From a clinician’s perspective, social worker and psychotherapist Megan Rafuse was confident about taking the next step when she decided to turn her side hustle into a full-time venture, merging her private therapy practice with her partner’s firm to form Shift Collab in Toronto five years ago.
Getting a handle on the business side of things, however, has been more of a challenge – including sourcing the right professionals along the way to help the company get established and grow.
“In trying to find professional services – and owning a company that offers professional services – it’s so evident that so many of us have a hard time understanding who to hire, and how that will work,” explains Ms. Rafuse.
Although her company has now worked with a number of professionals – including a bookkeeper, accountant, business coach, employment lawyer and a corporate lawyer – the process of finding them hasn’t come without stress. The current bookkeeper, she says, is their fourth in five years, and they are on their third accountant. Although initial recommendations came from Facebook friends and other contacts, as a new business owner, she wasn’t sure what skillsets to look for or how to manage business contractors.
“I think for many of us when we’re first starting out, there’s a lot of shame in what we don’t know, so I was afraid to ask people, ‘is my bookkeeper doing a good job?’ " she says.
“When I started talking about it, I realized this bookkeeper really just wasn’t the right one for me. And that was okay, and so now what I’ve found in my bookkeeper is they came from a trusted source, they’re very proactive.”
Now, a few years post-launch, Ms. Rafuse has found a group of professionals that fit well with her business, almost entirely via word of mouth or by leveraging her entrepreneurial network.
Specifically, she says, networking through her local Facebook group for female business owners and investing in a ‘non-pitch’ membership-based entrepreneur group has been key to finding professionals that come with referrals from other small and medium-sized businesses, along with support and information related to setting up those relationships.
“Making an investment to an entrepreneur group, especially a paid one, oftentimes can feel like that may be too big of an investment. But when you think about the time and energy and money that you’ll save in the longer term by having access to people who can support you, for me, it’s made all the difference.”
Prioritizing which services are most important at launch and then determining how to go about finding those resources are the biggest problems entrepreneurs face, says Kayla Isabelle, chief executive officer of Startup Canada. As most people are bootstrapping these businesses, every investment made in the early stage is important, she adds.
“It’s also narrowing those down to ‘who is trusted, who can actually help me within my budget and scope,’ and that takes a lot of time to do that research,” she says.
Making successful hires often means relying on community, rather than broad internet searches, especially for those in the very early stages of their business, says Ms. Isabelle. This can include tapping into groups in particular geographic areas, and industry-specific networks.
“It’s word of mouth – not necessarily one to one, but one to many – so that if you’re in a mentorship circle, if you’re in an accelerator or an incubator, those existing communities have almost tested some of these referrals before you.”
Entrepreneur-focused businesses are also popping up, aimed at helping other small firms access services more cost-effectively, says Ms. Isabelle. For example, B2BeeMatch’s platform links independent contractors with other small businesses based on services they may need.
“There are a lot of entrepreneurs that are actually solving this problem, because they felt it so painfully as they were building their business from the get-go, so that’s really encouraging to see as well,” she says.
One of those entrepreneurs is Brett Colvin, Calgary-based CEO and co-founder of Goodlawyer.ca. Two years ago, he launched his site, a managed marketplace aimed at providing small businesses with access to legal services for an upfront, reasonable cost.
“Getting professional legal and other services in those early days is extremely challenging,” he says. “Everyone’s bound by the same rules, but the big enterprises spend [exorbitant] amounts of money on legal fees because law is important to their business and it just, frankly, leaves out all the little guys that can’t get access to that same type of expertise.”
Looking to solve this unmet legal need, his platform connects entrepreneurs with lawyers from independent, boutique firms across the country for either ‘micro’ legal services, such as a contract review for $25 a page, or larger services such as a basic employment agreement, for a few hundred dollars. Startups can either search for their own counsel or use the site’s free concierge service to match them with a lawyer that best fits their businesses’ ongoing legal needs.
“[We’re] really trying to provide that big firm power for entrepreneurs but very much with a small business perspective,” says Mr. Colvin.
Ultimately, says Ms. Rafuse, there’s a cost to changing providers throughout the lifespan of your business. Making sure you can continue to work with a professional long-term as you grow is ideal, and other trusted entrepreneurs can go a long way in helping to establish those relationships.
“Doing your due diligence is really important, especially because, for a lot of small businesses, we don’t have a lot of extra cash flow and we want to make sure we make good hires the first time,” she says. “So, I think it’s important to ask around.”