Michelle Coyle is president of BGSD Strategies, where she provides strategic advice for political business owners. Have a question about your business? Email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll answer them here.
Q: Should I make my employees sign an NDA or a non-compete clause? Our firm offers some services that are proprietary and I’m worried that this information could walk out the door if one of my employees leaves to join another firm.
Q: I saw what happened in Michigan recently when a firm’s business imploded after the owner was hit with sexual harassment allegations. I’m not saying my business partners are capable of similar behavior, but is there any way that I could protect our business if something like that does come to light?
Q: I’m wondering what insurance you recommend for consultants? I own a small digital firm and have had a hard time navigating the insurance world.
A: All three of this month’s questions have the same answer — how efficient! Here’s the short version: ask your lawyer.
The longer explanation is that one of the biggest mistakes I see small business owners in all industries making, but especially in the political industry, involves trying to take shortcuts with time or money by asking friends or other consultants about things that really need to be advised on by certified professionals.
DO NOT DO THIS. You won’t save time and you won’t save money. You will, eventually, land yourself in very hot water that is both expensive and time consuming to get out of.
Every small business owner, from day one, needs a specific set of advisors lined up: at the minimum, you should have a small business attorney, an accountant (not a bookkeeper, an actual CPA), a certified financial planner, and a business coach.
The lawyer advises you on legal issues, like all three of the questions above (insurance is what protects you when something goes badly, so “what kind of insurance do I need” is a legal question.
The accountant makes sure you’re in compliance with tax law and optimizes your organizational tax strategy.
The CFP advises you on how to optimize your personal financial strategy (this is especially important for small business owners, who have more complicated personal financial situations than what conventional financial planning wisdom effectively applies to). Bonus: the CFP can often function as a broker for employee benefits like health insurance and retirement plans.
The business coach helps you put the most efficient business growth and management strategies in place.
Any of these people who are worth their salt will quickly tell you when your question has ventured outside the realm of what they’re certified and qualified to answer. If any of the people listed above start trying to give you advice that falls into a different professional’s area, fire that person and find a new one.
Keep in mind that professionals who work with integrity, the folks you want in your corner, don’t want to be the reason your business went belly up, or worse, that you went to jail.
If you’re in business for yourself, even if you’re a solopreneur, stop right now and don’t do anything else until you have all four of these people lined up. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.