How to Build a Trusted Kitchen Cabinet

By: Donna Ray Berkelhammer. This was posted Friday, July 24th, 2009

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As a business attorney, I tell clients they should have a trusted “kitchen cabinet” of professionals to go to for advice: attorney, accountant, insurance agent and financial planner. It is nice to know someone and feel comfortable before you have a problem. Yet, finding a trustworthy professional in these fields can be daunting. How can you find reputable professionals and develop a relationship?

As with any service provider, word-of-mouth referrals are the most powerful. Ask other business owners, friends, church members and colleagues who they use and why. If you already have a trusted insurance agent or accountant, ask them for referrals for the other professionals. You can also meet many professionals at Chambers of Commerce and similar business networking groups. This is nice because you will be able to observe their personalities and learn a little about them in an informal setting.

Then do some research.

Each of these professionals is licensed by a state regulatory board, such as the State Bar for attorneys, a Board of CPA Examiners or the Insurance Commission. Financial planners can be merely brokers who sell various financial products and are licensed by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) or they can obtain a voluntary additional credential known as a Certified Financial Planner, which means the certificant’s first duty is to the client as a fiduciary, ensuring that recommendations are in the client’s best interests. The broker’s first duty is simply to make sure that the client’s situation can reasonably handle the recommendation, and the further duty of the broker is to sell a product.

It is wise to make sure your advisor is currently licensed.

Many professionals will have a web site listing their area of expertise, practice philosophy, education, etc., although insurance agents tend to have fairly generic sites featuring one of the companies they represent. Look through the site and see if their philosophy and geography mesh with yours. I also conduct an online search to see if the professional has been in the news, has been published, is active in the community, etc. They may have a blog with interesting information that helps you know them better.

Call and set up an introductory meeting with your potential professional. Ask ahead of time if there is a fee for this. At that meeting, you will want to ask about what services are offered, how they are priced, what payment terms are offered, and who will actually be doing your work.

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