When starting a business, entrepreneurs need to find and secure a few professional resources early on. First, startups should engage the services of an attorney (seeking specialists as appropriate). Second, startups will eventually need to hire an accountant. Following are a few considerations for engaging each of these critical services.
Lawyers help companies comply with zoning regulations, adhere to copyright and trademark, establish legal business entity status, and minimize personal and corporate liability. As a new business,
- you might engage a contract attorney to help you prepare standard forms with clients and/or vendors, and assist you in the understanding of contracts you are asked to sign,
- you may require a real estate lawyer to help you negotiate the lease or purchase of commercial space and prepare the proper documents,
- you will probably want to have a tax lawyer close by to assist you with tax issues that may arise and answer questions related to potential long-term consequences, and/or
- you may seek an intellectual property law firm to help you register for federal trademark/copyright your products or services and protect your intellectual assets.
Unfortunately, most small businesses wait too long to engage a lawyer, usually until something has gone wrong. At this point, hiring a lawyer can be an expensive and harrowing experience.
When retaining an attorney, entrepreneurs should consider the following:
- What specific legal issues do I need assistance with (see above)?
- Is it prudent and/or possible for me to handle these issues on my own?
- What costs are involved in retaining the type of professional assistance I require?
- How are the records and references of the attorneys I’m considering as it relates to my specific need(s)?
As with any business relationship, you’ll want to clearly outline the relationship, establish ground rules and develop a strategic legal plan to meet your needs. Then, evaluate the performance of your counsel against the terms of your original agreement and manage accordingly. Don’t be afraid to engage specialists in more than one area rather than trying to find a single source expert.
Accountants help companies set up effective accounting systems, establish solid bookkeeping procedures, manage accounts payable/receivable, maintain accurate records and create/utilize financial reports. Though most small businesses decide to manage their bookkeeping responsibilities in-house (at least through the initial phases), you should at least engage an experienced professional to help you select and implement the proper procedures and software systems for billing, collections, inventory, bookkeeping, etc. As your business grows, you may also consider engaging an accountant to:
- develop a realistic yet flexible operating budget and identify the proper tools and forecasts to guide ongoing fiscal fidelity,
- perform third-party reconciliations to ensure the accuracy of your records and help to identify/minimize fraud risks,
- execute a thorough cash flow analysis and develop a plan for the careful and consistent management of this critical life line,
- create and inform on the use of fiscal reports to make solid business decisions,
- consult on the implementation of custom accounting system modules to handle industry-specific bookkeeping requirements,
- train and manage your internal accounting staff to ensure adherence to proper procedures and current regulations,
- design an effective tax strategy and assist in its planning and deployment, and/or
- manage the filing of state and local taxes in a manner that applies ideal tax treatments and complies with all applicable laws and rules.
When hiring an accountant, entrepreneurs should consider the following:
- What are my immediate and long-term accounting needs?
- What industry-specific accounting experience does this firm possess?
- What are the specific monthly costs associated with the services my company needs?
- Are there recommended service packages that might help me to realize both time and cost savings over the long-term (in other words, are there complementary services that should be considered at this time)?
You’ll find accountants with a wide variety of background experiences offering diverse professional services, so it’s important to seek the best immediate and ongoing fit for your organization.
If you have any questions or need advice on engaging professional services for your growing business, feel free to contact Lescault and Walderman at 866-496-2042.