When the office photocopies began to look faint, the office manager called in a local repair service. The friendly technician inspected the equipment and informed the manager that the machine was in need of a good cleaning. The tech suggested that someone on staff could read the operator's manual and perform the job, since it would cost $100 if he did the work.

Pleasantly surprised by his candor, the office manager asked, "Does your boss know you are discouraging business?"

"Actually, my boss demands we explain this to all our customers. After people try first to fix things themselves, we end up making much more money on repairs."

Good advice is always a good investment. If you don't know how to do something or don't have time to learn it properly, hire an expert. Knowledge is power. You will save time and money.

Over the years, I've hired experts to help with specific projects so that my staff and I can learn from professionals and gain valuable experience.

My philosophy is that if you can't be an expert or don't know an expert, you should always hire an expert. But how do you find the best experts? It's not as simple as doing a Google search. Here are some strategies I use in picking an expert:

• Go to someone you already know and trust. When a problem hits is a lousy time to look for someone you can trust. I would rather rely on someone I knew I could count on. And if I don't know the right person, I'll check with trusted colleagues for recommendations.

• Use an expert to find another expert in the same profession. Don't ask an accountant to help you pick a doctor. But I have asked many doctors to recommend other doctors in other specialties. Nurses are also great resources. I want the best, someone who stays current in their area of expertise.

• Be prepared to pay for any advice you get, even when all you are asking your first expert to do is recommend a second expert. That makes expert No. 1 think twice about making a solid recommendation. Good advice is never cheap. And cheap advice is rarely good.

• Don't be afraid to ask questions ... and a lot of them. When I interview experts, I want a time and action calendar and a deadline before I hire them. For example, one of my favorite investment probes is: "Are you putting your own money in the investment that you are recommending to me?"

• Don't confuse being a good friend with being a good businessperson. Hiring a buddy or family member as a favor or to save a buck may end up costing you dearly.

• It bears repeating: Look for experts before you need them. Anticipate challenges you might face at some point in the future.

• Be prepared to hire a second expert if a second opinion is in order.

One of my favorite books while cutting my teeth in business was "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. He wrote a story about a Colorado gold rush miner who found a lot of gold and thought he had hit a rich seam. He covered his work, went home and told relatives and friends about his find and raised money to buy equipment. They set it up and started mining. They filled a cart with gold the first few weeks, but it wasn't enough to pay for all the equipment and suddenly the gold dried up.

They kept digging, spent more money on equipment, but still no gold. They ended up selling their equipment to a junk dealer and went home.

The junk dealer thought he would give it another try and got expert help from a mining engineer who did an assessment of the lease. He said the earlier miners failed because they didn't understand fold lines and gold seams. One of Colorado's richest gold seams was less than 3 feet from where they were digging.

Mackay's Moral: An old broom knows the dirty corners best.

Contact Harvey Mackay at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.