Thoughts on Law and Life

The Official Blog of Astrab Legal Services LLC

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.

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

25 Random Facts about Computers and the Tech Sector

Well, it is Sunday and I’m feeling lazy (actually I have some business-related work to do), so I’m going to post up an interesting article from John Dvorak at Marketwatch.com. Enjoy!

    

25 random facts about computers, tech sector

By John C. Dvorak

Last update: 1:26 p.m. EST Feb. 7, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — There’s some wild fad going on in the Facebook realm where you list 25 random facts about yourself or about something you are involved with. Yesterday it crept into the New York Times sports page. Everyone is doing it and if you Google “25 random facts” you get 32,000,000 hits. I’m on it with this list!

  1. The first personal computer was the Berkeley Enterprises “Simon” which sold for $300 in 1950.
  2. Seagate Technology (STX) was originally named Shugart Technology.
  3. The precision quartz clock in a computer cannot keep accurate time.
  4. Windows was originally named Interface Manager.
  5. IBM (IBM) , which stands for International Business Machines, was an exaggerated name derived from NCR, National Cash Register.
  6. Floppy disks in the late 1970s were 8 inches in diameter.
  7. The VIC-20 computer from Commodore sold for $299 in 1980 with 5K of RAM.
  8. The world’s first one gigabyte disk drive was announced in 1980. It weighed 550 pounds and had a price tag of $40,000.
  9. Many consider the Burroughs B-5000 (circa 1955) to be the single greatest computer ever designed.
  10. IP means both Internet Protocol and Intellectual Property. Thus when you say a company is involved with IP, nobody will know what you are talking about.
  11. The ticker symbol for Sun Microsystems (JAVA) was changed from SUNW to JAVA and the company has been struggling ever since.
  12. SanDisk (SNDK) used to be called SunDisk.
  13. Apple (AAPL) popularized the laser printer.
  14. Adobe Photoshop (ADBE) was originally called Display, then ImagePro. It was not developed by Adobe, but licensed from a college student named Thomas Knoll in 1988.
  15. Ink jet ink costs $5000 per gallon.
  16. The precursor to today’s GPS car navigation system was released in 1985. It was the ETAK Navigator and used a computer with a dead reckoning program to navigate.
  17. Intel’s (INTC) first microprocessor was the 4004. It was designed for a calculator, nobody imagined where it would lead.
  18. SCO, the company that sold a version of Unix, used to be called the Santa Cruz Operation.
  19. Computers should be turned off at night.
  20. Peter Norton of the fabled Norton anti-virus program once said that there was no such thing as a computer virus and considered the whole idea some sort of hoax.
  21. “Modem” means modulator/demodulator. This referred to the modulation and demodulation of an analog signal to make it digital. By this definition the device called a cable modem is a misnomer. It should be called a network adapter.
  22. Dell Inc. (DELL) was originally called PCs Limited.
  23. The Apple 1 was the first computer developed by Apple and was nothing more than a bag of parts. The Apple II was the first finished product sold by the company.
  24. Lenovo (HK:992news chart profile ) means “new legend” — “Le” for legend and “novo” for new.
  25. In the 1950s computers were commonly referred to as “electronic brains.”

    Fun, huh? 

February 8, 2009 Posted by | 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

Small Business SWAT Team

I have come up with a new element to my law practice. Given the current state of the economy and the strain that financial worries are placing on the bottom lines of many companies, I am in the process of organizing a small business ‘SWAT Team’ to assist business owners facing an uncertain future.

I am putting together an inter-disciplinary team of at least a CPA, Financial Advisor and Banking/Lending specialist to give advice to business owners. Following the holistic approach that my practice takes, I want to take a look at everything in the business – from the balance sheet to the business/marketing plan. We will be looking for opportunities to save money, either through cutting expenses or possibly renegotiating leases, as well as opportunities to grow the business through new marketing approaches or suggestions on lead generation, client retention ideas or new approaches to networking. An audit of the business may find new ways to save on taxes and the structure of the business will be analyzed to determine whether or not the creation of a new corporate entity may be in the owner’s best interest. If there are outstanding accounts payable we can discuss stepping up collection enforcement or renegotiating repayment terms in order to bring those accounts current.

My goal is to keep small businesses in business. Small business owners are the lifeblood of the new economy and must be given every opportunity to succeed. I want to use my practice to assist and am looking for any small business owners who may be interested in sitting down for a free initial consultation. I can be contacted at (216) 577-0013 or via e-mail at astrablegal@sbcglobal.net.

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

Create Your Own Economy!

In perusing today’s headlines, all I see are stories about job cuts – Home Depot, Caterpillar, Sprint, Phillips, etc… The gist of the stories is that the economy is still slowing and that these companies need to swing the axe in order to accommodate the slowing demand. Most folks who read these stories will adopt a ‘woe is me’ attitude towards their situations and wait for the axe to drop on them.

