Questions For An Attorney…

Thinking about hiring an attorney? Three lawyer's weigh in on what to ask before you do...

Thinking about hiring an attorney? Three lawyer's weigh in on what to ask before you do...

One Woman Shops can’t always do it all. But when it’s time to turn to an outside pro — and be certain we’re choosing the right one — we’re often at a loss as to what to ask to get the info we need. Welcome to Questions For A… a series where we interview the pros themselves on the questions you need to ask before hiring them.

In this month’s edition, we bring you Questions for an….Attorney with contributions from attorneys Annette Stepanian, Patrice Perkins, and Tamsen Horton. Here’s what they suggest you ask:

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and should not be used as such.

Q: What kind of experience do you have working with businesses like mine?

Annette’s why: Just like you wouldn’t go to a cardiologist if you were suffering from a broken foot, you shouldn’t seek out and hire attorneys who don’t have the experience or expertise in the legal issue you’d like resolved. Remember to interview and research the attorney prior to retaining them. They are an extension of your business team and you should hire someone who you not only feel comfortable with, but who has the experience to understand your business and your legal needs.

Patrice’s why: There are a lot of good (and capable) attorneys out there, but not all of them are going to be a fit for you and the work you do. You want to feel out the attorney’s experience working with entrepreneurs like you because as with most relationships, there’s often more than meets the eye. For instance, because I’ve worked consistently with creative entrepreneurs, I think to ask questions that a business attorney who works with more traditional small business clients might not think to ask. Another example: I’ve seen my fair share of brand-blogger agreements so I know a good agreement from a mediocre one and when my client should be asking for more money.

Q: When should I consult a lawyer for my business?

Annette’s why: Here’s my philosophy: As is true with other things in life, it’s much cheaper to pay for preventative maintenance than to pay for expensive repairs that would not have been needed if the initial maintenance had been done in the first place. It’s the same with the law and your business. Early on in your business, make that investment to consult with a lawyer to make sure that you’re laying a proper foundation. It can save you lots of tears, headaches, and money in the long run.

Q: In which state(s) are you authorized to practice law?

Annette’s why: In the United States, lawyers must be licensed by a specific state to give legal advice about that particular state’s laws. A lawyer who is licensed to practice law in one state is not automatically authorized to practice law in another. Double check their credentials to make sure they are authorized to practice law in the state in which you’re doing business.

Q: Would I work with you online or in person?

Tamsen’s why: If meeting with your attorney in person is important to you, then you’d want to make sure that they work with clients in a face-to-face type of meeting. Likewise, if you prefer the flexibility to meet with your attorney on a laptop when it’s convenient, then you want to make sure that they are comfortable meeting with you online.

Q: What are your fees and what other expenses can I expect to incur? (Am I billed for emails and telephone calls?)

Annette’s why: There are a few ways that lawyers will charge for their services. You’ll most likely come across lawyers charging either on an hourly basis or on a flat-fee basis. The former is self-explanatory – a lawyer will invoice you based on the number of hours worked. In this instance, the lawyer might also ask for a retainer (an advance payment) prior to starting the work. If the work to be performed exceeds the retainer amount, then you may have to pay above-and-beyond the retainer at the lawyer’s hourly rate. On the other hand, if work is done on a flat-fee basis, then the lawyer charges you a fixed, total fee regardless of the number of hours it takes for the lawyer to do the work. You should also find out what other expenses you’re expected to pay. For example, costs like filing and application fees will likely be your responsibility.

Patrice’s why: It’s important to make sure you’re on the same page with your attorney in terms of what to expect of their billing practices. You may find that an attorney who offers flat-fee services is a better fit for you versus one who bills hourly. There is no better way, but you want to make sure you know what to expect so you can focus on the work at hand and avoid stress over a bill you weren’t expecting.

Q: How can we work together long term? If I purchase this product or service from you, what does that look like?

Patrice’s why: With any service provider, the goal should be to develop a long-term relationship. You’ll get the most value out of working with people who have come to know your business instead of starting over at every turn.

Tamsen’s why: When it comes to issues surrounding the legal impact of your business decisions, you want to know what your investment includes. Even when your issue requires more of a traditional hourly-rate service, with the ease of technology, you should expect that your attorney can provide you guides, downloads, videos, audios, and more that complement the product or service they are providing. Be on the lookout for ways that they are using resources outside of simply talking to you or billing you for work because that means that you’ve found someone who is concerned about saving you money by giving you access to their knowledge in different ways.

