Who are your trusted advisors for your small business? If that’s not a question you can answer immediately, then you may not be taking full advantage of valuable resources available to you.
Three of the most important people outside your small business are your banker, your lawyer, and your accountant. You should have each on speed dial. While it’s true these business professionals each offer a different set of products and services, they can offer so much more than the average small business expects from them. Many small business owners only think of their bankers when they need to borrow money, only see their accountants around tax time and only contact their attorney if they have a pending legal matter. Each service professional can and should serve as a trusted business advisor in their own right, and building the right relationship with each yields a valuable source of wisdom to be tapped when your company most needs it.
I ask many small businesses who their banker is, and they say, “I bank with XYZ Bank.” But I don’t mean which bank, I mean “which banker?” If they don’t have direct contact with a specific individual, then that’s a problem.
It is in your banker’s interest to make sure your company’s capital needs are met in a sustainable way. Even in the cases where your business model may not fit the bank’s credit criteria, maintaining a depository relationship with a customer that is successfully operating is often invaluable to them. No banker likes saying “no”; a successful banker will want to keep you satisfied and your business in good shape. A dedicated and effective banker will help explain what it takes to be “bankable”; make recommendations to improve your business, and advise you on alternative lending sources if and when you need them. It’s important to remember that your banker can be your trusted advisor for your small business and not just a source for a loan when you need it.
To take true advantage of your accountant, be sure to see them more than just during tax season to allow them to become an informed advisor to your small business. In addition to taxes and keeping your books in order, your accountant can help you plan for growth through cash flow management and risk assessment. Furthermore, in the early stages of your business, you may find that your personal finances are tied up with your business finances. Your accountant is a reliable resource to help keep the two as separate as possible while managing both.
There are many small legal matters that you can handle on your own. Many businesses I see will only turn to their attorney for assistance on the complexities of IP law, incorporating, or litigation. However, a good attorney with experience with your industry is also an excellent source of advice on what kind of legal support you need now and will need in the future. Even in financial matters such as taking on new debt or equity, the perspective of an attorney who understands your business can be priceless. You should consider your attorney an advisor to guide you through any and all legal decision-making processes.
How to make the most of your relationships
In each business service professional, look for an individual or firm who not only can meet all of your needs but who also understands your company’s philosophy and has experience in your industry or similar industries. Any of the professionals discussed above can offer trustworthy advice on your business plan, your company’s legal structure, growth model, financial agreements, and referrals to other service providers. Above all, you want a professional who is prepared to build a working relationship with your company. Cultivate this relationship by being open and honest with the individuals you work with, continuing to consult them as your business progresses, and maintaining polite personal contact. At each stage of your business’s growth, you may require new or different services, even up to and including a new firm or bank. By maintaining a closer relationship with you lawyer, CPA or banker, you can ensure that they have the knowledge to help your company reach its full potential and the willingness to help you find the resources you need when they can’t.