“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
John Donne’s words are as true today as they were when first spoken in the 17th century, and they are doubly true for entrepreneurs and startups.
When getting a new business off the ground, it can seem like there is too much to do and not enough hours in the day. And when you begin to look at the number of challenges that entrepreneurs face, it’s no wonder that many businesses struggle when they try to do it all themselves. Add on to that that you might be going it alone, and you’ll begin to see the value in finding service providers that can help support you and your business.
Whether you are hiring or managing for the first time, trying to find the right products or most effective marketing strategies, concerned about cash flow and taking payments, or trying to navigate the complex legal world associated with running a business, finding the right partner can make the difference between success and struggle.
Finding the Right Professional Service Provider
Whether you’re looking for a lawyer or a payments processor, there are a few common things to consider when choosing the right service provider for your business.
First up is making sure that your provider is knowledgeable in their business, and in yours. As a small business, you don’t need a large accounting firm that’s been around for 100 years, for example. But you do need someone that understands the challenges you face as an entrepreneur and can guide you around the pitfalls that are common to new businesses. For this reason, consider their current client list, or talk to references.
The Right Tools
Many service providers for small businesses and entrepreneurs offer tools to help you keep your business running smoothly. If you’re evaluating an accountant, they may offer tools that allow you to submit information to them online.
If you’re choosing a payment provider, you want to make sure that they offer flexible technology services, like an Application Program Interface, or API, that integrates easily with your other tools.
An API allows your software to talk to the PSP’s software, like a translator helping two people from different countries communicate. The translator understands several languages, but not hundreds. You need to be able to speak to them in a way they can understand, so they can translate that to the other person. APIs do that for software.
Even if you aren’t currently ready for, say, an e-commerce website, you don’t want to have to re-evaluate services at a later time when you can make the right choice from the start. By having an API that can be flexible, you won’t be forced into an e-commerce solution that doesn’t meet your needs but keeps you from switching PSPs, or forced to find a new PSP because they can’t accommodate your solution.
Supportive and Communicative
Your service provider should be a partner in your business. They should be there to help you, not confuse you or put you and your business on hold when you need them most. Talk to your provider about their availability and responsiveness. If you have questions about marketing your products, will your consultant be available to answer questions, or will they make you wait a week before they can talk to you? Or if there is some critical failure – for instance, if your website goes down or your shopping cart can no longer process payments – what are your provider’s support options? You may never need support at 1 am, but it’s important to know that it’s available when talking about mission-critical applications and services.
Ready to Grow With You
No entrepreneur or startup intends to stay the size they are in the beginning. Many have growth plans, other times they grow because of opportunity. The ability to pivot quickly is what gives new businesses an advantage over larger companies. To be able to do that, though, you need to know that your providers are ready to handle the rapid growth and changes that can crop up for entrepreneurs. For instance, choosing a payment provider that only handles point-of-sale transaction may prevent you from adopting a membership model at a later date. Or one that that is ready to support you with multiple payment options so you can handle cross-border sales.
Choosing a service provider is as important a choice as the myriad of other decisions an entrepreneur makes. But choosing the right one can be the difference between finding a long-term partner that will enable your growth, or need to start the search anew when you’ve outgrown what they can do for you. Ask questions, and make sure you consider the future before you make your choice.