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What's Up Magazine

How to Choose | The Right Professional

Jul 02, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo

By Diana Love

Over the course of the past year, my family has been through a medical crisis, retirement from a long and steady career, and the transfer of a public school elementary student to a private middle school. It’s been a year of change. With all this change came the need for expert and specialized help. We required people who know what they are doing; who give honest assessments, objective feedback, and knowledgeable service. We were looking for people we could trust. But where and how does one embark on a hunt for the most efficient and proficient care possible?

As Chesapeake-region development grows, so too does the number of professionals who provide the services we need most over the course of our always changing and always busy lives. As I interviewed both people looking for experts and the professionals themselves, I heard time and again that most searches start simply by asking friends, colleagues, and neighbors for referrals. Alternatively, many folks spend hours online. But what if your referrals aren’t reliable or online reviews aren’t verifiable? You can always depend on What’s Up? Media’s many “Best Of” and “Top” winners. Over the years, What’s Up? Media has accumulated a long list of peer reviewed experts for just about any category of professional specialist you might need. It’s a verified place to start your search and it’s a strong connector of those in need to those in the know. 

Fitness Trainer

We all want to look and feel better, but most of us don’t know the best way to get there. A certified personal trainer can help you find a path to fitness that suits your lifestyle, your abilities, and your goals. 

To find a trainer that’s right for you, start first by asking your friends who’ve worked with a trainer and had a successful experience. Do your online due diligence to find reviews and testimonials on these recommendations. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, look at each trainer’s personality, background, and education. 

We suggest the first thing you should look for is a college degree or formal education specifically in exercise-related areas of study. Official certifications from NASM or ACE—both national, well-accredited organizations that require training in anatomy, movement, modern exercise theory, and nutrition—are the most reputable. 

Ask candidates specifically if they have education in nutrition. Ask about the trainer’s specialty. For example, are their certifications or experience in overall wellness or a specific sport? Who do they primarily work with? A young college athlete may not want a trainer who works mostly with the elderly. Comparatively, an older person may not want a trainer who makes them perform painful or even unsafe moves better suited to younger, spryer folks. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, it’s important to consider how you relate to your trainer candidates. 

Finally, ask how the trainer can help you meet your short- and long-term goals within a projected time and budget. Do you need a simple unsupervised workout plan or do you want weekly sessions for an indefinite amount of time? These are two extremes that your trainer should be capable of and prepared for. Ultimately, it’s important to find a well-educated trainer who understands your goals and knows what to do and how to motivate you to get there. Since your trainer plays a vital role in how you feel from the inside out, don’t be afraid to ask questions and expect specific results. 

Psychiatrist/Psychologist

Shopping for a mental and emotional therapy might sound funny, but with no guidebook to finding a psychiatrist/psychologist when there are so many out there, this is basically what the selection process looks like. 

As you research the right doctor for you, consider pragmatic variables of office visits, the type of counseling you might need, and the costs you should plan for.

Let’s start with the practical considerations. First, don’t be shy about asking your family doctor, friends, or, even, online social media groups for professional, licensed recommendations. From this list, consider if you are more comfortable with a male or female practitioner. Do you care about age or office accommodations? Consider the practitioner’s location and if it is compatible with your commute and scheduling commitments. Check with your insurance company to find a practitioner covered by your plan. Alternatively, consider if you are willing to go out of pocket should you find the perfect match and for how many sessions you can financially manage this approach. 

Once you’ve compiled a list of vetted practitioners, it might be hard to find verified reviews or testimonials online. Instead, consider meeting in person. Most practitioners won’t charge for an abbreviated appointment designated specifically for finding out if you can work together to achieve your emotional goals. During this visit, ask about the practitioner’s academic background, professional experience, membership in related organizations, and continuing education. Different clinicians use different theoretical bases for their approach to therapy. Ask for clear explanations about how the practitioner will consider your concerns and talk about what your sessions and homework might look like. 

