• Danny DeMichele

    Online Legal Resources for Entrepreneurs

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    Starting a small business doesn’t require a law degree, but sometimes it feels like it does.

    Between filling out paperwork, deciphering business regulations and managing the day-to-day legal risks that all businesses face, entrepreneurs either have to become pseudo experts in the vagaries of the law or find someone who is. And, most often, they have to do both.

    But, amazingly, this isn’t as hard as it sounds. There are a number of online legal resources available to help small businesses navigate the complex legal landscape, as well as connect with expert counsel.

    In many cases, the tools available can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars in fees, or at least help balance the scales when it comes to negotiating with lawyers. The fact is, there is more legal information freely and publicly available than ever before.

    Here are some of the legal resources available online for startups and small businesses.

    Basic Information

    Even if you have a lawyer, it’s a good idea to get a cursory understanding of business law before actually starting said business. The Small Business Administration provides comprehensive guides to a myriad of legal topics facing small businesses, including employment and labor laws and industry regulations. It also provides links to helpful resources, such as negotiating guides and lawyer referral services. One of these tools is the American Bar Association’s handy search engine for finding legal help in any state.

    The Small Business page at legal information database FindLaw is also an excellent resource, with topic guides running the gamut, from business accounting to protecting intellectual property to choosing a business structure. The website also provides its own lawyer database.

    Rocket Lawyer

    Rocket Lawyer attempts to move finding legal help to the cloud, with a database of legal templates as well as an on-call lawyer service for paid subscribers. Free services include online legal templates such as incorporation paperwork, service contracts, non-disclosure agreements, trademarks, patent forms and others. There are also step-by-step guides to working with these templates.

    Rocket Lawyer also includes an on-call lawyer service and a search engine for connecting with legal assistance. Subscription plans include legal document review services and pre-negotiated rates for lawyers.

    Online Arbitration

    When disputes come up, arbitration is often the quickest, most cost-effective way to resolve them, providing an alternative to the headache that is small claims court.

    There are a number of online arbitration services. Judge.me offers dispute resolution –with mediators – via email for both commercial and personal conflicts. The Internet arbitration process is also confidential. Users pay a flat fee for arbitration. And it’s legally binding in more than 140 countries, making it a potential solution for businesses with overseas contractors.

    Judge.me also provides the language to add its arbitration services to legal contracts.

  • Danny DeMichele

    The Year of Crowd-Funding Postponed

    Crowd-funding was supposed to be one of the hot business trends for 2013. With the passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act back in April, a genuinely bipartisan piece of legislation, sites in the vein of Kickstarter and Indiegogo seemed poised to mature into legitimate options for raising startup capital. We wrote as much on this blog. A lot of other people did too. And a mushrooming of crowd-funding startups began to occur around the country in anticipation of the new rules going into effect.

    Here’s the problem. That’s not going to happen anytime soon. While Kickstarter-type sites are fairly straightforward – backers trade cash for what are usually physical incentives – the kind of crowd-funding that the JOBS Act was set to permit was much more complicated. That is, the JOBS Act charged the SEC with rewriting the investment rules to allow businesses to sell shares in their startups in exchange for capital across a wide pool of small investors.

    Here’s where we are. The SEC is currently stalled on rewriting the actual regulations under which this crowd-funding would occur. At best, the new rules won’t kick in until early 2014. At worst, well, nobody really knows.Crowd-funding startups and businesses looking to raise capital outside traditional means are understandably antsy about the delays. Uncertainty is never good for business, and a year is a long wait. But a more deliberate approach to crowdsourcing, including built-in protections for investors and businesses, might not be all bad news.Crowd-funding will no doubt open exciting opportunities for startups, but it is not in itself a panacea or one-size-fits-all solution. As with any business venture, it brings its own set of risks, including the potential for fraud and, even more realistically, failure. Take this example of a Kickstarter project that raised $28,000 to create a turn-based horror game. The creators never finished the project – despite raising more than their goal – leaving their backers empty-handed.

