COURTESY: Yolanda Ransom – SEPTEMBER, 2019
Through your business, you work to deliver outstanding service, amazing products, hope, and positive possibilities to your clients/customers, community, and the world. Your business has the power to—or already is—having a powerful impact on your clients or customers. To enable your business to continue delivering your invaluable services, the last thing you want to do is try entrepreneurship all on your own.
Running a business is an incredibly important and often complex endeavor. As a result, you don’t want to try to “wing it” or do everything on your own. To have long lasting financial success an entrepreneur, you will need help. Help from professionals who know about and have experience in the areas of business that you don’t. Areas like business law, accounting, taxes, and business planning. When it comes to getting these types of help as an entrepreneur, you need to be certain that you are working with trustworthy professionals.
In the final part of this 3-part series, you’ll learn how to make sure that you work only with verifiable professionals.
Here is what to look for—AND what to avoid—when deciding whether to work with an individual or organization for business help:
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
1) Customer Service Manner
The first thing that you want to note is how you are treated. Does the individual or organization answer your calls or emails promptly? Do they carefully listen to you and make you feel heard? Pay attention to how they interact with you. True professionals appreciate receiving high quality customer service and work hard to treat their clients (and potential clients) in the same manner. They understand the importance of valuing their clients and demonstrating that they do. They also know that their clients are seeking help with things they don’t understand. So professionals are more than willing to explain these things to their clients. You want to work with a professional who makes you feel respected as a valuable business owner (no matter what size your business is or how much money it has made—or has not) and who is willing to take the time and energy to help you with the area of your business that they specialize in. Above all, you want to work with someone who “gets you” and really wants to help you and your business succeed.
2) Appropriate Licenses, Certifications, Business Credentials
Once you’ve located a respectful and dedicated professional, you want to make sure that they have the necessary skills and training to assist you in the area that they specialize in. For instance, if they are a tax preparer or accountant, where can you find their current licenses or certificates? Certain professions—such as lawyers, accountants, tax preparers, financial advisors, etc.—are required by state to study and successfully earn their initial licenses or certificates. Some even require recertification at specific points.
Most trustworthy professionals will visibly display their licenses, credentials, etc., for potential clients to see. If you’re meeting with someone who doesn’t have them displayed, you can politely ask to see them. Whenever possible, also check that their licenses are current. If you don’t feel comfortable asking the professional directly, you can often research them online after meeting. Most states have websites where you can look up these types of professionals to check their licensing status. Research this information to help you decide whether you want to move forward in working with a certain professional/organization or not.
3) Proven Experience/Expertise
After locating an appropriately licensed professional with a great customer service manner, what you want to look for next is whether they have actually worked with anyone yet. Getting the necessary training is indeed extremely important, however, you want to make sure that the professional you’re interested in working with ACTUALLY knows how to do what they have learned. There is a BIG difference between knowing something only from studying it compared to knowing something from both studying, and doing it.
It’s like reading about riding a bike: you can study for hours about where to put your feet on the pedals, what type of helmet to wear, etc. But when you strap on your helmet, hop on the bike, and push down on the pedals, seconds later you find yourself sprawled out on the sidewalk underneath your bike, wondering what happened. Get the idea?
You want to partner with a professional who has experience actually performing their service with real live people. This means they will have some experience knowing what challenges or problems may arise, and thy know how to help their clients have success in spite of them. Look for a resume or other information showing the previous clients or organizations they have worked for (volunteer work does count!) over a decent length of time, doing the same work they are offering to provide you.
4) Client/Customer Testimonials
In addition to locating information on their past experience, you also want to see if they have client or customer testimonials from others who have worked with them. Most well-qualified and competent professionals have testimonials from happy clients that they can provide for you (if requested). The good news is that these days you can often find client reviews/testimonials on sites like their business website, Google, Facebook, or other review sites. Take some time to read the reviews posted. Consistently positive and high customer reviews (the more, the better) over a length of time are typically a good sign that you’re considering the right person to work with!
5) Customer Complaints
Equally, just as you want to read reviews for the professional you’re considering, you also want to look for any customer complaints. Often these can also be found online in the same places where you find reviews. However, since most professionals (good or bad) are less likely to share negative reviews or complaints on their website, there are some additional places you’ll want to look. The Better Business Bureau website is one. In addition, you can check the licensing websites for the industry the professional works in. For instance, lawyers are licensed by their state bar associations, so you can check the Bar website to see if there has been any unfavorable licensing action, lawsuits, or other action against the professional you’re considering. This information, along with all of your other research will help you decide if this professional will be a good fit for you.
WHAT TO AVOID:
1) Unresponsive Professionals
Individuals or organizations that do not return your phone calls or emails in a timely manner (generally 2-3 business days) are not providing good customer service. How you are treated from the outset is usually a very good indicator of how you will probably be treated as a client. You know how they say, “first impressions count?” Well, it’s just as true for those you’re considering working with, as it for you. Most of us naturally put our best foot forward when meeting someone for the first time. What does it say about a professional who won’t even take time to respond to your initial contacts? It means that they apparently don’t value you, and won’t value your needs or business either. Even if you are offered the lowest price—or even free—help, avoid unresponsive professionals. Their work will typically match their service level, and you will likely end up with disappointing and/or poor results.