Q: Will there be anyone else handling my work?

Annette’s why: If you’re hiring a firm with multiple lawyers and paralegals, then get clear on exactly who is going to be working on your matter and what their rates are (as necessary). Don’t assume the attorney who is your primary point of contact is the one actually doing the work.

Q: If I decide to purchase this _____ today, when would you start working with me?

Tamsen’s why: When it comes to legal issues in your business, there are emergency room issues (need to be dealt with immediately) and those that can be scheduled out. As you’re talking with the attorney, they’ll let you know which you’re dealing with. Don’t be startled or surprised if the attorney (in non-emergency cases) says that they can work with you in a few weeks to a few months. You will run into that when you are hiring an attorney who has a thriving business (that’s a good thing for you!). If you do need to wait, then they will likely have resources for you to use in the meantime.

Ready to grill (in the best way possible) your potential lawyer? Print these questions for an attorney out + have them at the ready when you’re looking to hire!

P.S.: Want more information from attorneys on what to know before you hire them? Get the (free) Prior to the Hire ebook now!


Disclaimer: This information is for educational and informational purposes only; it is not intended as and does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the author. You should not act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of information provided here without first consulting legal counsel in your jurisdiction.

Questions For An… Accountant

Questions For An Accountant

Questions For An... Accountant

One Woman Shops can’t always do it all. But when it’s time to turn to an outside pro — and be certain we’re choosing the right one — we’re often at a loss as to what to ask to get the info we need. Welcome to Questions For A… a series where we interview the pros themselves on the questions you need to ask before hiring them.

In this month’s edition, we bring you Questions for an….Accountant with contributions from accountants Amy Northard, Taisha Stewart of Saidia Financial, Catherine Derus of Brightwater Financial, and Erin Johnstone of Vivid Numbers. Here’s what they suggest you ask, and why:

Q: What services do you offer? What services are included in my package?

Amy’s why: Just like specializing in different industries, accountants can specialize in different financial services. Make sure your needs (tax planning, budgeting, etc.) align with what they can offer.

Tai’s why: Clearly define the scope of services you need or won’t need because you don’t want to be charged for a service you don’t need, nor do you want to be unaware of what’s included in your accountant’s quote. Some accountants provide tax preparation as well as monthly bookkeeping services. Some process payroll (which can include 1099s). Some accountants provide quarterly review meetings with the client, while others only talk to their clients once or twice a year. You want to make sure that there are no surprise charges down the road. Know what to expect from your accountant and when to expect it.

Catherine’s why: An accountant may provide any combination of the following services: tax preparation and planning, business formation, bookkeeping, payroll processing, financial and retirement planning, cash flow and budgeting analysis, and more. If the accountant you plan on hiring doesn’t provide a service you need, ask if they have recommendations.

Q: Do you have experience in my industry?

Catherine’s why: Different industries come with their own unique accounting and tax issues. Accounting for a food blogger (are you tracking food purchases for recipe development?) is different than accounting for a retail store (hello, inventory!), which is also different than accounting for a freelance writer (do you have all of your 1099’s?). Your accountant should be aware of tax opportunities that relate to your industry.

Erin’s why: There are standard tasks in accounting and bookkeeping regardless of industry that any good accountant will understand. However, you’ll get more value from someone not only familiar with your industry but who has experience in it as well. You are essentially paying for the knowledge the accountant can bring to the table so the more they already know, the better!

Q: How can you help me grow my business?

Catherine’s why: Businesses have several moving pieces and an accountant can help you see the big picture by assisting with a business plan. At the same time, they can provide suggestions on your pricing, improving cash flow, assessing whether to hire an employee or contractor, and other ways to improve your bottom line.

Q: What bookkeeping software do you primarily work with, and what is your preferred method of communication?

Catherine’s why: Gone are the days of schlepping a shoebox full of receipts and a folder full of statements to your accountant’s office. Unless, of course, your accountant really wants you to! These days, accountants are using cloud-based accounting programs and file-sharing sites, emailing contracts and invoices, helping you track expenses with online receipt scanning, and communicating via Google Hangouts or Skype. When you have questions, figure out if your accountant prefers a phone call, email, or something else. When I work with financial planning clients, we have a set number of in-person or virtual meetings throughout the year, but I offer unlimited email support in implementing planning recommendations.

Amy’s why: Many accountants have a preference as to which bookkeeping software they use because they’re most familiar with it. Familiarity means they can work more efficiently and offer advice if you have any problems with the software.

