choosing a professional to assist you:
• Ask your accountant, lawyer, friends and fellow business owners to introduce you to the professionals whom they are familiar with. Professional conventions are a great opportunity to network with other like-minded business owners and get recommendations.
• Check with your local chamber of commerce to find out which professionals and banks are active in the community.
• Look for a complementary personality. This is very important! You need a person that you can relate to and that makes you feel comfortable. A professional should never be too busy to address your needs and concerns.
• Find out how long they have been in their current position or owned their own business.
• Tell them about your business and the form of organization so they can tell you how they can assist you.
• Ask about billing rates and payment process upfront, as well as what fines and/or penalties that professional is willing to take responsibility for if they occur (this will be based on the services they render). You should not make a decision on pricing alone, but always look carefully at the charges for services.
• If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification.
Choosing a bank:
Approach this as a long-term commitment and choose wisely. You should compare financial institutions and choose the one that will best serve your business’ needs. You will want them to be able to assist you during the different stages of your business. We would recommend looking at your local banks, as we believe supporting your community is important. However, if your local bank is not able to meet your needs, then by all means keep shopping around!
Ideally your bank should be able to help you with the cash management needs, investment products, loans and advice.
Choosing an accountant:
You will want an accountant that can assist you with: bookkeeping structure, tax planning and payroll. We recommend finding someone that has worked with businesses similar to ours. The uniqueness of our business can make it very difficult to find competent help in this area.
Taxes and payroll are two areas that you do not want to mess up! If you do not have this type of experience, we HIGHLY recommend having a professional handle it for you. We also recommend educating yourself on the basics so that you can question and double-check what is being done for you. Don’t assume that they are working to your benefit until they have proven it to you!
Choosing an insurance agent:
In these times, it is almost inevitable that something will happen that will make you thankful you have proper insurance. Whether it is a natural disaster or lawsuit, your insurance company should be able to help you keep your business afloat during the difficult times. This is one area that we definitely recommend someone that is industry-specific. There are so many aspects of our business that require a professional familiar with our needs. Your insurance will be based on the services you offer and your enrollment, so be sure to update your agent if you add a program or increase/decrease your students. We cannot stress enough that you MUST read the fine print and ensure that everything is covered. Sometimes you will need to ASK for specific coverage for natural disasters—we have seen a few businesses get shafted after the hurricanes hit because they didn’t realize they weren’t covered!
Choosing a lawyer:
Your lawyer will become one of your most important advisors. You may also need to change attorneys as your business changes, but it can be an expensive process so it is best to take your time and choose the right person the first time. We recommend interviewing at least 2 or 3 attorneys. Most will waive their fee for a short interview. Stay focused when interviewing them, and ask for references of other small businesses they have assisted. Do not ask for legal advice during this process. You may also ask if they have knowledge in our field, how they charge, how you can help reduce fees and what they feel their strengths are.
Your attorney should be able to, at a minimum, assist you with contracts, leases, securities, patents, trademarks, legal advice and litigation.
-Carrie Harris & Stephanie Beveridge