People who own and/or operate small businesses still need to cover the same range of business related skills as larger businesses. The difference between small businesses and larger ones however, is that in smaller businesses the owner/operator usually is required to provide most of the business skills himself - larger businesses may be able to have dedicated staff to cover specialist skills. Specialist business skills include those relating to accounting, law and compliance, investment and financial planning, engineering, architecture, advertising, land-use planning, computing and so on.
As you can see, it is impossible for the owner/operator of small businesses to expect to be competent in all these areas and as a result, we need to obtain the services of professional advisers at various times throughout our business year. The most successful business operators obtain the services of specialists more often than not during the life of the business. On the other hand, many business owners believe that they should be able to address their own business issues and they also believe that money should not be wasted on expensive professional advisers. Professional advisers can make a valuable contribution to your business – if you know how to manage them properly.
Experience shows that most small business operators should obtain the services of professional advisers if their business is to grow or just to remain on the ‘straight and narrow’. The issue is not whether business operators should or should not use external advisers but how business owners can obtain and utilise the services of specialists and advisers that add value to their business operations – particularly to the bottom line.
The key to successfully obtaining and utilising the services of professional advisers is knowing exactly what skills you need and then being able to clearly set out what you want your adviser to achieve for you. There is nothing professional advisers like better than clearly set out instructions from a client who knows what they want. Many business operators feel that to successfully engage a professional adviser they need to be able to converse with the adviser using technical terms and concepts. If you are able to do this, you probably don’t need the adviser – you can solve the problem yourself.
Being able to communicate with professional advisers is vitally important but you need to do so on your terms – not theirs. Your communication with an adviser should be in terms of what results (outcomes) you want to achieve – not how the adviser will use their technical skills to achieve the results you want. In everyday terms, if your hot water cylinder stops working, you engage a plumber to fix the problem. Your conversation with the plumber is about having a hot water cylinder that works, not about the technical tasks the plumber will undertake to fix/replace your hot water cylinder. If your car doesn’t start, you want your mechanic to get it started; you don’t need to know the details of each defective component and why each component does not work. Engaging professional advisers for your business is no different.
You need to clearly describe the outcome you want and then insist the adviser explains how your outcome is to be achieved – in language you can understand. If the adviser cannot explain how your outcome will be achieved or cannot explain this in plain English, then you should not engage this adviser – go and find another. If you do not understand the advice your professional is providing, insist they go back to the beginning and explain it again. If you do not understand the
advice you are receiving – it is a weakness of the adviser, not a weakness in you! You should also feel comfortable working with your adviser; they should make you feel at ease, should treat you as an equal and should deal with your issues in your time. Be wary of advisers who claim to be able to solve all your business problems – it’s a wise person who knows their own limitations.
For example, an accountant should be able to explain, in terms you can easily understand, how he/she is going to reduce your taxable income. You do not need to understand the technical nuances of the Tax Act in order to understand how your accountant is going to do this. Your computer technician should be able to explain how your computer network will operate for you – not the technical details of each component and how it all fits together. Your lawyer should be able to explain the legal structure he/she is recommending for you in terms you can understand. You should not need to know the details of relevant legislation in order to understand the advice your lawyer is providing.
Once you have decided that you feel confident to manage an adviser (not be managed by the adviser), you need to work out which adviser to use and where you can find one. A good starting point is the relevant professional association. The internet is a good place to find professional associations from which you can find an adviser to contact. Once you have found an adviser, make an appointment to discuss your issues. The aim of the appointment is to determine whether you feel comfortable enough to work with the adviser. There is also nothing wrong with asking the adviser for the names of people who have worked with the adviser in the past for you to use as referees. Your adviser may need to contact the referee first prior to providing you with their name (Privacy Act). If your potential adviser refuses to do this, go and find another who will. At all times, you need to feel that you are in the ‘driver’s seat’, with regard to professional advisers; this is not a time to be in the ‘back seat’.