Erin’s why: We all know that communication is critical in business relationships, and it’s no exception here. Look for someone who has the same preferred method of communication so it flows more freely and frequently. You can quickly become frustrated (and vice versa) if you always want to hop on Skype for a video chat but your accountant wants to respond with an email.

Q: Are you available during tax season?

Erin’s why: “Busy” season is a very real thing for accountants who also prepare taxes. You want to make sure your accountant will still have the capacity to assist you the first three and a half months of the year and not just go dark!

Q: What will your help cost me + how do you bill?

Amy’s why: Most accountants don’t have detailed costs for their services listed on their website because client needs can vary so much. Ask about this up front so you aren’t surprised with a big bill.

Erin’s why: Find out if you will be billed by the hour or if there will be a fixed fee. If by the hour, you will also want an estimate on what the fee will be. Along the same line of thought, you’ll want to know exactly what you are getting for your money.

Q: What systems and processes do you have in place to protect my financial data?

Tai’s why: Your accountant will have access to the most private information you possess. You want to make sure that your financial statements aren’t just lying around for anyone’s eyes to see. Also, social security numbers, addresses, and other private details should be under lock and key or encrypted digital storage.

Q: How quickly should I expect deliverables to be available every month?

Tai’s why: Clear communication prevents misunderstandings. I was recently interviewing a new client whose main problem with his previous accountant was that he didn’t get information to him in a timely manner. Expectations should be outlined upfront to keep you happy and to also give the accountant the time necessary to make information available to you. For example: Will I be receiving my monthly profit-and-loss report by the 10th of the following month? Should I start to worry if I don’t receive it by the 5th? What deadlines can I expect you, the accountant, to adhere to?

Q: If I incur federal or state penalties for filing errors proven to be the fault of you, the accountant, will you reimburse me? And if so, how much?

Tai’s why: Again drawing from client narratives of past accountant relationships, an accountant is human and sometimes mistakes are made. If that accountant is filing tax returns (business or personal) or making estimated tax payments on your behalf and causes you to incur penalties or interest with the IRS because of neglect or oversight, what is their policy on resolving the situation? Perhaps they will reduce what they bill you. Perhaps they will pay part of the penalties.


Ready to grill (in the best way possible) your potential accountant? Print these questions out + have them at the ready when you’re looking to hire! And if you want pros we stand by, check out the One Woman Shop directory.

PS: Want more information from accountants on what to know before you hire them? Get the (free) Prior to the Hire ebook now!

Questions for a… Developer

Questions For a Developer

One Woman Shops can’t always do it all. But when it’s time to turn to an outside pro — and be certain we’re choosing the right one — we’re often at a loss as to what to ask to get the info we need. Welcome to Questions For A… a series where we interview the pros themselves on the questions you need to ask before hiring them.

In this month’s edition, we bring you Questions For A…Developer with contributions from developers Tiffany Breyne, Erin E Flynn, Lis Dingjan, and Meredith Underell. Here’s what they suggest you ask:

Q: What is your preferred method of communication?

Tiffany’s why: I know that introductory Skype and phone calls are a major part of some people’s work processes, but I’d rather change a baby’s dirty diaper than talk on the phone. Therefore, I prefer communication via email, or through Basecamp, my project management system. If you’re a big phone/email person, it’s important to make sure that the people you’re working with feel the same way.

Erin’s why: If you want weekly phone calls to check in on progress, and the designer/developer only communicates via email, it’s better to know that right away.

Q: What should I have ready before we start working together? Do you require design assets and copy before starting the development piece?

Tiffany’s why: You should have all of your passwords ready, as well as any necessary notes, content, design files, etc. The majority of my projects don’t get started right away because passwords need to be found, and content and files need to be delivered. I’m all about hitting the ground running, and I’m sure most clients feel the same way.

Meredith’s why: Depending on how complex the project is, most developers will need all the pieces in place before starting. They may begin by coding the foundational layer but for any real website building, they will ideally like to have all of the assets complete before starting work.

Q: How does your process work?

Tiffany’s why: Everyone’s process is different. Some developers ask more in-depth questions, and others prefer to create exactly what the client requests, no questions asked. Because I like to think about user experience when developing something, I tend to ask more questions about goals and objectives. Some people may appreciate that, and others may not. So it’s important to understand what the developer has in mind prior to signing a contract.

