It takes a village to raise a small business.
The further along you get in your business, the more valuable your network and relationships will be. The people who work outside of your business may be monumental in helping you grow it.
Of course, your staff and your core leadership team will always be crucial. However, it’s often someone who doesn’t work for/with you that brings in a new skill-set and a new perspective. These often lead to those “ah-ha” moments that help you take your business to the next level.
With that in mind, here are 7 people that you will need to know during your first few years in business.
1. An Accountant or Bookkeeper
A lot of small business owners will try to do this themselves. This attempt to save money actually ends up costing them a lot more.
It’s not even about the mistakes you may make doing your own books or filing your own taxes. It’s about robbing your business of an expert who can monitor your cash flow. This is someone who can spot potential problems before they become major issues. They can see a big opportunity before your competition does.
You likely don’t have the time or the expertise to monitor these things the way an expert would. Most entrepreneurs are trying to do a little bit of everything and don’t have time to give the finances the attention they deserve. This is why cash flow problems are the #1 reason why small businesses go under.
What is the difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant? Which do you need?
There may not be a big difference between them to the untrained eye, but they serve different roles in the world of small business.
Bookkeeper: Will manage the day-to-day cash flow for your business, and prepare detailed reports on the company’s financial performance.
Accountant: Will serve a more robust role, looking at big-picture questions. They will apply accounting principals and best practices to advise you on how your company could be spending/investing/saving your money more wisely.
You could say that the bookkeepers’ main priority is the company’s financial records. Whereas, an accountant’s priority would be the company’s financial future.
2. A Funding or Loan Expert
A bookkeeper or accountant can help you ensure you’re wisely spending and investing your company’s sales and income. However, there will be times where you need more cash from an outside source.
This could be because you’re company suddenly faces a serious cash flow shortfall or crisis. Or perhaps a timely opportunity has landed in your lap, and you need money to take advantage of it.
In either case, you may wonder why you would need access to small business funding specialists when you can simply go to the bank to get a loan or line of credit. Because, 80% of small business owners who go to the major banks for a loan are rejected.
The big banks’ loan processes are very automated, and if your numbers (equity, income, credit, debt, etc.) don’t reach their thresholds, it may not even be worth your while to apply.
The Small Business Association’s Loan program matches you with private lenders, which means you have a better chance of being approved. However, your odds are still only about 50-50. And if you’re in your first year, don’t bother applying. They want businesses that have been operating for at least 2 years.
If you need money in a hurry for a timely opportunity or crisis, the big banks and the SBA are also not really options for you. Both of their respective application processes can stretch out over weeks or even months.
Companies that are in need of quick cash are likely better of skipping the loan application process altogether and looking into merchant process solutions to find the funding they need. A merchant cash advance (MCA) could give you the cash you need, in less than 24 hours, with flexible repayment terms.
An MCA isn’t subject to loan regulations and lending standards, because it is not a loan. It is classified as a form of funding. This means MCA providers can look at you as more than a series of numbers. They can look at your future, and not focus on your past.
Basically, you would receive an advance of money in exchange for a small percentage of your future income/ transactions. Your payments will reflect your income. So, when your sales are down, you will be repaying a smaller amount each month. When sales are higher, you will be making a bigger dent in your balance.
Best of all, you can apply completely online and have your answer within 24 hours. You could also have your funds the next business day!
If you already have an MCA and feel like you should be getting a better deal, we invite you to use our free rate analysis service to find out. More often than not, we can save you money!
3. A Freelance Graphic Designer/ Artist
Just because you can go online and create your own website or logo, doesn’t mean you should.
A graphic artist is someone who you will lean on more than you may expect. Of course, they will be invaluable in the early days of your business and can basically create your brand for you by designing your first:
- Business cards
Freelancers are good because they’re more accustomed to rush jobs. They’re self-employed like you, and you are always their most important client. This means they’re more likely to cut you a price break or work on demanding deadlines.
Finding a good and talented freelance designer can be overwhelming. Your first step should be to ask your family, friends, and associates. If you belong to any small business groups or networking clubs, there may be one there. If not, someone in the group will definitely be able to refer you to someone they’ve used.
