If you are running your own small or medium-sized business, when is the best time to engage the services of a business consultant?

In my professional experience, there are five times in particular when reaching out past your own resources to the expertise of another is especially valuable.

The first is when you establish your business. You know what service or product you want to sell, and you know you want to work independently, but there are so many other big questions that need to be answered in this phase, that you do need help.

The most important thing is gaining advice and unbiased information on the right kind of ownership structure you need for your business.

Getting your business properly registered, both for sole proprietorship or partnership, is critical if you want to get off on a solid foundation.

If you are incorporating your company, federally or provincially, it is a fairly complicated process and having someone who has done it many times before and can guide you through the
steps is vital.

You will also need to register for your GST/HST number with Canada Revenue Agency and, if you have staff working with you, register your Payroll Account with the CRA.

If you are going to invest in accounting software, it is important that you engage a consultant to ensure that what you are purchasing will meet your needs and be the best fit for your future growth.

The second phase when consultants are critical is when you have got your business up and running well, and you want to take on a significant expansion. This is a critical stage of business growth and ensuring that your financial health is strong and that there are indicators of pending success are vital. Consultants can help greatly with assessments, research, and projections for your planning process.

The third instance when you should reach out to a consultant is when your business is growing and you find yourself so busy doing that you do not have time to strategize, to analyze and review all aspects of your business, and especially your finances.

This is often a critical stage for the entrepreneur. In the beginning, he or she was able to keep on top of everything and do their own books. But when the small business expands, all of sudden there is just too much on your plate.

Your business consultant can give you assistance with tax planning strategies, assume your bookkeeping and accounting services, direct deposit payments to vendors and employees with TelPay, and keep you informed of your current financial health. You need these details to keep making the right decisions, but this is the time when you are most likely too busy to keep on top of this information yourself.

A fourth stage of any business life when an independent business consultant is crucial is if you sense discrepancies of any kind between the profits you anticipated you were gathering, and the cash-flow you are actually experiencing.

Business consultants such as myself and those at Piligrim Accounting Inc. can do an independent review of your books, an independent review of previously filed tax returns, and other reviews and analysis to bring you up to speed on your financial health.

Finally, outside consultants are helpful if your business is being sold or closed or even moved to another family owner.

Certified professional bookkeeper and certified tax specialist Elena Ivanova is managing director of Piligrim Accounting Inc., a national accounting and tax preparation service based in Richmond Hill, Ont. You can reach her at elena@piligrim-accounting.com.