Michael Stolp

Tips for 'Hiring' Third-Party Professionals

Michael Stolp, VP and Senior Business Advisor-BMC

Would you ask your mechanic to take a look at a toothache? In most cases the answer is an adamant “no.” But choosing a third-party professional for your business isn’t always as clear cut. How will a third-party professional help? How do you choose the best advisors to fit your business? What questions should you ask? If your options seem limited, are there ways to find the professionals you need?

Who are Third-Party Professionals?
Third-party professionals are individuals with applicable expertise related to a business question or need. A few examples include:

Commodity Brokers
Crop Insurance Agents
Grain Merchants
Financial Advisors
Family Business Consultants

Their impact is a function of technical know-how or ability to facilitate difficult discussions. They have sound people skills and an accumulation of experience and best practices. They’re important contributors with a laser-like focus on specific questions or needs. Generally, they bring a technical skill or time you don’t have. Good advisors create confidence, balancing their wisdom with a humility that seeks to understand your needs and find lessons in your experience.

When do I Need a Third-Party Professional?
Farmers, ranchers and agribusiness people are independent. Their entrepreneurial spirit goes a long way towards self-determination and ‘getting it done.’ However, there are certain business needs and problems that can’t be Googled. Consider pulling your own tooth!

What keeps you up at night when you think about your business? Without the right third-party professionals the list can be extremely long, from taxes to crop health or management succession. Beyond lost sleep, unanswered questions can compromise a businesses’ competitive advantage, bottom line and/or teammates’ well-being.

How do I Select a Third Party-Professional?
Third-party professionals are an extension of your team. Recruiting the right people for your bench requires time and a smart approach. Key steps for selecting ‘winners’ include:

  • Identify players. Ask colleagues and other third-party professionals who they recommend. If your options are limited based on your location, consider expanding your network. Ask your local contacts who their colleagues in other areas recommend. An expanded professional network including other qualified professionals is a benefit of working with the right people.
  • Interview potential players. Never forget you’re the customer. The job of third-party professionals is to earn (and then retain) your business. Once you’ve identified players, develop a set of questions targeting your specific need. Basic questions may include:
    • Tell me about yourself. Why did you choose your profession?
    • How many years have you been doing this?
    • Describe what it's like to be your customer and how our initial meeting could evolve into a final product and/or ongoing relationship.
    • What sets you apart from others?
    • How do you define success with your customers?
    • What's your fee or pricing structure?
    • Who can I visit with to understand what it's like to be your customer and the impact you've had on their business?
  • ‘Hire’ your professional. Review your interview notes and make a selection by evaluating technical competency and their fit with your personality (i.e., chemistry). You should feel these professionals understand you and are generally likable. They should listen and understand your business, your questions, problems and needs. Are they credible and competent, with experience and referrals to back up their claims? Do they keep it simple and leave you understanding sometimes complex recommendations? Choose a professional who is available for follow-up, with a commitment to your ongoing success.
  • Evaluate your professional. Similar to your employees, it’s important to provide third-party professionals feedback, helping them to understand what’s working and what could go even better. Additionally, it’s important to evaluate these professionals’ performance and ongoing fit with your business. Remember, they’re an extension of your business and can be an important part of your competitive advantage.

All Pliers Aren’t Created Equal
Sure, your mechanic has nearly every plier ever made, but you’d never ask him to pull your tooth. The same is true for third-party professionals. At first glance, they may have the same tools. But, it’s important to evaluate how they use those tools to create value for your business. Unlike the mechanic and dentist, it’s sometimes harder to evaluate third-party professionals with similar services. Remember, you’re the customer and deserve the best people on your team. Invest time in your search, seek understanding and above all, make your business better together.