Your designer can also refer you to other creative professionals in their network, like:
- SEO experts
- Social media gurus
During the early days, you will work with all of them on a project-by-project basis. However, once you reach a certain level of marketing activity (i.e. You have more marketing budget because your marketing efforts have led to more sales), you might be better off bundling all of these services together with a marketing agency who offers all (or some) of them.
If you send them lots of repeat business, they will be more likely to handle your rush jobs with care and even cut you a price break on bulk orders.
4. A Commercial Real Estate Lawyer/ Expert
You started your own business because you’re an expert in your field, not because you know a lot about commercial real estate. So, that puts you at a bit of a disadvantage when you’re looking for a commercial space.
If you’re looking to lease a space, you may not need a real estate lawyer yet. There are commercial lease specialists out there who can review your lease and help you negotiate, at a fraction of the price of a lawyer. However, you definitely need someone to help you.
If you’re thinking about signing a lease without one, ask yourself
- Do you know how to negotiate out of a personal guarantee, even if you’re an unproven business?
- Did you know a restaurant can have their lease nullified if they don’t get a liquor license in time?
- If a pipe bursts in the winter and destroys all of your computers, who is liable?
A commercial real estate advisor can help ensure you don’t get trapped into a lease that ends up draining your profits, or leaves you too personally exposed to risk. It’s unfair to say that all commercial landlords are out to get you. However, it would be fair to say that most commercial leases come with some less-than-favorable terms for you that an expert can flag and negotiate out of the lease.
However, once you’re looking to buy a commercial property, you will most likely need a real estate lawyer.
5. A Business Attorney
Even if you don’t bring in a real estate lawyer to look over your lease, you will still need one on speed dial, just in case.
The world of entrepreneurship is full of landmines and legal lessons you can learn the hard way. Having a business attorney on your side ensures that doesn’t happen.
You need someone on standby to advise you on day-to-day matters like:
- Reviewing contracts, or helping you create your own
- Real estate (as mentioned above)
- Employee law
- Intellectual property, trademarks, and patents
And of course, there are those unfortunate instances where you need a lawyer because someone is threatening to take legal action against you. This is where you need a lawyer the most to keep things from escalating. It’s been said that if you’re being sued, it’s already too late.
You don’t need to go with a big law firm, as you probably can’t afford one. But again, you should ask the people in your network if they know anyone that they can recommend.
6. A “Techie”
If you’re not a super tech-savvy person yourself, hopefully you have a go-to person on staff that is. If you don’t, find someone in your network and put them on speed dial. For a lot of entrepreneurs, this often takes the form of a friend or spouse. It doesn’t matter who it is, as long as they’re accessible and always willing to help.
Yes, all of your gadgets often come with a 1-800 number for tech support. However, getting through to a live agent can take time. It would be better to have a direct line to someone you can call or text right away.
Let’s say you’re running a restaurant and all of the servers’ point of service (POS) tablets and terminals all go down. You’re now faced with not being able to take credit or debit payments while you’re on hold waiting for the POS company’s tech support. Or is this a problem with your internet connection?
Having someone on stand-by that can walk you through some basic troubleshooting while you’re on hold or waiting to hear back from tech support can greatly reduce downtime and the ugly costs that go with it.
7. Insurance Agent
The best way to prevent a financial disaster from damaged equipment or theft is to insure the heck out of everything.
Being properly insured can be an absolute business saver. Too many entrepreneurs have had to close the doors to their business forever because they were faced with having to pay out of pocket for big-time repairs or replacements.
Some of the types of insurance a business owner may need include:
- Commercial vehicle insurance
- Professional liability insurance
- Commercial Property insurance
- Workers’ compensation insurance
- Product liability insurance
- Business interruption insurance
Again, like legal advice. This is something you need before you actually need it. Protect yourself today and you will thank yourself tomorrow.
As much as being an entrepreneur can be you vs. the world, you should never be alone. They say that if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Your contact list should be full of a host of people who can help you with a single phone call, and will drop everything to do it. At the very least, you need an accountant/bookkeeper, a funding expert, a designer, lawyers and law experts, a techie, and an insurance agent. This is your dream team and they will really help you more than you expect.
These are the relationships that can help you drive your business. So, build your dream team roster today!