If you own, manage, or work at a small business, there are going to be many occasions over the years that will require professional service providers of one sort or another. Whether it’s building a website, doing the accounting, construction, legal help, or just installing new software, there are going to be projects that hit a wall where you must search for a higher knowledge than you, personally, have.

For situations beyond your skill set or the time you have available, you’ll likely turn to a service professional. However, with so many options out there, how do you find the best professional for your project?

To help you make the right decision when you need to find and pay professional service providers, we’ve put together some basic rules of thumb to follow.

What do I need to know before looking for a professional?

One of the biggest hurdles in soliciting professional services for a job or project is understanding the scope of the project and how you plan to handle it. It’s your money after all, and running a small business doesn’t leave a lot of room for overhead. Be sure you’re as prepared as possible before starting your search.

Understand the scope of the project

The first step is to get a solid idea of what exactly you want to accomplish by hiring a professional service provider. Consider what you want done and map out the project as best you can, including deadlines that meet your needs.

No need to get fancy here—a pen and paper or spreadsheet will get you started. Write out exactly what the goal of the project is, the budget for the project, and a timeline for when you need the work accomplished. Your goal here is just to communicate as clearly as possible your needs and your budget. With this document in hand, you’ll have a good sense of what kind of service provider you’re looking for, what you can afford to pay, and when you want the job to begin and end.

Given this information, good service providers will give you a detailed estimate, including a timeline and estimated cost for the project.

Research the services you need.

You’re great at what you do and you know how to run your business, but we can’t all be experts in everything. You’ll definitely want to do some research to find the right person.

Start by researching the industry in which you’re looking for help. This will give you a basic understanding of the terminology and area of specialization, and you don’t want to try negotiating without that knowledge. For example, if you want to hire someone to build a website, learn what web domains and hosting are, research options on setting up an ecommerce site, and even find a few websites you like as examples.

Whether it’s webdesign or a contract lawyer, do your research so you can ask the right questions.

How much should I pay for professional services?

This is a tough one. Prices vary by the kind of work being done, of course. Furthermore, not all professional service providers are created equal, and there is often a lot of room for negotiation on a given project. It’s hard to even know where to start when it comes to figuring out an average cost for professional services.

One way you can get a sense of what a project should cost is to ask your business neighbors — Townsquared is great for this, if you’re a member — your professional network, and even friends, and family. For example, if you’re a sole proprietorship looking for someone to do your taxes, ask a comparable neighbor what they’ve paid. If you know that so-and-so received tax services for a business which is almost exactly like yours, then what they paid can be a baseline. You can have this number in mind when you’re negotiating with a professional service provider.

What should I look for in professional service providers?

Something that’s easy to overlook is the fact that for many types of professional services there are laws governing how they operate and what work they are legally able to undertake. The most basic example of this problem is the legal profession. In order to file with a court, one must be a certified member of the state bar association. Another example, if you’re in the New York City, is construction: any work requiring plumbing must have the plumbing permits submitted to the city by a certified Master Plumber. Ditto for an electrician.

Make sure that any professional you hire for physical labor is also bonded, or that you know what your liability would be if he or she isn’t bonded. Generally speaking, bonding is a kind of insurance for the customer, if the service provider fails to meet the obligations of the job, including financial ones. Note that this is not the same as a contractor being insured, which usually refers to liability insurance and workers’ compensation. Liability will likely cover damage to your property caused by a contractor, but not reimburse customers for repairing or redoing unacceptable work. Your state should have a site like this one for California through which you can verify what licenses and insurance a service provider has, including whether or not they’re current.

Do some research on the work you want done, and find out if there are any legal requirements concerning permits or the kind of professional required for the job. If you’re unsure, you can always check with the US Dept. of Labor to determine which professions in your state require a license. Don’t merely take the contractor’s word that they are bonded, ask for a copy of the bond and their insurance. This is standard procedure in most states.

How do I find professional service providers?

There are a great many resources for every industry out there that provide directories of professional service providers. But, even armed with a list, you’re still going to face challenges when it comes to finding the right person(s) for the job.

We’re on it — here are some of the best resources we’ve found.

bbb-trustThe Better Business Bureau
Pretty old school when it comes to professional services, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has been a local institution in most areas as far back as 1921, when it was founded on the premise of “truth in advertising.” Up until then, there weren’t any criteria that would allow a person seeking professional services to verify the truth of an advertiser’s claims (think quack medicine). The BBB began its mission to change how businesses could find reliable help, and create a directory of trusted professional services and general business providers who, in their own words, “Embody Integrity.” The Better Business Bureau is located within most U.S. cities.


One of the community partners in NYC, Rentah has been on the move for a number of years, with the goal of providing an interactive portal for those providing professional services and those seeking them. The way it works is pretty simple and, the best part, free. Professionals list their services and their rates on the site, and those looking to retain providers can browse through the listings. There are many other sites in most cities on which you can also rent goods, services, and even living or event spaces.

Based on the idea that there is a sort-of shared community need, Lyft, Airbnb Uber, Task Rabbit, Instacart and many others —  have a deep understanding of how valuable our local communities and networks are for accomplishing professional and personal goals. For example, maybe all you really need for that project is an air compressor? Maybe you want to try a pop-up at an empty space before expanding your business through construction? Or, maybe you just need a local, affordable web designer? Whatever it is, odds are you’ll be able to find it locally.

Beyond being easy to use and all about local, another huge plus of using local business is that they usually have a payments system built into their sites, so that you can easily pay (or get paid) for services or goods. That way, clients aren’t trying to navigate payment schedules or waiting on billing payments.


You know that Craigslist is a go-to site for finding your next sofa or even your next job. But, it’s also a place to find professional services. While there are thousands of professional service providers using Craigslist nationwide, the site does have its challenges for both the small business owner crunched for time, as well as the professional looking to get their services retained.

One drawback for small business owners looking to retain professional services through Craigslist is that there isn’t a verification system, any relationship with a professional has to take place outside the site. There can also be confusion over who is a legitimate professional, given the high volume of spam that occurs on the site, but this is improving.

That said, Craigslist can be a great resource if you’re looking for those lower-end, low-priority projects that you’re keeping on a small budget.

Once you’ve found a professional.

The last, but likely most important, step in getting professional services is to protect yourself against the possibility of poor work or being overcharged.

You could have a lawyer draw up a legal contract for every business contract you make, and for big-ticket projects, be sure to have a legal professional help you with any contractual resources. But using legal service for every little thing can be pricey — especially for those projects that don’t require a huge budget.

You can protect yourself fairly simply by just drafting an agreement that includes the scope you laid out in our first step, the agreed-upon cost, the services to be rendered, and the deadline for completion. If you’re not feeling particularly up to snuff on your legalese, you can always utilize a free legal contract generator. These will prompts you for the relevant info and spit out a lovely legal document for you and the service provider to sign.

Have the document signed by both parties and notarized, and you’ve got yourself a basic but legally-binding document. This will afford you some protection if you find the work doesn’t meet the standards to which both parties agreed.

When you’re searching for the right provider, don’t forget: Always ask your community for recommendations! There isn’t a challenge that someone in your community hasn’t already faced, and when it comes to getting the best service for your project, it’s always helpful to ask those who have gone before you.


This post originally appeared here.


Townsquared is a private and secure platform for businesses within a neighborhood to connect, communicate, and collaborate. Businesses within the same community share many values and challenges – communicating with each other empowers everyone to make smart decisions and succeed.

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