Erin’s why: It’s important to know how designers and developers work and how long things are expected to take.You’ll also want to know how many rounds of revisions you get, when and what you need to provide the developer in order to let them do their job, and keep things moving. If a developer says they need final copy, don’t expect to change your About page text the night before website launch. When everyone knows what to expect it makes the project run a lot smoother and reduces the chance for misunderstandings.

Q: How do you track a project’s progress and deliverables?

Meredith’s why: I use Trello to track all my projects. Everyone who’s involved on the project has access. We assign deliverables, due dates and keep the majority of our communication through there to cut down on the number of emails. It’s best to be upfront with how the project communication will be handled so expectations are set from the beginning.

Q: What platforms do you work with?

Erin’s why: Find someone who specializes in the platform you want — it will ensure you get a well-coded site that won’t break every time you touch it. I’ve fixed plenty of sites made by developers who knew just enough about WordPress to make a site that looked good to visitors, but were a nightmare to update or maintain.

Q: I have my heart set on ____ feature, can you do that?

Erin’s why: Prioritize your features and make sure the developer knows how to do them. For example, if you have your heart set on a custom masonry-style gallery, ask developers if they know how to do that. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway into a project only to find out the developer can’t deliver what you want. I’ve picked up a lot of half-finished projects where either the client didn’t communicate features they wanted clearly, or the developer didn’t know how to add in the feature. Show examples and look for similar features in your developer’s portfolio.

Q: Will you code this responsively?

Lis’ why: Not to be confused with responsibly (which let’s hope is also the case!). We consume and read differently on mobile. If your designs don’t have this specified then you can ask your developer to code down the designs responsively. Responsive design increases time and budget on a project due to extra planning, additional coding, more testing and extra know-how but is well worth it as audiences increasingly use mobile devices to access your website (from buses, work and bathrooms!).

Erin’s why: It’s 2015. Websites NEED to be responsive. Not only will you be penalized by Google if your website isn’t, but visitors will have a hard time viewing your site on anything other than a computer screen.

Q: Do you design websites as well, or do you have a list of designers you prefer working with?

Erin’s why: Developers are not necessarily designers. And designers are not necessarily developers. Ask if your developer can design, and what kind of design they do. For example, I design websites, but I don’t do brand or print design. If you need something outside your developer’s realm of expertise, ask if they have recommendations — when designers and developers have a relationship it makes the process smoother. While developers CAN work with mockups from a designer they don’t know, it’s easier for everyone involved if the designer and developer already have processes in place and rapport with each other.

Q: How much back end functionality will I have?

Lis’ why: Depending on your project size, budget, scope and the skills of your dev, you’ll likely have a different range of functionality and access on the back end. For custom projects and development anything is possible so ask what platform (CMS) they’re building on, why they’ve chosen that one for your project, what access you’ll have, if there is any ongoing payment for support or maintenance, how you’ll update areas on the site and if you’re provided with training, instructions, guides or anything else.

Q: Are you responsible for all integrations, third party systems, hosting, setting up emails etc?

Lis’ why: Again, this will vary per project and developer. For example, I prefer all my clients establish their own accounts to third party applications (I.e hosting, domain, mailing services, payment gateways, etc.) so they have full control and access over the account and they can securely control their payment details and the like. I’ll take it from there to work with everything and arrange what I need within the overall website and systems flow. Other developers may have partnerships with companies, reseller programs or their own products. This is also the time to note who is responsible for setting up things like mailing list integrations, online schedulers, memberships, etc.

Q: Do you maintain my site or provide support packages?

Lis’ why: All sites need to have occasional updates and maintenance. Can you easily add things and do it in-house? Sometimes clients don’t wish to (or don’t have time or the desire) to add/change any of their own content. Do you regularly need new layouts designed or are you constantly tweaking and testing things and need a developer who can help out? Will you require extra phases of new items or functionality in the future? Do you want to look after your own updates and security or would you like somebody else to take care of this? If your server goes down or if there is any issue with your hosting do you go back to your developer and they’ll fix it? If you mess around with some code and it temporarily ‘breaks’ the site (the evil white screen of death!), is your developer responsible for fixing the code and are they on hand immediately?

Q: What is your payment structure & schedule?

Meredith’s why: Every developer has a different payment schedule. It’s good for the client to know how much the deposit will be and whether they will need to make a final payment before the site goes live.


Ready to grill (in the best way possible) your potential developer? Print these questions out + have them at the ready when you’re looking to hire! And if you want pros we stand by, check out the One Woman Shop directory.

PS: Want more information from developers on what to know before you hire them? Check out Prior to the Hire: Developers Edition.