Thoughts on Law and Life

The Official Blog of Astrab Legal Services LLC

Card Check Legislation

The buzz around legal and small business circles of late has been the Card Check legislation that is going to be introduced into Congress any day now. I am going to write a detailed blog in the next day or so regarding facts on Card Check and my opinions on what it might do to small business if passed. If you have any thoughts on Card Check or unions in general, please let me know by posting a comment and responding to the poll that I have attached.

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, Life, sales & marketing, small business | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Small Business Seminar Ideas

I’d like to hold a working seminar for small business owners in the Northeast Ohio area in the near future. Please pass along suggestions as to concepts/ideas that you would like to see discussed and that might draw you to the event. I’m looking at topics such as business plan drafting, budgeting issues, finding financing, insurance matters, retirement savings, etc.
Just post your responses as comments to the site to allow others to respond as well!

March 2, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, Life, sales & marketing, small business | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Starting Your Own Business Series (Part III-Be Careful!)

“Work from home! Make thousands of dollars a month just sitting at your computer!”

Too good to be true? Chances are pretty darn good that the ad is either a complete scam looking to separate you from your money or is an opportunity that could work if you sit at said computer 24/7 for ten years. Either way, “opportunities” such as this need to be avoided when considering a start-up business, in my opinion. As I mentioned in my last entry, you should perform some introspection and discover your passion, then find a way to work that passion into your business.

If, however, you are dead-set on working with a “business-in-a-box” type of opportunity, it is essential that you perform due diligence and I would strongly recommend bringing an attorney and accountant into the mix. Before handing over any money, in-depth research needs to be undertaken – I would start with a simple Google search of the company to discover what others are saying about the credibility of the business. The next step are phone calls to the Better Business Bureau and your state Attorney General’s office to determine if any official action has ever been taken against the company or individuals running the business. A call to your local county recorder’s office can tell you if the company has outstanding judgment leins against it, indicating potential financial or legal problems.

If you are still interested following these steps, then it is time to ask the company to provide you with information on its finances, such as balance sheets, tax returns and credit ratings (if applicable). If the company is serious about doing business with you, then it should not be difficult to obtain these documents. If the company sets up roadblocks or outright denies you financial information, these are clearly ‘red flags’ and your interest in the opportunity should stop immediately. If you are able to obtain copies of the financial documents, you should hand them off to your attorney and/or accountant to perform further high-level due diligence.

Another step in the due diligence chain, depending on the level of investment, is a visit to the company’s headquarters. What appears to be a well-run operation in a nice suburban business park could actually in real life be a sloppy mess tucked into the corner of a basement. You’ll never know if you don’t check it out!

Finally, if there are red flags from your due diligence, or if your professional advisors recommend against investing in the opportunity, please listen to their advice and ask more questions as to how they formulated their opinions. If you want a second opinion, get one. I can tell you this – if an attorney and a CPA come to me and tell me that they’ve looked into things and that they do not believe all is on the up-and-up I would most likely drop the thoughts of associating myself with the opportunity at that point.

Once again, I am keeping this very simple, but just passing along the basics to get you thinking about the dangers of failing to properly investigate a situation or opportunity before jumping in head-first. Just think – if more people had properly investigated Bernie Madoff before investing with him he might not have had as many victims.

My office can perform these due diligence investigations for you. I also have relationships with CPAs and can team up to investigate from both a legal and accounting viewpoint. Please contact me at (216) 577-0013 if you are interested in sitting down and discussing a legal matter!

Michael K. Astrab is the principal attorney for Astrab Legal Services LLC, located in Cleveland, Ohio. He may be reached at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. You should ALWAYS seek out the advice of an attorney and financial professionals before starting a business.

February 28, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, sales & marketing, small business | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Starting Your Own Business Series (Part II-Passion)

After a long absence due to business development work and other issues, I am back to blogging and will make my best efforts to maintain a daily post on this site. I had a post a couple of weeks ago that was the start of a series on starting your own business and discussed buy-in issues with regard to a spouse or significant other as a critical issue that must be addressed before any further planning is contemplated.

Today’s blog deals with deciding what to do with the business that you want to start. This may seem like common sense, but in the quest for easy money it is an area often overlooked and can doom a start-up business if not thought out properly.