Once you’ve decided on therapy, try at least four sessions before determining if you have a good or bad fit. If you feel uncomfortable, be sure to communicate this to the practitioner and help them understand why. If your discomfort is something you can work through, give therapy a chance. It could be the best investment you will ever make in your mental and emotional health.  

Doctor/Dentist

There are few personal needs more important, nor typically so urgent, as a good doctor or dentist. But there is a practitioner for every malady. In fact, if you consider our proximity to some of the best hospital systems in the state and even the nation, there are thousands of medical professionals to consider in the search for just one that can solve your unique and personal needs. 

To find a medical professional to suit your unique needs (including doulas, nurse practitioners, nurses, therapists), first turn to your insurance company or your general practitioner. Another source is your local hospital system or community references such as What’s Up? Media’s list of local offices and specialists. As you search for a doctor or dentist, cull your long list of references down to a small group of professionals who practice specifically in the area of your medical or dental needs and who also have strong community connections. This way, you will hear one way or the other about successful procedures and excellent customer service. If you can’t turn to your insurance company, primary care doctor, or community references, consider the American Medical Association Doctor Finder at www.ama-assn.org/doctorfinder, www.castleconnelly.com, www.healthgrades.com, www.vitals.com, or the American Dental Association at www.ndaonline.org.

Once you have a curated list, start your background check. Research where the practitioner graduated, what they studied, and where. Find out how long they’ve been practicing and if they consistently work in the field and specialty where they claim to be experts. If you are undergoing a unique procedure, find out how many times they have performed it, and their success rate. Make sure doctors/dentists are board certified. To see whether a doctor is certified, visit the American Board of Medical Specialties database www.certificationmatters.org. Then go online to find performance reviews about the practice and the individual specialist. Look for red flags like malpractice suits, disciplinary actions or botched procedures. 

Visit several of the doctors or dentists you are considering in person. Compatibility is consistently rated as the single most important factor in patient choice. If you aren’t attuned to your doctor, you might not trust or follow their recommendations. We recommend using the in-person visit to make sure the doctor spends time really listening to your concerns and then explaining the diagnosis and treatment options. In particular, consider the following: is the front office clean, comfortable, and efficient? Is the desk staff friendly and responsive? Does the doctor listen to you, even if that takes some time? Do they answer questions in a way you can relate to? Ask how long it takes to get an appointment, and if you will be seeing the doctor, a nurse, or another person from the medical staff on follow up visits. Does the practice have technologically advanced modes of communication such as online doctor-to-doctor information sharing, appointment scheduling, and prescription fills/refills? Do they follow up via email and/or text? Do they vigorously protect your health information? 

Finally, once you’ve found your ideal doctor or dentist, be sure to listen to their advice and not that of every “expert” you’ve found online. You’ve put a lot of time and energy into finding just the right specialist for you: have confidence they are prepared and even eager to help
solve your medical needs.

Lawyer

Choosing a lawyer comes down to trust and confidence. To find a lawyer who can work for you, consider the following steps. 

1. Ask friends and acquaintances you know and trust for recommendations based on your goals and budget. 2. If you don’t have strong personal recommendations, turn to local, state, or federal legal resource sites. There are many free or low-cost legal advice options. 3. Check for professional ratings in Martindale Hubbell, an online resource. 4. You can also research the attorney’s case record on the Maryland Judiciary case search website. 5. In your research, consider the candidate’s reputation, success in their area of specialty, and track record more than where the candidate graduated law school. 6. Similarly, don’t prioritize bar associations over specialty memberships. While an attorney must be a member of the bar in the state in which they practice, the bar association (like the American Bar Association or Maryland State Bar Association) doesn’t tell you much other than whether an attorney has passed the bar and is willing to pay the dues. 7. Consider your budget versus your goals. An attorney’s hourly rate may not be equal to their rate of success. Baradel says the hourly rate is more about what the market will bear. Consider the cost vs. proven success in combination with the level of trust, confidence, and degree of reliability you think the candidate offers. 8. Consider the size of the firm where your attorney practices. A larger firm may charge more but will have many well-versed resources on hand. Alternatively, your goals may be well met by a smaller firm or independent counsel with less overhead to worry about and more time to dedicate to you. 9. Once you’ve researched possible candidates, meet them in person and try to ascertain if their professionalism and personality match your goals. 10. Be sure your candidates are active, well-educated, and prepared to advise in the area of law required to meet your needs. 

