Small business owners tend to prefer to be involved in every aspect of their operations, from choosing the type of coffee machine for the breakroom to doing the company tax returns. Many business owners find it difficult to delegate tasks to employees or outside consultants. However, if you are a small business owner and spending too much time on non-core business activities, you can find assistance from consulting services.
Financial restraints often require owners of startups to be jacks of all trades during the first months or years of operation. As businesses mature and profits increase, there are many needs that are better served by experts in the discipline. The ever-increasing complexities of information technology, the tax code, and the regulations and other legal aspects surrounding a business can be very difficult to keep track of. Small business consultants can help business owners manage these complexities.
- Consultants can help manage areas that business owners don't have time or expertise for.
- You can find a good consultant by word-of-mouth, or by searching online for specialists in areas where you need help.
- Accounting and bookkeeping consultants can be hired for a few hours a year (or year-round) to help keep your books in order and prepare you for tax season.
Accounting and Bookkeeping Consultants
Accounting and bookkeeping are two of the most common consulting activities needed by small businesses. When deciding whether or not to contract out some or all of your bookkeeping or accounting duties, ask:
- What is my time worth?
- Can I do as good a job as a professional in this field?
For a solo enterprise or the startup phase of a small business, you may have time to handle bookkeeping and some accounting chores if you have the desire and aptitude.
However, as your business grows, it may make more sense to hire out some of these duties to a consultant. In as little as a few hours a month, a good bookkeeper can do most of your record-keeping, including submitting invoices, paying bills, doing payroll, and prepping the company accounts for tax season.
A good accountant can do much more than explain tax changes and do your taxes. They can:
- Navigate the maze of tax laws and provide the financial advice you need to manage and grow your business
- Make recommendations on how to lower your taxes, such as whether or not to incorporate or if you should lease or purchase commercial space
- Provide advice on ways to cut business costs
Hiring an accountant for just a few hours a year may be well worth your while.
Information Technology (IT) Services Consultants
Information technology (IT) is one of the most rapidly changing fields in business as new technology regularly impacts devices or software systems including:
- Desktop computers
- Mobile devices (laptops, cell phones, tablets, etc.)
- Cloud computing services
- Point-of-sale (POS) systems
- Business websites and social media platforms
- Word processing, spreadsheets, etc.
- Accounting software
- Tax software
- Computer-aided design (CAD) systems
Unless your business is in the information technology field or you are otherwise proficient with maintaining hardware devices and solving software issues, an IT consultant is recommended.
In addition to repairing hardware and operating systems, an IT consultant can perform other duties, including:
- Ensuring valuable business data is backed up in case of emergencies;
- Setting up cloud computing services;
- Installing software systems;
- Providing training on hardware and software systems;
- Advising on technology upgrades and methods of using technology to streamline your business and improve productivity.
Human Resources Consultants
Dealing with personnel-related issues often is difficult and time-consuming. Some small businesses cannot afford the expense of a dedicated human resources (HR) individual or department.
However, businesses with effective HR strategies typically have better working environments and higher morale, which increases employee retention and lowers turnover costs. As a result, you may want to outsource your HR functions.
Professional HR consultants are trained and knowledgeable in all aspects of employee relations and can:
- Handle the recruitment of new employees or contract workers, including advertising, interviewing, and reference checks
- Deal with disciplinary issues and terminations
- Run employee orientation and organize proper training
- Limit your legal liability by ensuring that employee complaints or disputes are properly handled;
- Keep you up to date on state and federal regulations regarding employees, such as wage laws, hours of work, holiday time, leave of absence, workers' compensation, mandatory benefits, and reporting;
- Arrange and provide optional benefits such as health, dental, vision, and disability insurance for employees and their families.
Successful marketing is essential to attracting and retaining customers—the number one need for most businesses, especially startups.
Unfortunately, marketing is highly specialized and while many small business owners excel in providing products or services to their customers, they may be less proficient with marketing and cannot afford full-time salespeople.
The right marketing consultant for your business should have a high level of expertise in your industry and be able to bring in fresh ideas as well as tried and true advice on how to develop strategies and campaigns. Marketing consultants can work with your business to establish and implement strategies based on: your
- Overall business goals
- Products or services
- Target users or clients
- Company's role in relation to the competition
Consultants also can design and implement individual marketing campaigns and provide general advice on promoting your business through activities such as:
- Social media campaigns
- Email marketing
- Website and blog promotions
- Press releases
- Charity event sponsorships
Legal Services Consultants
Having a good business lawyer available when you need one can be valuable when confronted with circumstances that involve more complex legal issues or may involve liability, such as:
- Partnership agreements or share allocations
- Legal action against your business by government agencies for issues such as licensing, tax disputes, or non-compliance with regulations
- Real estate purchases or lease agreements
- Trademark or intellectual property rights issues
- Franchise agreements
- Selling or merging your business, or purchasing the assets of another business
Some small business attorneys are generalists who can analyze your problem and provide solid advice, or, if needed, refer you to someone more specialized in a particular area of law if required.
How To Find and Hire a Consultant
Word-of-mouth referrals are a common way to find good consulting help once you've determined you need it. If you are new to a particular area, local business groups or chambers of commerce might provide referral assistance.
Once you've interviewed and selected a consultant, draw up a contract that addresses things like rates, terms, and any required confidentiality or non-disclosure clauses.
If you are just starting out in business and cash flow is tight but you need a consultant, consider bartering your services. If you run a restaurant, for example, you might agree to cater a consultant's event for free or for a reduced rate in exchange for their services.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do I need to hire a consultant?
If you find yourself needing help in certain key areas of your business operations but you don't have the time or expertise to do them yourself, a consultant could be a valuable asset for established companies and startups.
What services do small business consultants offer?
Consultants for small businesses range in expertise from legal and accounting services, to IT, marketing, and human resources.