My advice is to take a self-inventory and think about what you have done in the past on both a personal and professional level that has really brought out your passion. I believe that having passion is a primary key to developing a successful business. If you have no passion for something, but are merely excited about the concept, you will burn out quickly and wonder why in the world you decided to pursue the venture in the first place. Take a look at the mortgage industry – I am willing to bet that in your town a significant percentage of empty storefronts in strip malls were formerly occupied by mortgage brokers. In most instances, a wannabe entrepreneur took a look at the business environment a few years ago and saw that folks in the mortgage industry were making lots of quick easy money. The thought of “I want to be there too” came into the person’s mind and he or she quickly threw together a business. The mistake here was that the person did not look beyond the quick buck to see what was going on in the industry, such as market saturation and the clearly apparent bubble that was beginning to form in the sub-prime market. The result became that Joe, who used to work as a cell phone salesman and had no experience at all selling mortgages, got a couple of similarly inexperienced friends together, obtained a license and threw up a shingle. When the market took its inevitable downfall, selling mortgages was no longer appealing, and as the group had no collective passion for the industry, they simply gave up and folded the business.

We’ll use Joe again for a more positive example. Joe, in addition to being a cell phone salesman, was also a black belt martial artist. When he was not selling cell phones he was at a training facility not only learning but also teaching his art to less experienced students. He had a passion for the sport and knew it inside and out. What Joe should have considered was opening his own small martial arts training facility where he could use his experience and passion to not only teach his art, but also make some money while doing it. This is a pretty simplified example and does not take into consideration Joe’s business skills, market research, start-up costs, etc. What it does take into account, however, is his passion. If you have the passion for something then the rest of the pieces can fall into place much easier.

Take some time and think about why you want to start your small business…Is it because you truly have a passion for the point of the business or is it because you see the potential for a large, quick monetary gain? There will be rough times in any business – it will take your passion to get you through those rough times and onto the next level. Instead of reaching your monetary goals in six months it may take two or three years, but the trade-off is worth it!

If you are considering starting your own small business, I’d like to help. I have assembled a multi-disciplinary team that includes representatives from the accounting, insurance, banking and financial services industries to aid you in getting started, building on what you have in place already or saving what you have built from impending financial disaster. I can be reached at (216) 577-0013 or astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. There is no question that the economy is in danger – don’t let your business or dream go down because some Wall Street goof-offs could not get their houses in order!

Michael K. Astrab is the principal attorney for Astrab Legal Services LLC, located in Cleveland, Ohio. He may be reached at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. You should ALWAYS seek out the advice of an attorney and financial professionals before starting a business.

February 26, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, Life, sales & marketing, small business | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog Slacker

Sorry all…I’ve been extremely busy on multiple fronts for the past few days and just have not had a chance to update the blog. I’m working on ideas for new content and want to continue the small business series, so please stay tuned for updates!

February 25, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, Life, sales & marketing, small business | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Starting Your Own Business Series: Family Buy-In

I am concentrating my law practice on small business consultation – I want to see small business thrive, as I believe that these companies are the life-blood of our economy. My goal is to help start-ups and existing companies get off the ground and make it through the current economic crisis. An attorney should be a crucial part of your business – it is folly to rely on pre-printed business forms or software to handle your legal needs. These documents may get you going, but it is very easy to make mistakes along the way that ongoing consultation with an attorney could have avoided. The role of a business owner is to run and grow his or her business, be it a single-person company to a multiple employee enterprise. There is no reason for a small business owner to be reviewing or drafting their own contracts, drafting employee policies, negotiating deals and/or leases and handling other matters that an attorney could easily take on and free up the owner’s time to market the business.

I am starting an in-depth series on starting up a small business. Today’s topic will be short but is one of the most important concerns – ‘buy in’ from a spouse or significant other. If the life partner of a prospective business owner is not on board, the business could not only be jeopardized from the start, but the relationship could become damaged as well.

Taking on a small business will definitely mean family sacrifice. If the prospective owner is giving up a salary to get started, the family will be missing that income until the enterprise can get up and off of the ground. In addition, the ‘burn rate’ of the family’s cash will also increase as necessary start-up costs are introduced into the family’s already weakened budget. I will use a spouse as an example in this article, but long-term non-marital relationships are also extremely relevant as well.

What are the issues that need to be discussed? Here is a laundry list that barely scrapes the surface:

  • Type of business to be started: Is this a business that the prospective owner is familiar with or is this a completely ‘out-of-the-blue’ venture?
  • Funding for the business: Will the money be coming from savings or will a line of credit be sought?
  • Liability issues: What is the potential impact upon personal assets should the business fail?
  • Business plan: What is the structure of the business? What is the time frame to reach profitability? How will the business attract clients/customers?
  • Location: Will the business be run out of the home or will an office be necessary?
  • Time commitment: How will the business affect the prospective owner’s ‘at home’ time? Will responsibility for family activities be placed on the spouse?
  • Role of spouse: Will the spouse have a place or say in running the business? If not, why not?
  • Income replacement: How will the lost income be replaced in order to keep the family solvent? When will the prospective owner ‘cut loose’ from his or her salary to devote full time and attention to the business?

