What do you need to know before hiring a marketing firm, an accountant, a bookkeeper or an attorney?
Small business owners wearing multiple hats might want to take off one or two to focus on what they do best: the day-to-day operations of their business.
They can’t grow if they’re spending too much time on administration and marketing tasks. Sometimes cutting back on a long to-do list is the best way to move forward by hiring service providers like marketing professionals, attorneys, accountants and bookkeepers.
But before hiring a service provider, consider doing some prep work. Ask for quotes about pricing and the work to be done. Check multiple references by searching customer reviews on the provider’s website and public review sites like Google and Yelp. And be sure to have a contract in place that explains the work to be performed, the anticipated start and finish dates, and the expected cost, either by the hour or the job.
To dive in deeper, here are some specific considerations for each type of service provider.
Hiring a Marketing Company
Hiring a marketing company is a risk that could pay off or simply become an expense without much of an ROI.
Consider the services the company offers and if they’re a fit for your business—some companies perfume multiple functions, while others are specialized or industry specific.
A marketing company might manage a business’s brand, craft marketing strategies and handle multiple marketing avenues, such as SEO, email marketing, web design and pay-per-click advertising. Digital marketing, for instance, requires a nuanced approach for each social media channel, which takes time and individualized strategies and tactics to manage optimally.
Before hiring a marketing company, check off the following:
- Seek references from similar businesses to yours, and make sure the references are recent, especially since marketing is a volatile industry.
- Ask for samples of work relevant to your needs, such as a previous client’s website for web development or a list of social media accounts to check types of postings and how they are managed.
- Review how the marketing company markets its own company, since a company that invests time in its own marketing efforts is more professional. Check the company’s website and social media channels to get an idea of how it handles branding and the type of content it produces.
- Check for online reviews and testimonials, since a reputable company will have several, or if new, may not have any. If the company doesn’t have any reviews or a portfolio, that might be a red flag that former clients have had bad experiences.
- Ask for a detailed service agreement or proposal outlining the services that will be provided with line-item costs. This gives a clear idea of expectations.
Hiring a Bookkeeper or Accountant
Small business owners often start off doing their own bookkeeping to save money and keep a close watch on the business’s financials. At a certain point, the job becomes too big and may require a professional to manage the accounts and analyze the numbers.
Bookkeepers handle daily accounting-related tasks, such as tracking company expenses and submitting invoices, while accountants can help lower taxes and make sure the right paperwork is filed. They also can help with payroll and financial planning.
To find a bookkeeper or accountant, do the following:
- Ask for referrals from owners of similar types of businesses, as well as the company’s attorney or bank loan officer. Find someone who’s trustworthy, since sensitive financial information is being handled.
- Check qualifications, such as familiarity with software, analytical and mathematical skills, and attention to detail, as well as certifications, licensing and experience. Make sure the experience is in the right type of industry and check into any specializations.
- Ask about cost and expect to pay an hourly rate for services. Also ask about availability, since some accountants only work during tax season.
For those businesses using QuickBooks, hiring an accountant is still a good idea to check over the numbers and limit tax liability, since business taxes can be complicated.
Hiring an Attorney
Small business owners facing a legal issue likely will want to hire a professional right away. Like with any other service provider, they’ll want to ask for recommendations, including from attorneys they know, even if they work outside the desired specialty.
Check Google reviews and lawyer review sites, such as Lawyers.com and Justia, and the firm’s website and social media accounts for reviews and testimonials, as well as local and state bar associations
Here are additional things to consider:
- Schedule a consultation, which typically doesn’t carry a charge, and bring along a clear summary of what occurred and any supporting documents and materials.
- Ensure the attorney and the staff are polite and accommodating and that the firm size is a fit. Small firms can offer personal one-on-one relationships, while large firms have more resources and can handle bigger cases.
- Ask questions about training, experience and specialties, how much the case might be worth, if the case is a strong one, and how often the firm takes cases to court versus settling. Also ask about experience with similar cases and the outcomes and the expected timeframe for a resolution.
- Ask for a thorough explanation of fees and costs and, if possible, a written summary. Examples of fees include a contingency fee, a percentage of what’s awarded for the case; a flat fee, a set dollar amount for services like preparing a will; an hourly rate based on hours worked; and a retainer, paid up front for expected expenses and fees. Also ask about additional expenses and how billing and payments will be handled.
- Get the agreement in writing stating the terms, details of the case and the attorney-client relationship.
Small businesses reach a point that delegating tasks to outside professionals results in an ROI, allowing them to focus on their business and leave the marketing, numbers and legal matters to the pros.
Choosing the right expert takes research, asking the right questions and checking off to-do items. The result is the peace of mind that some of the business administration will be aptly handled, leaving time for focusing on the core of the business and why you started it in the first place.