New entrepreneurs often find themselves facing a steep learning curve. Fortunately, they don't have to do it alone: A strong network of contacts can give hard-working small business owners valuable guidance as you manage the daily demands of your business.
Here are five contacts every new business owner should have in their network:
1. A great accountant.
Tax time is made easier with a good accountant in your corner. That help may be especially valuable now as new tax reforms include major changes for small business owners and self-employed individuals. In addition to keeping you on the good side of the IRS, an accountant also can help identify ways to lower your company's tax burden and pitch in on tasks such as bookkeeping and big-picture financial analysis.
2. An experienced mentor.
An experienced mentor can provide crucial guidance and support as you get your new business off the ground. Ideally, this person also has run a business in your industry, so you can ask them questions and get ready answers on some of the challenges you're facing. You also may want to cultivate more than one mentor to help you along the way, says Allison Esposito, CEO and founder of Tech Ladies, an online job board for women in the technology industry. "As opposed to just one person, it can be a collection of people with different strengths--sort of like a personal board of directors," she says.
3. A trusted banker.
The financial professionals at your bank can help you with business banking services such as checking accounts, business credit cards, and payment processing. They also can play a critical role when you need access to working capital through lines of credit or business loans, helping you determine when and how to qualify for these resources. The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends working closely with your bank during the lending process, presenting a detailed business plan and offering evidence of your success in previous ventures.
Meanwhile, your banker can offer valuable counsel to help you better understand how your company's financial metrics--from cash flow to credit worthiness--match up with the institution's loan requirements. Building a long-term relationship with your lender also can pay dividends: A close knowledge of your business's track record can play an important role in the lender's decision-making process.
4. Fellow entrepreneurs.
As an independent business owner, it can be tempting to tune out external voices while pursuing your own singular vision. But building relationships with fellow entrepreneurs can give you crucial insight on market developments and innovations, as well as support on days when you start to question your progress. Esposito suggests building relationships with entrepreneurs who, while different enough to not count as your competition, share a similar business model or target community. "When I made the leap to start my own business, I joined a mastermind group for female entrepreneurs," she says. "We met weekly to discuss our ideas and struggles. It felt like the equivalent of getting an MBA."
5. A talented website designer.
Your company's website will be your first impression on many prospective clients and business partners. For this reason, consider hiring a skilled web developer to help build a polished web presence that speaks to your target audience. But new business owners don't necessarily need to invest thousands of dollars to get there, notes Ryan Paugh, co-founder of Young Entrepreneur Council, a networking and mentoring organization. "The barriers have never been lower to building a strong website affordably," he says. He points out that entrepreneurs can browse options on websites such as Envato, which serves as a marketplace for templates and allows you to hire freelancers directly for custom work.
A strong professional network lets you tap additional resources and voices that will help make your business vision a reality. "It's critical for entrepreneurs to have a community around them to support their ventures," Paugh says. "No one is self-made, we're all community-made."
This article is for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting or financial advice. PNC urges its customers to do independent research and to consult with financial and legal professionals before making any financial decisions.
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