Choosing the right lawyer ultimately comes down to tangible factors including ability, reliability, and compatibility. Do your research, consider experience and success rate, and ask yourself if you are willing to pay for the time and advice the candidate lawyer can provide.

Financial Planner

Your tax accountant helps lower your tax bill. Your insurance agent finds comprehensive ways to pay for your family’s long-term health and well-being. Your stockbroker helps buy, sell, and trade assets. A good financial planner can provide advice on all of these things too, but their primary job is to help you understand complex financial issues, diagnose potential pitfalls, and figure out how best to save, invest, and grow your money. 

Planners can help you tackle a specific financial goal—such as paying off debt, saving for college, or preparing for a large investment like a mortgage. Planners can also compile a birds-eye view of your money and how your assets can work for your short- and long-term benefit. Since your financial planner’s expertise will directly impact your wealth, it’s essential to choose one that you can understand, relate to, and trust. 

Anyone can claim to be a financial planner and some practitioners have a long list of letters after their name that might make them seem especially reliable. The one you should look for is a CFP or Certified Financial Planner. A CFP has passed a rigorous test administered by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards about the specifics of personal finance. CFPs must also commit to continuing education on financial matters and ethics classes to maintain their designation. The CFP credential is a good sign that a prospective planner will give sound financial advice. 

Research several local financial planners online: are they independents or affiliated with a large or small firm? Do they have an established website and presence in the community? Do your friends or acquaintances have reviews that speak to professionalism? Have they been in the news and, if so, why?

Read and understand the code of ethics that your financial planner claims to adhere to. Then, meet your candidates in person. Are they personable, professional, and willing to answer your questions in a way you can understand? Ask how the planner charges fees, to ensure that what you are paying for is good advice and not unscrupulous schemes. In short, think about expertise and delivery. 

School

Finding a school that works for your child and your family can be emotionally, mentally, and even physically exhausting. With so many local and regional schools to choose from, where should a parent start? 

The first step we suggest is to clearly define your family’s goals and values as they relate to education. Are you looking for a purely academic experience? Or do you want a school that addresses the concept of the Whole Child education model? Do you want extracurricular opportunities? If so, which are important? Are you looking to walk, bus, or board? These practical considerations will help substantially whittle down your list. 

As you browse the possibilities, specifically look for accreditation through major national associations. While accreditation doesn’t necessarily reflect the full experience of a school, it does provide a guarantee that the school meets the baseline standards required. Most schools proudly state which accrediting organizations they belong to because they have worked hard to ensure that the certification standards have been met. 

Once you’ve made your list of pros and cons, plan to visit several schools. Parents should strongly consider the feeling they get when they first walk into a school. Are you greeted warmly? Do you and your child feel comfortable?

After your initial visits, arrange a shadow day at two or three of your top picks. Take this opportunity to talk with administrators, staff, and teachers. Happy teachers who feel valued translate into happy students who are helped to reach their potential every day. Ask about continuing education and professional development opportunities for teachers and staff. Ask the teachers what they are doing to be innovative, progressive, and able to follow through with the school’s academic mission. Tangible things to look for include how excited teachers are to talk about what they do.

If you are looking for a school that emphasizes not only academics but also the social and emotional needs of your child, we recommend asking about opportunities for your child to explore their interests and take risks in a safe way.

If cost is a consideration for you, be sure to talk to the financial director about financial aid and scholarships. Usually, these resources are available, but you can’t be too shy to ask.

