“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”
-Henry David Thoreau
I started my first business at the age of seven. For fifty cents, my “Cowboy Shoeshine Service” provided a much-needed spit, polish, and shine to dirty and dusty boots owned by the guests staying at my parent’s Guest Ranch in Tucson, Arizona.
In high school, I used my dad’s tractor and charged $25 to remove horse manure from neighbor’s corrals. At the University of Arizona, my two sideline businesses were giving hang gliding and windsurfing lessons on the weekends. If I was going to keep my clients high and dry and build my part-time businesses, I had to make sure I did things the right way.
I didn’t have a single client when I passed the bar and started my law practice in 1986. There was no Internet and to be perfectly honest; law school didn’t teach me much about running or marketing a business.
Over the years, I paid attention to what worked, what didn’t and learned as much as I could. I read business development and marketing books, attended conferences, and watched how successful professionals built their practices and companies. I took what I learned shining cowboy boots and teaching windsurfing and applied these early life lessons to business and law.
Today, my partner, Lisa Wilson, and I have been able to build a business and global brand that has allowed us to help thousands of people around the world. It’s been a journey of success, failure, and daily excitement.
What I share in this post are my thoughts derived from the legal and business lessons I’ve learned helping hundreds of businesses with their startup, litigation and trial needs. I’ve tried to write this post in a way that allows you to understand my recommendation and then take action quickly. Based upon my life experiences I know for a fact that it’s failing to take action that prevents people from ever starting their business in the first place.
Products, Services, and Proper Mindset
If you want to start and build a successful business, you must have two things. First, you need a product or service that helps others and adds value to their lives. Second, you need to have a proper mindset. Without these two things, you’re wasting your time.
I’m going to assume you already have the right product and service and that you’re reading this post because you now what to start your business. If not, then my suggestion is to pick a product that you’re passionate about. A product or service that gets you excited.
For me, it’s the law. I love helping fix people’s problems. I enjoy taking on the bullies in the world and holding them accountable for their wrongful conduct. I like what I’m doing, and while I work very hard at my craft, it just doesn’t feel like work to me. I’m passionate about the “why” behind the service I provide to my clients. You need to feel the same way.
While passion alone isn’t going to make you successful, it will give you the incentive to get out of bed each morning and do what needs to be done to achieve success. This is especially true when the going gets tough, and it will get tough every now and then.
When it comes to having the right mindset to start a business, the first thing you need to do is get real and ask yourself if you have the right attitude to start and run a small business or large company? Starting, building and marketing a new business isn’t easy. Know the answer to this question before you spend valuable time, money and effort, in starting your business.
Don’t try to be like everyone else in town. Be different. Be yourself. I often tell young trial lawyers I mentor that if they’re marketing and branding their practice like everyone else, they’re doing things all wrong. (my related post and video)
Embrace your uniqueness. Share your song with the world. Disrupt your business, industry, and profession to become top-of-mind to those who matter. Don’t be the next Yellow Cab, be the next Uber- and then some! Think Tesla, Facebook, Amazon or Instagram, and go for it!
Don’t Be a Lone Wolf
Another tip I want to share is to always surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Bookkeepers, accountants, bankers, and lawyers are assets and not liabilities. I talk about this below in more detail.
I understand that if you’re just getting started and money is tough to come by, this can be a challenge. But keep this tip in mind and start bringing other people into your business life as soon as you can. It will expedite your success.
When you can bring other people into your business life, make sure they add value to your product or service. Use employees, independent contractors, and virtual assistants to get this done. This allows you to focus on what you do best and delegate out tasks that you don’t need to waste your time doing. In today’s busy and hyper-connected world, your two biggest business assets are time and attention. Be smart about how you spend your energy on both.
While I am a lawyer in California, I am not your lawyer. This post is a conversation about starting a business. It is not legal advice. Please reach out to a lawyer in your state with any questions or legal needs.
If you need help finding a lawyer, please reach out to me or see my link at the end of this post. I have an extensive network of lawyers located around the world who can help. I’m happy to put you in contact with one or more of them.
So, with the above in mind, let’s get started.
