Plug in professionals when tasks seem overwhelming:

May 29, 2006

Running a small business is daunting, to say the least.

Small-business owners wear many hats and are expected to be a master of everything: from hiring workers to coordinating group health coverage, from developing marketing materials to hitting sales goals, from assessing technology needs to making tax and insurance payments, from issuing invoices to paying vendors-all while keeping an eye on cash flow.


Larger businesses may rely on individuals or entire departments responsible for each task. For small-business owners, though, the bench isn't that deep and most of these functions fall on the owner or one or two other individuals.

Such a wide range of responsibility increases the probability of human error and exposes the business to unnecessary legal and financial risk.

A common misperception is that small businesses don't have enough money to pay experts to handle some of the tasks. But the "pay me now or pay me twice later" adage holds true when it comes to skimping in this area.

So when is the right time to call in a pro fessional?

Use this simple test:

Is the issue at hand one that the smallbusiness owner has ever addressed before?

If not, how big is it-and how big is the fallout if it's not done correctly?

If the outcome is botched, can it be corrected with minimal cost and pain? Or could it result in legal or financial exposure?

Some small-business owners believe they can file their own corporation papers, payroll and sales tax reports, income taxes or Worker's Compensation payments. Others have learned the hard way that, without consultation from an attorney, accountant or insurance agent, serious problems can arise.

To be sure, some topics are no-brainers to most small-business owners. Without much teeth gnashing, they seek help in locating real estate, assessing environmental issues, investing in technology and learning regulations affecting their businesses.

However, the same outside advice is just as important for entrepreneurs looking to open in a new geographic area, roll out a new product, participate in a trade show, expand Internet sales, target a new client population or purchase equipment.

Just as each small business is helping its customer solve a problem, experts can assist

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business owners in those areas outside their expertise or experience. Knowing when to outsource a function or call in a professional is key to a small business' success.

When in doubt, err on the side of consulting with a professional to best understand the risks. Knowing what is needed-as well as the common "gotchas" or pitfalls and the cost if the function isn't done correctly-will help the business owner decide if it's worth it to undertake the work oneself or farm it out.

Much like the weekend warrior intent on taking on household fix-its or renovations, there are projects that a novice can attempt and then there are projects best left for the experts.

Most homeowners don't need the house to burn down to realize that they need help rewiring it. Small-business owners should look for ways to avoid similar catastrophes.
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