I could go on for pages with talking points, but I think this list can serve as a starting point. A key is total transparency with the spouse – the prospective owner cannot hide problems from his or her spouse and communication must be constant. An idea would be to schedule monthly update meetings with the spouse to provide specific operational details regarding the business. If growth is shown, it might make a nervous spouse a little more at ease with the situation.

An attorney meeting with the prospective owner and his or her spouse can go a long way in achieving buy-in. If the spouse knows that there is a third party, especially one geared to help set up and protect the business, on board, it could help calm fears. My practice would assist the family with addressing the above questions, working on setting up a family budget and staying on board to assist with ongoing business issues.

Bottom line: Do not walk in the door one evening and tell your spouse that you have quit your job and started a new business. Utilize total transparency and make the spouse a partner, either direct or indirect, from day one. Without spousal Buy In, a start up is damaged from the onset…don’t make this mistake!

I am available for consultation on these issues. Please do not hesitate to contact my office at (216) 577-0013 to set up a time to get together and discuss starting your own business. After meeting with the prospective owner, the next step would be to set up a meeting with the spouse and go over the business planning issues that have already been covered and address questions/concerns from the spouse.

If you are considering a start-up, get planning, but do it smart!

Michael K. Astrab is the principal attorney for Astrab Legal Services LLC, a general practice law firm located in Cleveland, Ohio. He may be reached at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

February 16, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, Life, sales & marketing, small business | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Add Value Everyday

When I first started this blog I intended to simply write on legal issues. Taking into consideration today’s environment, however, it has morphed more into a forum on building and maintaining your business. Small business owners face huge challenges, not only from corporate competition, but also from lack of consumer liquidity, overdue accounts payable and rising costs all around. I want to offer tips and open discussions on ideas to help small business owners move forward in this economy. In addition, my firm is putting together a small business consulting practice to provide essentially a team of experts to act as a guide to business owners in all areas, including but not limited to business planning, marketing, taxes, cash management and, of course legal issues. If you want a consultation, please contact me at (216) 577-0013.

Today’s topic is on adding Value. This applies to both existing and prospective customers/clients. It is uber-critical to keep our existing customers and the best way to do that is to go overboard with customer service and attention. If you normally take a week to get a job done, do it in half the time if possible. Return phone calls immediately. Start an e-newsletter and e-mail campaign on topics not only related to your business but also to big current event issues of the day. The goal is to keep the customers engaged and maintain ‘top-of-mind’ awareness of your company amongst those customers. This will not only maintain your current base, but hopefully will grow referral opportunities.

As to prospective customers, keep pushing and make every effort to bring them on board. Always be moving, within reason, towards the sale. Offer them a door into your business by including them on your customer mailings or set up a breakfast/lunch meeting if you feel that it might help close the business. Always return their phone calls as soon as humanly possible. Understand that you are not the only business looking to bring them on board and seek avenues to place yourself above the competition.

There are many, many ways to add value to your customer/client relationships, and the methods vary from industry to industry. The bottom line is that you need paying customers in order to stay in business, so start thinking outside of the box to keep and obtain those customers.

Michael K. Astrab is the principal attorney for Astrab Legal Services LLC, a general practice law firm located in Cleveland, Ohio. He may be reached at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

February 4, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, Life, sales & marketing, small business | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quick Observations on the Media and Crime Coverage

As I sit sipping my morning brew at my favorite coffee shop, I thought I’d vent again on the media and their coverage of criminal cases. Last week I mentioned that I believe attorneys are out of line to make silly pronouncements of complete innocence on behalf of their clients. The bigger issue, in my opinion, is that the media outlets, in their zeal to cover and sensationalize these stories, give the attorney the perfect platform to temporarily set aside common sense and make the ridiculous comments in the first place.

My temperature rises when I hear a reporter ask an attorney whether or not his client is Guilty – what the heck to they expect him to say? “Why yes Joe, my client killed Mr. Jones by shooting him three times with an unlicensed Glock and then proceeded to dispose of the weapon by throwing it down a sewer at East 98th Street and St. Clair Avenue. I believe that he would do it again if given the opportunity.” The best answer to the question would of course be “no comment,” but that is too easy.

The Casey Anthony story is a perfect current example of the media’s blood lust. The national networks have taken what is simply a local news story in Orlando and elevated it to a piece of international importance, often leading newscasts with the latest updates…. “Our lead story today: Casey smiled in Court today – does she know something we don’t know? In other less important news, President Obama today ordered a nuclear strike on Nigeria to pay them back for their pervasive e-mail scams…”

How do we stop this? There is no easy answer short of just not watching these stories, but that is not realistic as there are enough sheep out there hanging on every new detail of the story. Amateur CSI investigators all over the nation are working feverishly to put together the pieces and convict this girl before her jury is even considered. I think that the real investigators and the lawyers need to stop talking to the press – without the ability to interview those at the heart of the investigation there won’t be as much to report and speculate upon.