As I’ve mentioned in prior blogs, I often listen to the podcasts available through the Morning Coach. The host is always preaching about ‘creating your own economy’ and not relying on the whims of our employers. I am in absolute agreement with this philosophy and urge all of you who can get out there and either do it on your own or work on a side business to do so! This won’t work for everyone, but it is essential that we adopt a strong sense of personal responsibility and get out there and work for ourselves. It requires a strong work ethic, a willingness for short-term sacrifice and an ability to see the big picture. I am not waiting around for the shoe to drop on my career – I am moving forward with my private practice and understand that, although it will be tight at first, I am opening up a whole new world for myself and my family by giving myself the ability to create my own schedule, collect my own fees, select my own clients and decide the scope of my practice without someone telling me that I need to sell X, push Y or run everything through an anal-retentive compliance system. If I want to blog on a topic, by God I’m going to do it without having to worry about upsetting my corporate masters. If I want to change the direction of my practice midstream and move into more estate planning versus felony defense I want the power to do it without having to sell the idea to a manger or partner.

The bottom line is that there is an entrepreneur in each of us screaming to come out. If you are sitting at your desk refreshing marketwatch.com over and over again to see the next economic shoe to drop you need to stand up and scream “ENOUGH!” Get out there and explore how you can use your education, training and business sense to build a consulting business, open a coffee stand or do whatever the heck you’ve been daydreaming about for the past ten years.

Obviously I’m not advocating just walking away from your day job this afternoon – map out your plan, get buy-in from your significant other, run your ideas past trusted peers and make sure that you are financially able to get the business off the ground with little to no outside financing. If you believe that you can do it, keep that mindset and get out there and get started!

Some Quick Tips:

  • Do some market research before jumping in – make sure that there is a need for what you want to do.
  • Create a unique ‘value proposition’ that differentiates you from the competition.
  • Seek out constructive criticism – ignore the naysayers.
  • Speak to a financial advisor, CPA, insurance agent and/or a business attorney to make sure you are financially able to undertake the venture and that you are crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s.
  • Develop a detailed business plan and set reasonable/measurable goals for yourself.
  • Maintain a positive mental attitude – Don’t lose sight of the goals that you set for yourself!

Now get out there and do it! Create your own economy and don’t look back!

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

Competence, Consistency & Character (Part II)

As I sit about an outbound train watching the Cleveland skyline fade off into the snowy distance, I wonder how this once fine city and region has fallen so hard and fast. I believe part of the answer is consistency of its leaders. We have an elected body, both on the city and county level, that does not seem to know how to run a hot dog stand let alone a major metropolitan area. We keep hearing promises but there is never follow through or we let seemingly beneficial projects slip away due to inattention or outright incompetency. We need leaders who offer us proposals, work those proposals to their completion and present a finished product to the citizens that will help us to move forward as a region.

Consistency is the key to getting things done, attracting new customers/clients and moving forward as an individual or business owner. If a client is told that the project will be done Tuesday, it better darn well be done. If you tell clients that a weekly newsletter will be sent out to them, that newsletter should arrive as promised or confidence will begin to wane on the part of those with whom we do business. On the personal side, if we promise our kids that we will set aside time each week to go out to eat or play in the park it is critically important that the schedule be maintained as promised.

In life and in business, consistency is the key to getting noticed and appreciated. It is an absolute turn-off to deal with someone who cannot seem to have any consistency to their lives. If we can show our business and life partners that we are capable of maintaining consistency in our dealings, we will see definite benefits.

How can we be more consistent?

  • Get organized – consistency is the direct result of an organized life. Get a calendar…in fact get two calendars – one online or on a phone with pop-up reminders and access to critical information and one on paper that can be carried throughout the day. Putting things in our calendars serves as a visible reminder of your duties and obligations. Once you have the calendars, make it a habit to update them and check them several times throughout the day. It is useless to have them if they are not referred to several times a day!
  • Do not over-extend yourself – don’t over-schedule your time or take on tasks for which you are unprepared or unable to handle. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to something if you believe it will cause you to delay an existing project or might not get done in the required time frame due to those existing projects.
  • Let others know your schedule – make sure that others know your commitments and allow them to serve as a ‘bully’ on your time to get things done. If you are slacking, a not-so-gentle reminder from your assistant or spouse about a deadline fast approaching may be the difference in getting the job done or failing.
  • Get up early – our mind’s most active time is early in the morning. A quiet and empty office is a great place to get things done free of distractions.
  • Set aside dedicated ‘work’ time – make sure that those around you know that you are not to be disturbed unless an emergency arises during the time frame that you set aside. Be anti-social and just get the work done that needs finishing!

These concepts may seem very Business 101 but far too often are simply ignored in real life due to the pressing concerns of our daily commitments. Try to remember that consistency is the key to long-term success and respect!

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 20, 2009 Posted by | Financial, Law, Legal, Life, sales & marketing, small business | , , , , , , | 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