#1: Do Business as a Corporation or LLC
Doing business involves much more than offering a great product or service that benefits others. Running a successful business also includes concepts like maximizing profits and minimizing expenses and liabilities.
Two good ways you can do just that are to do business as a corporation or limited liability company. What type of entity you decided to create depends upon the unique needs of your business and state laws. Having said that, general important benefits normally include:
Reduce Personal Liability — these entities can shield you from liability for business debt or lawsuits. They can also protect personal assets such as your home, cars, and savings.
Reduce Taxes — these entities allow you to deduct expenses that a sole-proprietorship or partnership may not allow you to do. This includes healthcare, entertainment and travel expenses.
Maximize Retirement and Pension Plans– these plans can be grown more effectively and maximized faster using these entities. Additional tax benefits are also available and these benefits result in increased profits.
Add Credibility to Your Business– these entities show that you’re serious about your business which is now registered in your state. Factors like credibility, prestige, and permanence are all byproducts of doing business as an entity.
Raise Money and Build Credit– these entities allow you more options to raise money through the sale of stock or transfer ownership via the transfer or sale of stock. You’ll also be able to establish and build a new credit profile distinct from your personal situation.
Manage Your Company– these entities allow you to use agreements that define how you will run your company and resolve disputes. Laws also control what you and other people involved in your business can and should do to run the business each day. This protects everyone involved.
If you’re not in a financial situation where you can afford to start doing business as a corporation or LLC, don’t let this slow you down. Get started with your business but remember to make the transition to doing business as an entity as soon as possible.
Note- all 50 States now recognize the one person LLC which is taxed the same as a sole-proprietorship but still retains the liability protection and permanence of a separate entity. In California, this is one of my favorite solutions I often recommend for my business clients.
One more thing. In my opinion, you should never do business as a sole proprietor or general partnership. For the above reasons (and much more), there’s just too much liability attached to doing so. Doing business as a sole proprietor is by far the biggest mistake I see people make when doing business online. Instead, form a corporation or LLC and do business as a legal business entity. Also, make sure to file all related documents and pay all annual filing fees. You can learn more via the Small Business Administration.
#2: Promote Your Product and Service as a Business
The average small business in the United States is involved in three lawsuits during it’s business life. It’s not a matter of if you’re going to get sued, it’s when. With this in mind, please pay attention to the following suggestions.
When communicating and engaging (marketing, sales, social media posts, livestreams…) while doing business, make sure your audience knows that you’re doing so on behalf of your business and not as an individual. Do this each and every time and the protective shield I mentioned above will usually protect your personal assets from your business liabilities.
This needs to be done in all offline and online content. For example, when you’re sharing on social or starting a live stream like Periscope or Facebook Live, let your audience know that your content is being presented and shared on behalf of your company and not you personally. You can do this by simply including something like the following in the first 30-60 seconds of your show- “Today’s Periscope is brought to you by the XYZ Company, a leader in the mobile app community.”
Your websites, blogs and other digital platforms and communications should clearly give notice that your company is a corporation or LLC. This includes all logos, emails, and letters. I know this sounds like a hassle, but it’s the smart thing to do.
Few online business owners do this. They’re making a huge mistake and exposing their personal assets to business liabilities. Now you know better!
#3 Use Contracts and Other Agreements
Almost everything you do in business involves contract law. Be smart and communicate and confirm all deals, proposals, and agreements in writing. A phone call, email or text is not sufficient to form a binding legal agreement. I understand that life would be a lot simpler if a digital wink is all that it took to create a binding agreement, but it isn’t.
If you’re an independent contractor, then you need to be using an independent contractor agreement each time you provide a service for a client. An example of a California independent contract agreement (long form) can be found here.
Brands, social media agencies, and influencers all need to make sure they are not assuming liability when they are promoting other people’s products and services. Agreements are available to help you do just that. State and Federal disclosure laws should also be followed. I shared important legal, business, and safety tips on this topic here.
Tip: Have email or other digital templates setup and ready to go. I’ve uploaded most of my contracts and agreements to Docusign and it usually only takes me a minute or two to exchange contracts, agreements, get signatures, and close a deal.
