Friday, June 25, 2010

Who is on your team?

In the last week or so, I’ve been thinking about teamwork. The Word Cup is big news. Basketball teams are fighting over new talent in the NBA draft. Lance Armstrong is assembling a team for the Tour de France. Teamwork is in the news.

A well run business is like team. Businesses have owners and managers and workers. In big businesses the various players are pretty well defined. Small businesses tend to be more like pickup games though. Owners and employees do whatever job needs doing. It’s not all that different from showing up at the ball field where one day the team needs a left fielder and another day the team needs a short stop or a catcher. Specific skills may not be as important as simply being there to do the work. That works fine until the team realizes that it is good enough to play in a tournament. That’s when the team captain goes out and tries to recruit ringers. Unfortunately the new players rarely lead the team to victory. No matter what their skill or talent, it is not a substitute for practicing and playing with the team.

Think about how this applies to business. Many small businesses rely on employees to do whatever needs doing. It is simply too expensive to hire a lot of people, and until the business gets to be a certain size there is not be enough work for full-time employees. The owner usually manages the business, does the bookkeeping and payroll, hires and fires employees, manages compensation, keeps up with rules and regulations, and pays taxes. Since none of those things have to do with making or selling products and turning a profit, the business owner does all those things in his or her spare time. When tournament time comes, and the small business owner is struggling with financial statements and taxes or trying to understand insurance or deferred compensation, he or she goes out to find an expert. Unfortunately, just as with the softball or basketball team, the new player often does not know enough about the business to make a difference.

The way to victory is sign the players to your team before the tournament. You can do this even if you do not have any money by choosing the right people when you seek advice. When your books got too involved, did you ship them off to the least expensive book keeper you could find? Do you shop for a new accountant every year? Is your insurance agent simply someone you send money to every year? Is your attorney’s business card buried in a stack of cards in your desk? If the answer to any of these questions is, “yes,” then I have a new idea for you.

Find a single professional that will assemble a team for you. Many professionals recognizing the value of a team approach have developed relationships with other professionals. For example, many CPA’s routinely refer clients to the same team of advisors for legal matters, insurance, investment advice, and even hiring assistance. If you already have an accountant, attorney, book keeper, insurance agent, or investment advisor, ask that person for recommendations. Find out if they routinely refer to each other or if they ever work as a team. If you don’t already work with any of these professionals, then be sure to ask about professional relationships with other service providers when you are hiring them.

After you have identified a team of professionals that will work together for you, take the time to meet with them to discuss your business and your needs. You might try to meet with them together. If your CPA acts as a business advisor, then he or she may be able to help you do this. Consider a business lunch. The amount of time you spend with each professional will vary. The amount of time that you spend may vary. You may find it desirable to pay for a consultation. The short list below describes some of the things you might want to discuss.
  • Attorney: You will want to discuss the form of your business and related liabilities and regulations that may affect your business.
  • Accountant: The topics here include tax planning and structuring your accounting system so that it will provide you useful information. Other topics include cash management and accounting controls. Depending on the form of your businesses, you may also want your accountant to help you figure out how to distribute income.
  • Bookkeeper: You may not have a separate bookkeeper if your books are simple or if you do not have a large volume of transactions. However if your books are complex or you have a lot of entries, or if you have payroll, then hiring a bookkeeper will be more efficient than doing it yourself and less expensive than having your accountant do the work personally. Ideally your accountant will handle the bookkeeping for you by assigning it to a bookkeeper or junior.
  • Insurance Agent: The obvious items to discuss with your insurance agent include anything having to do with property or liability insurance for your business. If you or your employees drive for business, then you also need to discuss auto liability coverage. If you are a sole proprietor in a partnership or in some other business where you can be held personally liable, you should also review your personal coverage. If you provide health insurance to your employees, you may have a different agent for the health insurance.
  • Investment Advisor: The discussion will include retirement planning and related issues. Your CPA will advise you on the tax consequences of various retirement plans and deferred arrangements. Your investment advisor will actually help you set them up for yourself or your employees.
 The objective is to create a team of professionals that know you and work together. Ideally one individual such as your CPA or planner can coordinate the work that they do. If that is not possible, then you can do it yourself. They key is to assemble your players and have them become part of your team early. If you wait until the tournament or the finals, it will be too late.

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