Working as a Small Business Banker for the past two decades, I have met and helped many small business owners start and grow their businesses. There is a lot that goes into owning a business from thinking of the idea and filing legal documents to expanding the business and hiring employees. Over the years, I’ve learned one key thing from some of my most successful business clients – they understand the importance of developing close relationships with business partners who can help them to protect and grow their businesses during crucial moments. Whether you are thinking of starting a new business or have an established one, here are the five people that you should know and have on speed dial.
Lawyer – For new start-ups, a business lawyer may seem like a premature expense. The reality is there are a lot of legal documents and issues that you can handle yourself such as filing your business paperwork or registering a trademark, but consulting a business lawyer when you start your business can help you avoid common mistakes that might lead to a lawsuit. According to the Institute for Legal Reform, one in three small business owners had a lawsuit filed against them. This is why it’s important to at least consult with a lawyer in the beginning and understand how they can help your business. Many lawyers offer flexible fee options that give you the convenience of having a lawyer for quick consultations and document reviews without breaking the bank.
Banker – Speaking of banks, I’m not adding a banker on this list because I am one, but because it’s important to have a relationship with the person who can help you get access to cash, whether it’s from your bank account or a loan from the bank. Your business banker doesn’t just open up checking accounts – it’s their job to understand your business, day-to-day operations and goals, so they can help you get paid faster and pay others on time. And when it comes to credit or a business loan, your banker can help determine what type of financing makes sense for your business needs. They will be your biggest ally during the application process. Lastly, most bankers have good relationships and connections with the local community and a variety of industries. Personally, I’ve been able to connect my clients with CPAs, suppliers, community partners and more, so if you’re looking for quality referrals, start by asking your banker. The connections go beyond just business needs as well. Your banker is the perfect partner to help you with other financial needs such as buying a house or saving for retirement and can introduce you with other specialists at the bank.
Insurance Agent – This one might come as a surprise to many new businesses, while established businesses have often already come to learn the importance of an insurance agent. Similar to a business lawyer, an insurance agent’s job is to protect you from losing money against liability when it comes to damages, accidents and lawsuits. They can assess what type of protection you need for your business to avoid big expenses in the future. If you have employees, you may also need insurance for workers compensation, unemployment insurance, disability insurance and medical insurance. Regardless of whether or not you have employees, you may want to consider optional coverage provided by a small business insurance policy. There are many low-cost options for new businesses. Similar to having car insurance, it’s easier to know who to call when you have an issue in advance rather than to start looking for one during a difficult time.
CPA/Accountant – A CPA or accountant can play a very important role in the growth of your business. Yes, they can help you with taxes and minimize your tax burden through deductions, but they can also help provide you with an analysis of your finances. A CPA or accountant can review your business structure and cash flow, and analyze the money going in and out of your business to determine if and when your company will generate a profit. This is important if you’re looking to get a business loan or repay debt. No matter how big or small your company is, it’s always a good idea to have someone else help you review your finances to make sure that you’re making good financial decisions for your business.
Business mentor – Starting and maintaining your own business is not easy, so it’s tremendously helpful to have at least one business mentor that you can reach out to for advice or a second opinion. According to the spring 2015 Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, one in five small business owners said that a business mentor helped them the most when it came to running their business. If you don’t already have one, start looking for a mentor and don’t stop at just one, find a couple of people you can call. Ideally, this will be someone who is also a business owner that you admire, has been in business for a while and has experience navigating the ups and downs of running their own company. The best mentors are the ones that aren’t afraid to ask tough questions and challenge you to exceed your goals while understanding their advisory role. Where do you find them? Join professional, trade or community organizations and attend their events. For example, I’m a part of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Women Business Owners.
If you don’t already have these five people saved in your phone, think about adding them in the near future. However, there’s one important thing to remember while you’re looking to meet these people – you get to choose who you do business with, so find folks with great rapport who you can trust. You want to be able to develop long-term relationships with each of them so that they can help you for years to come as you grow your business. The great thing is that these people often work together already and know how to complement each other to help you achieve your business goals so you don’t have to go through the journey alone.
Lisa Woodson is a Vice President, Small Business Banker at Bank of America
and has been helping small businesses for 18 years.