bp default image

Utilizing Outside Services

Identifying the best type of outside help to use on the business side of your shop.

Let’s face it, running a business is very difficult. If we were able to only focus on the core business at hand, perhaps it wouldn’t be so challenging. But there are many aspects to managing a successful company: human resources, legal issues, accounting systems, safety, insurance, infrastructure, city, regulations (as well as county and state regs), to name just a few.

And, as your business grows, these issues can become even more complex – which tends to make relying exclusively upon your company’s internal expertise in all of these areas a risky proposition. Of course, using outside help can also be costly.

Your best bet, then, is to target some specific areas for outsourcing. What follows are a few of my ideas that might help you to identify the best type of outside help to use on the business side of your shop, and the right time to put these services in play.

Necessary ‘evils’
Some might consider the first type of outside services to be “necessary evils.” These services would include accountants, lawyers, insurance, and the like. None of us like the amount of money they cost, but we absolutely need the services they offer.

For instance, competent legal representation from a good attorney is a necessity. You probably also use a sharp accountant to examine your books and file your taxes. And you definitely need a good insurance agent to help you navigate those issues, which seems to become ridiculously more complex by the minute. So I think we can all agree that these are the types of professional services we’re used to paying for.

But there might be areas in which outside services can be utilized to an even large degree. For example, from time to time in our own business when we get involved with an employee situation that may require termination, we’ll consult with an attorney we retain who has great experience and expertise in the human-resource area. More than once, he’s advised us to approach the situation in a different manner, with the same end in mind. Yes, this might cost $1000 in legal fees to have these types of conversations, but it might also save you $5000 to $10,000 in future costs by approaching the situation in the correct and legal way.

Another example is when we began running into some rather complex sales-tax issues with our business. Rather than try to figure it out on our own, we retained our accounting firm to bring us the necessary expertise – ensuring that we make the correct decisions in terms of our sales-tax collection and remittance from state to state. We now feel much more comfortable that we’re approaching this confusing area correctly, and that we’re in complete compliance with the various states where we do business. My point is: The exposure in some of the legal and accounting areas can be very high; it might pay to utilize these types of professional services more often.

Inviting the fox
There are additional outside services available to help all of us build better businesses. For example, many print service providers might not be aware that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has two different divisions. The first, the one we’re all familiar with, is the regulatory and enforcement division. I think we all know what their job is.

But did you know that OSHA also has a consulting division that will come out to your place of business and do a free walk-through with you in your shop to help you correct areas that would be problematic from a safety perspective? Now I know what you are thinking: Isn’t that inviting the fox into the henhouse?

I suppose if you believe that you will never have a safety incident and that OSHA will never be involved with your business at any level, then yes, you can avoid getting involved with OSHA altogether. But the truth is, if they are able to come out and help you identify and remedy unsafe areas at your business, you’ll then be much less likely to have a negative experience with them. In fact, if you work with them in making your workplace a safe one, isn’t it likely that they will recognize your business as a safety-compliant business and focus their enforcement efforts elsewhere? It’s certainly something to consider.

Another idea for turning to additional outside services might involve some of your production processes. For instance, we have engaged outside consultants a few times over the years in teaching and training the concepts of lean manufacturing and Six Sigma programs. Often, we’re able to find this training at local universities at very reasonable rates.

Early on in the process of this training, it became clear that if we can create efficiencies in our shop that will save even the hiring of just one additional employee, the program will pay for itself several times over. The insight provided by people trained in these concepts can often cause you to re-think your entire approach to workflow and production processes, and can inevitably provide valuable improvements.

Turning around a weakness
A successful business will always have some areas of great strength – processes it’s able to execute with excellence. Likewise, every business also has weaknesses. But sometimes, with the help of a professional or an expert from outside your business, a weakness can be turned into a strength.

Examine the areas in your business that might need some extra help. Do the necessary research in qualifying the people that you intend to hire to assist. Yes, outsourcing will cost you additional money, but if used in conjunction with good judgment, your initial investment can reap you long-term financial benefits and help you build a better business.
 

View more from this Big Picture issue