#4: Use Professionals and Get Liability Insurance
Good advice from the right professional can make or break the success of your new business. Start building relationships with an experienced banker, CPA, financial planner and lawyer.
Proper business liability insurance may offer additional protection to you and your business. Whether a claim has merit or is frivolous, it’s always good to know that there is insurance coverage protecting your business assets, income and in many cases, your future.
I would suggest contacting a reputable business insurance agent or broker in your state for details and options. The topic of general business and umbrella liability coverage options should be included in the conversation. If you work out of your home, ask about insurance coverage that protects you and your home-based business. Learn more about business insurance here.
Almost without exception one of the biggest mistakes I see new business owners make is not having their ducks in a row when it comes to state and federal tax requirements and finances. Unless you’re a wiz at numbers, I strongly suggest you get a good accountant or CPA involved to help with your monthly and annual bookkeeping, taxes, and financial planning. While you’re at it, start building a relationship with your local bank. You’d be amazed at the different services available to help with starting and building your business.
#5: Intellectual Property
Use Intellectual Property (IP) law (copyrights, trade names, trademarks…) to protect your products, services, and ideas. Take the necessary steps to protect your IP rights before sharing your idea, product, service, or new logo with the world.
This is a very complicated area of the law, and so if you have something worth protecting, it is important to take the necessary IP steps to protect your legal rights. I’d recommend that you contact an experienced lawyer in your state to discuss options and needs. Click here to see related resources and tips from the US Small Business Administration website.
Another easy way to stay out of trouble is to respect other people and company’s IP rights. Don’t use someone else’s pictures, videos, and music without their written permission. You may be breaking the law and exposing yourself to civil money damages if you do so.
There are plenty of resources on the Internet that allow you to use or purchase images, videos, and songs for your online work. Either create your own or take advantage of these sites and you’ll never have to worry about an intellectual property claim being filed against you. Click here to see a good article I found on this topic at the Social Media Examiner website.
#6: Embrace Technology and Provide Exemplary Customer Service
Everything you do in your business must be focused on providing a product or service delivered in a way that creates an outstanding and memorable customer experience. If you fail to do so, potential customers and clients will simply tap, swipe or click and go elsewhere.
Today’s consumer expects you to deliver your products and services in a familiar manner that is mobile friendly. Creating a digital experience that easily accommodates swiping and tapping will result in smiles and sales. Requiring customers to place orders only by phone or email will result in lost sales and a short business life.
Communicate with your customer the way he or she wants you to. If a customer spends her time on Facebook and wants to communicate with you using the Facebook Messenger app, then take the necessary steps to make this happen. Is your client someone who prefers texting? No problem. Communicate with text.
Do you offer a private 24/7 customer portal and live answering service that allows customers to get information and communicate when they want to? At my firm, we use the MyCase and Ruby Receptionist solutions. The clients enjoy having unlimited access to their case files, calendars, and more and they also like getting their calls professionally answered and handled before and after normal business hours. Full disclosure, I am a brand ambassador for Ruby Receptionist because I believe in the service.
Starting your new business is exciting. Take advantage of this new level of enthusiasm to get the following things done correctly from the very start:
Create a business entity. Do business as a corporation or LLC. Promote and brand yourself as that entity and not as an individual.
Use contracts and document everything. Use forms like independent contractor agreements, hold harmless agreements, and nondisclosure agreements. Instead of relying on a text, DM, or email to document a deal or sale, create contracts that you can use over and over again.
Get the right professionals on your team. The right CPA, banker, financial planner, and lawyer can help increases your chances of experiencing success.
Find out what kind of business liability insurance is available for your business and get it. Take the necessary steps to protect your intellectual property rights and respect the IP rights of others.
Embrace digital but never stop being human. Focus on building an impeccable reputation and guard it with your life.
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Jon Mitchell “Mitch” Jackson | Lawyer | Tech Entrepreneur | Digital Disrupter | 2013 California Litigation Lawyer of the Year | Connect with Mitch on social media at Mitch.Social and learn more about his digital legal services at MitchJackson.Ninja