How to Pick Your Professional

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Picking a professional service provider like a lawyer, accountant, marketer, or IT service is such a confusing task. I mean they're all good, right? Not so fast! Picking the right professional for your business is similar to picking a partner for your business. Since you are going to be spending a lot of money on these services you want to make the right decision the first time. Your search may sound daunting but if you break it into these four steps, the process couldn't be easier. So let’s take a look at the 4 simple steps to pick your professional service provider. 

Start Your Search

The first step to picking the right service provider is starting your search. Don’t know anybody? Check with friends and family first. These are the people who are closest to you and whose opinion you will trust most. Check with those who are business owners themselves, as those will be the ones who have similar needs to your own. 
The next place to search is your local Chamber of Commerce. These chambers actively keep directories of all the members, and many of them are going to be the service providers you're looking for. If you don't have a city chamber or one doesn’t have the provider you're looking to check each of the neighboring cities. A 5-10 mile radius should be a good place to start.

The final place to search is to Google a service provider. You can always search for the service you need and “near me” in case they don't belong to a chamber. You can still cover your bases. You may be a little leery about searching for providers you weren’t referred to or didn’t find in a chamber. Don’t worry about not knowing who these people are. In the next step, I'll give some ways to do your homework and background on your potential providers.

Do Your Homework

So you have identified a few service providers from referrals, chambers, and even some online. This list will probably be a mile long. Just kidding, but there will be a lot of names. It’s time to do some digging and narrow that list. The first thing you want to do is check their work. How you may ask? If they're a creative person check their website or social media. They will undoubtedly have a portfolio or something to compare to other providers. If they are not a creative service, you need to check if they have a blog or any other content to show how much they know about the subject and how they provide service. 

The next thing you want to check is pricing. If they have pricing posted on the website, that's great! You just need to note what services you might need and compare to other providers. If you aren’t so lucky, you may want to give them a call and inquire. They may also have a request box on their website to quote if it's a more custom or high dollar service. Don't be afraid to ask for a quote. And if it's out of your range, strike them off the list. You need to save money not waste it. 

The last and most important thing, in my opinion, is reviews. And yes before you ask, you still want to get reviews for providers you got referrals to. Why? Your referral could be a fluke or anomaly, we want to find consistent service for customers. Where can we find referrals? The most obvious place is Google. If they have a Google My Business, checking those reviews, which are public will be easy peasy. Just make sure they have a decent number of reviews instead of that lone 5-star review. If you need to dig a little deeper, use Facebook or Linkedin reviews or endorsements. These are people who are putting their reputations on the line to vouch for them and can be used as a secondary source.

Create Your Shortlist

So you found all your providers and have a ton of notes. Now you need to create a shortlist. What a shortlist? Exactly what it sounds like is a shortlist of the best providers based on all of your business needs. Besides the services, you should be comparing your providers by pricing as well. The types of services should be close to the same and have a price for each to accurately compare. 

A good rule of thumb is to follow the Rule of Three. This rule says your list should be the top 3 candidates based on all of your findings. It’s to rule out any flukes or anomalies that may crop up. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your top 3. It could be your top five. But, 3 seems like it’s easier to manage.

The last component of your shortlist is going to be contact information. This is pretty obvious since you want to be able to contact them in the next step. This doesn't just mean the business contact information, but who exactly you are having your business dealings or a conversation with. 

Have a Conversation 

The final stage before you make your decision is going to be having a conversation. Naturally, you need to set up a meeting with your contact from each of your service providers. You want to make sure they are going to be knowledgeable enough to make the conversation as productive as possible. 

Speaking of making the conversation as productive as possible, you will need to know what you want. This should have been covered in your research but now you need to communicate what you want and need from the service provider. The more clear you are about the services you need the less unnecessary up-sells you are going to get because you know what you want.

Finally, as you interview your potential service provider you need to communicate your budget. If your provider talks a good game but is way out of your price range you want to let them know. This will be the deciding factor if the conversation moves forward or stops right then and there. Don’t worry though, this way be an opportunity to negotiate pricing with the provider. You just need to know your numbers so when negotiations do begin they are productive and come to a mutually beneficial conclusion.

If you follow these simple steps you will be able to find the right professional service provider. While the step may be simple, there is still a lot of work evaluating a professional service provider who will be a partner in growing your business for years to come. Remember the simple steps: Start your search with those closest to you and branch out from there; do your due diligence and check their results; Narrow your list to your top 3 providers, and finally have a clear and honest conversation about your expectation of service and price. Good luck with your future search! 

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Funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.