2) Online only stores/presence
As much as possible, when it comes to receiving help for your business, you want to work with companies that have an established physical—in addition to an online—presence, if they are newer, smaller or unfamiliar. Because of the “freedom” of the internet, a company that is online one day can simply be gone the next…along with your money or promised service. Companies that are only online also limit your options for reaching them in the event of a problem. They can simply not reply to your emails (or phone calls, if they have a phone number). I know of a fellow entrepreneur who encountered difficulties with an online tax service company. They not only didn’t deliver the promised service, they also refused to refund her money. Since they were only online, there was no physical location for her to visit to resolve the problem and she was unable to do anything about it.
It’s fine to locate a business online. However, before paying them for work, make sure you visit their physical location first (if possible) to assess the business and determine their professionalism. Businesses that are online that also have a physical business location are generally more trustworthy. While having a physical location is no guarantee, this is more often the case. If a professional has ONLY an online presence and does not have a physical location, or is never accessible in-person to the public in any way, try to steer clear of hiring them. If you do finally decide that you want to work with them, weigh out your decision carefully using the 5 things to look for described above.
3) Brand new/Just starting out Professionals
While there is a point when everyone first starts out in their profession, as a business owner, you do not want to be the first client a professional “learns” their profession with. Let me clarify. This does not mean someone who has just started their own business providing the same service they previously provided for another company or organization. Someone like this has developed expertise in their specialty by providing their service to others, although it may not have been through their own business.
I am referring specifically to someone who has never ever had a client who they have practiced their newly learned skill or area of expertise on yet. If you are meeting with a professional who has never performed their service before, avoid using them. How do you find this out? You can simply ask. Politely inquire how many clients they have performed their specific service for. Observe how they answer and note whether they hesitate, stumble, or provide vague answers. While everyone needs to have their “first” when they are new to their profession, as an entrepreneur with a new or growing business, you don’t want your business to be the “testing ground” for the professional to lean their craft on. You’re looking for someone who can help you move your business forward as swiftly as possible based on proven methods they’ve used before.
4) Secretive/Not Transparent Professionals
Trust is a critical factor in deciding who to partner with/hire for your business. Competent professionals understand that being open and honest about their abilities, business practices, and results, with potential clients fosters trust. Individuals or organizations who are reluctant or unwilling to answer good-faith questions are not ones that you want to work with. Being given evasive, short, or partial answers to your questions often implies that there is something to hide or unfavorable information. Regardless of what others have said about a company or professional, always go with your gut and common sense, and avoid individuals or organizations who are secretive and not forthcoming about their business.
5) Friends/Relatives not Legally Registered for Business
Sometimes you may want to support friends and relatives who offer to perform services for you, to help keep money “in the family or community.” Along with this, they usually offer you an irresistible “deal,” charging you way below what other businesses or professionals charge for the same service. The problem is that the friend or relative—although they may be licensed—does not have a legally registered business. So in essence, their work is done “off the books” and paid in cash.
Besides the potential legal ramifications of doing business in this way, there are also other problems:
o At tax time, you cannot count their work as a legitimate deductible expense for your business—which it can and probably should be—because you have no receipt or invoice for the work
o You have no recourse if your friend or relative does the work poorly, incorrectly, or incompletely. With registered businesses, you can pursue resolutions to problems with them through state Consumer Affair offices or even through many of the businesses’ own Customer Service or Complaint Departments
To avoid legal or financial penalties for your company down the road, always hire legally registered and licensed (if required) professionals to help you with your business. When it comes your business’ financial and legal needs, it often feels tempting to take shortcuts to save money when it comes to hiring the professionals you need. Don’t do it.
Your Business Is Worth It
Your business is your baby. Remember, you’re in it for the long haul. To ensure that you have a thriving, and profitable business for as long as you want to, get the appropriate help you need along the way. By consistently seeking out, verifying, and hiring qualified professionals, you can have confidence that both your business (and personal finances) are as strong and protected as possible.
And you can truly know that you’ve positioned yourself and your business for unlimited profit and financial success, as you work hard to touch, change, and improve the lives of your amazing clients and customers on your entrepreneurial journey!
About Yolanda Ransom
Yolanda Ransom provides personal finance education and training. The CEO & Founder of Yolanda Ransom Consulting, she is a speaker, trainer, writer, and consultant. A certified financial coach with over 20 years’ experience in the financial services industry, she has advised thousands of clients at companies such as NYC’s Office of Financial Empowerment, H&R Block, Xerox, and Chase Mellon Shareholder Services, and has performed over 100 one-on-one financial coaching sessions. Her motto is “If you don’t take control of your own financial future, no one else will do it for you. And you CAN.” She helps professional Black women take control of their finances and has empowered countless individuals to master their money and build wealth. You can find out more about Yolanda and her work at yolandaransom.com