At some point, you will need the support and expertise of an attorney as you operate your small business.
Often, though, owners delay adding that member to your business team. The thought is that you, the owner, will know when you need such help.
But that line of thought has two major issues. First, you may be making decisions now that are costing you money and will take more money to correct later.
For many small-business owners, the first time an attorney’s advice might be valuable is when selecting the business structure for your business. The attorney, along with your accountant, can outline the pros and cons for the various alternatives. Yet business owners often make that decision without any consultation.
Second, the time to look for an attorney is not when you are in legal trouble. Then you pick at attorney out of desperation and may not find the best fit for your business.
When looking for an attorney, you want to find one whose expertise and personality fit you and your business. Attorneys specialize. Thus, your attorney should be someone who has expertise and knowledge of assisting small-business owners such as you. In an ideal world, the attorney you select would have experience in your specific industry.
Finding such a person takes time. You need to determine who are your options. You can do this through an online search, networking, phone books and reference guides. Identify your needs and any specific questions that might arise.
This list of questions might indicate that, in addition to a general business attorney, you need a second member for your team with a specific set of skills, perhaps in trademarks, patents or international contract law. However, an attorney doing general business work is probably a good first step.
Then, like hiring an employee, you need to do interviews and reference checks. Who else do the attorneys work for and how do those clients feel about the services received?
Don’t hesitate to ask the attorneys about their charges and policy for response times. You want someone who will respond to you on a timely basis. This is a question to ask the candidates as well as other business owners as you do your reference checks.
The attorney you select will, you hope, be a team member for a long time. Bringing this person in early will help you make some early decisions and gets them grounded in your vision and goals.
Finding the right person will help build your bottom line.
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Glenn Muske is an independent expert on rural small business, working as GM Consulting – Your partner in achieving small business success. He provides consulting, and writes articles for county extension agents and newspapers across North Dakota. Previously, he was the Rural and Agribusiness Enterprise Development Specialist at the North Dakota State University Extension Service – Center for Community Vitality.