Ultimately, choosing the right school for your child and your family is complicated and personal. Do your due diligence, relying more on visits to the school than on recommendations and referrals. Pay attention to how you feel and to how the staff interacts with your family and with current students. Consider your family’s values. Don’t be scared to ask (sometimes tough) questions. With many wonderful options available right throughout the Chesapeake region, you will find a school family that suits you best. 

Home Contractor

Whether you are planning simple household repairs, renovation of major architectural details, or building a home, finding a home contractor requires patience, extensive research, and more patience. Home contractors should have a current, valid license and insurance. You can verify these details at the Maryland.gov licensing queries page. Make sure the contractor has a Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC) number, so you have recourse if something goes wrong.

As you research contractors, check local home magazines to see which companies may have completed work you admire. You can ask friends or neighbors who’ve recently renovated their homes for referrals. You may also consider contacting a local architect for recommendations on contractors able to handle the scope of your project. 

Once you’ve narrowed your list of potential contractors, meet them in person. Ask them to bring a portfolio of before and after photos, drawn plans, and testimonials that indicate their experience and abilities. Ask if you can contact past clients to get an in-person testimonial or to see the work up close.

Ask the contractor if they use sub-contractors or their own employees on finish work like trim, painting, or grouting. Adding sub-contractors to a job adds extra elements like costs, insurance issues, quality of work performed, and paperwork that can bring unwanted complexities.

Once you’ve chosen a contractor, be prepared to give them all the information they need to do the job to your specifications, such as paint swatches, photos, architectural plans, product details, and a clear idea of what you want. Don’t expect that they can meet your goals without the tools to do so. 

Be ready to provide a down payment and to sign a contract. Don’t pay for all the work upfront, and don’t go with a contractor who makes full payment a requirement or who doesn’t prepare a contract with the job’s details listed. Instead, pay for work performed, and be ready to communicate your admiration or discouragement about the project in a reasonable way. 

If you aren’t happy with the job, your contractor should professionally address your concerns, correct their work, or make accommodations to complete the task as contracted. As you search for a contractor, your goal is to choose one who is reliable, professional, personable, trustworthy, and who also understands your unique goals. 

Auto Dealer  

There are thousands of auto dealers in the United States, and dozens within throughout our region. So, how to choose a dealer that’s right for you? A good place to start is by prioritizing what factors matter most to you. Four come to mind: honesty, reliability, product knowledge, and service.  

To find out if the dealer you are considering meets these standards, start your research online. Search review sites like the Better Business Bureau, Edmunds.com, local Yelp pages, and even Facebook. 

Find out how long the dealer has been in the community. Longevity is a good indicator of how well a company manages its business. You want to choose a reputable, longstanding business that is thriving and prepared to build a sales and customer service relationship with you into the future.

Discover what perks the dealer offers and (based on the reviews) if the dealer lives up to what they claim with thorough, on-time, well-executed service. Worthy bonuses to think about are free car washes, loaner cars, oil change and tire rotation, and pickup/drop off service that accommodates your location and schedule. 

Once you’ve completed your online research, go take a look at the dealership. Is it in a safe area and are the sales and service areas up-to-date and well-maintained? Are the bathrooms clean and accessible? Is there a plug-in station or play area for kids? Is the waiting area tidy and comfortable? Is the receptionist friendly? Do other customers look content? There’s a good chance you will return to the facility many times in the years ahead, and if the dealership experience is unpleasant, you will dread visiting. If the customer area is secure, comfortable, and efficient, there is a good chance that the dealership and service businesses operate likewise.

Talk to the sales manager. You are seeking to strike a balance between salesmanship and customer care that inspires trust. If the sales force is aggressive or makes you feel uncomfortable, this may not be the dealership for you. 

Work the numbers. You can talk to your bank or check sites like Truecar.com to find reliable pricing for most cars. If your dealer visits are similar to your online research, you will feel less vulnerable and more trusting of sales advice. 

Over the course of your research, you will discover that not all auto dealerships are equal. Choosing a reliable, trustworthy dealership with a strong focus on customer service is essential for what will hopefully be a long relationship.