I’ve got to run – I’ll put a real post up later today or tomorrow, but I just thought I’d throw my vent out to the blogosphere…Feel free to comment with ideas or suggestions on how we can stop the dumbing down of America by the media…

Michael K. Astrab is the principal attorney for Astrab Legal Services LLC, a general practice law firm located in Cleveland, Ohio. He may be reached at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at astrablegal@sbcglobal.net. This blog is designed for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | Law, Legal, Life | , , | Leave a comment

Quick Observation: Lawyers and TV Cameras…Bad Combination!

Just checking in real quick to make an observation…I’ll get back to my ‘3Cs’ series tomorrow.

Watching Greta this evening on FoxNews discussing the Casey Anthony case. This is an absolutely perfect example of an attorney getting carried away by having TV cameras shoved in his face and not knowing how to handle the situation. It is an utter pet peeve of mine to see an attorney stand before a bank of cameras and declare his or her client absolutely innocent of the ridiculous charges lodged against the client and that they cannot wait for their day in court to fight this obvious injustice. Most of the time these statements are made before the attorney even has a chance to review discovery materials or fully interview their newly-minted client.

As attorneys we have an obligation to zealously represent our clients. Is it zealous representation to go on TV and make statements for which no factual basis may exist? Is this PR puffery for the client’s sake or is it an attorney looking to make himself look tough in order to attract more business to his practice? Law school should make new graduates repeat ‘no comment’ 100 times in a row prior to being given their diplomas.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Law, Legal | , , , | Leave a comment

Competence, Consistency and Character (Part I)

Good Morning from snowy Cleveland! Once again I have woken up to falling snow and crummy roads, but that is the price that I suppose one must pay to live in the paradise that is the North Coast of America. Moving onto more substantive matters, I am a big fan of personal development and believe that one should set aside at least a half-hour each day to improve themselves mentally so as to gain a better understanding of not only themselves, but the world around them. One of my favorite personal development outlets is a podcast/website entitled The Morning Coach (www.morningcoach.com). The moderator brings a new podcast every day and delivers some excellent development tools on his website. Over the weekend he discussed what he called the ‘Three C’s’ of personal development, specifically that we must ensure that we are competent, live a conflict-free lifestyle and have a solid character base. I’ll touch on those topics in today’s and coming blogs, but I’m going to swap out ‘conflict free lifestyle’ for consistency. I feel that these talking points are an excellent reflecting tool for ensuring that our moral compasses are pointed in the right direction.

COMPETENCE

We (hopefully in this economy) all have a means of securing income. It is crucial that each of us understand our job responsibilities and work every day to ensure that we are at the top of our games as far as professional competence. If we are not getting the job done, there is surely someone else out there clamoring to do the same job. If you are an attorney are you keeping up-to-date on the latest changes in the law or administrative codes for your area of concentration? If you are a nurse or doctor are you making sure that you are treating your patients in a manner consistent with the latest advances in medicine? If you are a small business owner, are you keeping track of advances in your industry in order to keep up with the competition?

Being competent means more than knowing the ins and outs of your particular field. It also means being able to convey your expertise to your clients or customers on a consistent basis. Keeping in touch with clients and letting them know that you are working hard for them is as much a factor in retention as is knowing what you are doing. You could be the smartest CPA in the world and know the IRS Code backwards and forwards, but if you are not conveying your knowledge on a proactive basis your clients will never know it. You may end up losing clients and/or lose referral opportunities due to your inability to maintain regular and consistent contact.

Some ideas:

  • Keep up with the latest developments/news in your field – make sure that you understand what is going on and take continuing education classes (if relevant) to hear from experts and thereby build your knowledge base.
  • Always have an opinion – nothing exclaims confidence like an immediate answer to the question “What do you think?” It does not have to be in-depth, but at least formulate an opinion on different issues in your field.
  • If you are a small business owner, get a web site. The site should serve as an adjunct to your business, not a primary business pipeline. With the proliferation of the internet today, if you don’t have a website many potential customers may think that you are not market-savvy or are not successful. Accurate? Perhaps not, but today perception is everything and you can be rest-assured that your competition either has one already or is in the process of getting one.
  • Offer to speak to groups on topics related to your industry. Speakers seem to be granted instant competence, deserved or not. If you are up speaking to groups you are not only promoting yourself and your business, but you are instilling confidence in potential clients/customers in the audience.

There are many other methods for building and exhibiting competence. The bottom line remains, however, that you need to take steps to ensure that you understand your job responsibilities and that you exude confidence to those around you. If you are lacking, then you need to step up and fix the problem now – it may be the difference between new clients or promotions at work versus seeing your job given to the new guy sitting down the hall.

In coming posts I’ll touch on the other two topics – consistency and character.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, Life | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment