Every start-up needs outside advisors. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time entrepreneur creating a sole proprietorship in a spare bedroom or a serial innovator with a venture-capital-backed deal in your pocket. Nobody goes it alone.

Outside advisors provide experience and wisdom that complement the founder’s skill set. Typically they are experts in important functional areas such as banking, law, accounting, and taxes. But the best advisors are the ones who can combine practical knowledge with strategic thinking that’s relevant to an emerging business in your specific industry.

Essential Advisors

You don’t need a high-profile advisory board to help you get your start-up on the right track. But finding a mentor who understands your business and its challenges is a key step. In most cases, emerging businesses need to keep their staffing lean, so you’ll also want to seek out professionals who can help you with a consultative approach to the law, banking, accounting, and insurance.

 

Attorneys

The core function for business lawyers is risk management. But they also can add value through access to their professional network and by helping augment the owner’s strategic vision. The key is to avoid lawyers who are overly risk averse. Running an emerging business is a risky enterprise, and you are likely to benefit from a lawyer who takes a balanced approach and is in sync with your particular risk profile.

 

Bankers

For emerging businesses, bank loans and lines of credit are the most frequently used source of financing. So, most owners should be looking for a great local banker, rather than a VC or an angel investor. As with all of your professional advisors, try to find a banker who’s positive about your vision and can support you with strategic advice—as well as supplying financing that meets your needs.

 

CPAs

The key value of accounting is the knowledge of how much things should cost. That’s why it’s important to find a CPA who is familiar with your industry. When trying to identify tax deductions, or track cash flows and inventory, it’s the details that matter. Someone who knows from experience what the numbers should look like will be an invaluable asset as you build your business.

 

Insurance Professionals

When it comes time to construct your insurance strategy, you will quickly discover that there are literally hundreds of products to choose from, which, in the words of the SBA website, allow you to insure against almost “every conceivable risk your business might face.”

However, as a risk taker, you’re only interested in protecting yourself against risks that are actual or likely—otherwise you run the risk of insuring your profits out of existence. That’s why your first step should be to redefine insurance as “risk management.” This puts the focus where it belongs—on protecting you and your business—rather than on a series of products.

The risk assessment process requires experienced insight. Obviously, you’ll want to find a good, objective insurance expert from a reputable company who can customize policies to your specific risk exposures. But shouldn’t your attorney also be involved in the discussion? He or she may be the person who best understands what kinds of lawsuits you may face. After the risks are identified, your insurance professional will present proposed coverages—and their premiums. Again, you may want to run these by your CPA for a round of cost-benefit analysis.

How do you find the right insurance professional to round out your team? Keep in mind that there are two types of agencies in the insurance industry. Some are tied directly to a single insurer and use only policies underwritten by that firm. Others are independent, and offer policies from many different insurers. As with the other professional advisors you’ve been recruiting, it really makes sense to seek out referrals from people in your business network. It’s important that you find a professional whom you can trust and who possesses the expertise to guide you to the most suitable insurance solutions for your business.

 

Learn more in The Hartford’s Business Owners Playbook here.

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