We work for you!
Do you work with a trusted estate or tax attorney? Have you found a CPA who speaks your language? Does your insurance agent really give you ‘peace of mind’? Many small business owners have voiced some frustration in finding and working with professional advisors. Trust is not always high and there is often a disconnect in the language spoken by advisors – whether it is the use of ‘legalese’ or financial jargon that can be confusing at best.
However, these professional advisors can provide very necessary and important services. For example, an experienced estate-planning attorney can provide family business owners with a range of important options for transferring their estate, including their business, to the next generation while minimizing their tax implications. They can educate you about the use of Trusts, Family LLCs and other vehicles that may well meet your needs. But, in order to do so, these advisors need to be knowledgeable about issues that the family will face and the issues that will impact the business. Often a professional advisor will be knowledgeable about one but not the other.
As you begin to explore potential relationships with advisors, remember to consider the following:
Interview more than one professional in any given field. Remember, you are purchasing services and you have a right to choose a provider who meets your needs.
Seek out an advisor who takes an active interest in your business and how your business planning will impact your personal planning.
Write out a list of your needs and expectations BEFORE you meet with your advisor. For example, if you want to work with a CPA, decide ahead of time what kinds of changes you want to see in the financial reporting for your company. List the experiences you have had in the past that did not meet your needs and offer an alternative that you are looking for in a new relationship.
When working with an attorney, develop a draft of the key points you would like your legal document to address. Work with your attorney to make sure you understand the language in any document he or she produces and ask them to use language that you can understand. It is YOUR document and you have a right to understand what it says.
Insurance can be a very important component of sound business and financial planning. However, you will find that some agents are more interested in selling you a product than learning about your business and personal needs. Be sure to speak with your colleagues in your business community to find referrals for good resources. Ask your insurance professionals about their experiences in working with family businesses and how the type of products or services they recommend for families with businesses differs than other types of insurance products. Ask for references from other family businesses that he or she has worked with in the past.
Personal and professional financial advisors and financial planners can also be a useful part of your professional services network, although, they too can be driven by the sale of products rather than being focused on what is best for you and your business. To ensure you are getting the advice you need, look for independent financial advisors – those who can develop a plan for you for a fee, regardless of whether you purchase other services from them or not. Seek out an advisor who takes an active interest in your business and how your business planning will impact your personal planning. Be wary of financial advisors who claim you must retire with exorbitant levels of personal wealth as some may suggest an investment plan that benefits them rather than you.
Let your advisors know when you are happy and satisfied with their services – and let them know when you are not. Many small business owners feel intimidated by their professional advisors and continue to pay their fees while cursing their service. This does not need to happen. This is a very competitive market for all professional service providers and many are working hard to provide outstanding customer service, produce clear documents and to build long-term relationships. Work together with your advisors and let them know that this is a transactional relationship, one based on mutual trust and clear communication.
Finally, bring all of your advisors to the same table. It is not uncommon for one advisor to give you very different information from another. We strongly recommend that whenever you are developing important plans and documents for your business and family, that you invite your advisors to the same meeting. Don’t hesitate to invite your CPA to meet with your Estate Planning or Tax Attorney and your financial advisor or your personal banker. This process may well save you time, money and frustration. Remember, as professional advisors, we work for you!