    Step outside this incentive-based system and the risks only increase, especially as the dollar figures start to go up. Fox Business has put together a good list of reasons here  why crowd-funding might not be a good option for everyone.

    However, it goes without saying that it will be an excellent opportunity for some businesses. The same basic business rules will apply in terms of having a solid business plan, good mentorship and the right personnel to make a good idea into a reality.

    The decision to start a crowd-funding campaign – the same as seeking out venture capital or deciding to bootstrap – should take a lot of thought and preparation. So maybe the wait won’t be such a bad thing, for businesses, investors and, yes, even regulators.

    Summary:

    Crowd-funding was supposed to be one of the hot business trends for 2013 . With the passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act back in April, a genuinely bipartisan piece of legislation, sites in the vein of Kickstarter and Indiegogo seemed poised to mature into legitimate options for raising startup capital.

    Fox Business has put together a good list of reasons here why crowd-funding might not be a good option for everyone.

    However, it goes without saying that it will be an excellent opportunity for some businesses. The same basic business rules will apply in terms of having a solid business plan, good mentorship and the right personnel to make a good idea into a reality.

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  • Danny DeMichele

    Three Small Business Trends to Watch in 2013

    The New Year is a glorious time to be an entrepreneur. As we emerge from the holiday season, something about the calendar turning over creates a feeling of possibility. For some, that will mean starting their first business in 2013. Others will be working tirelessly to improve the one they already have. But no matter where you are in the startup process, it’s a great time to take stock and think about what the year ahead will bring.

    Here are three trends we think should be on your radar as you start making those big plans.

    1. Individuals and relationships will drive business content.

    Social media has finally come of age. When it comes to promoting your business online, audiences are savvier than ever, which means that tactics like running up as many likes as possible won’t cut it anymore, if they ever did to begin with. With Google expected to make individual content producers a major part of its search algorithms through author ranking systems like Google Authorship, the quality and credibility of business content will be more important than ever. This means driving earnest, real conversations about your business over the Web and on social media. Corporate speak is going to be less effective as a communications strategy.

    As you look to engage audiences online, it’s a good idea to think about how you can do so in a genuine way.

    2. There will be more opportunities than ever for alternate financing.

    We’ve written about this before on the blog, but the passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act and the White House’s Startup America initiative will open new funding opportunities for startups. This includes dramatically fewer restrictions for online crowd-funding, as well as increased matching grants through the Small Business Administration.

    The funding landscape is always complex, but there is no substitute for experience. If you haven’t already, make it a priority this year to find a mentor or some other form of expert counsel and pick their brain about changes in funding opportunities.

    3. The remote workforce is here to stay.

    Freelancing and telecommuting are now facts of business life. A recent survey by Intelligent Office found that some 70 percent of employees work regularly outside of the office. There are many opportunities here for collaboration and flexibility in our hyper-connected world. Partnerships need not be dictated by location. But there are also immense challenges in keeping a remote workforce engaged and cohesive.

    How your business will foster an identity – even if you’re working thousands of miles apart ­– is an important question to answer heading into the New Year.

  • Danny DeMichele

    Three Things for Small Businesses to be Thankful For

    The holiday season is upon us. But, let’s face it, for a lot of entrepreneurs, the run up to Christmas and the New Year is anything but a vacation. Retail startups are working double-time to launch holiday-themed apps and services. Small businesses are strategizing about how not to be drowned out in the corporate and big-box bonanza that is Black Friday.

    And as 2013 approaches, entrepreneurs will be strategizing for yet another unpredictable year, with the so-called “fiscal cliff” looming before Congress and plenty of conflicting economic forecasts.

    It’s easy to feel the end-of-the-year burnout. But there really is a lot to be thankful for. Even the most diehard, work-around-the-clock entrepreneur should grab a few minutes over the holiday season to take some deep, grateful breaths, preferably over some turkey and gravy.

    Here are three things startups can be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

    Business mentorship and accelerators … where you’d least expect them

    Who says the big boys always want to crush the little guy? Both The New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek have published lengthy trend pieces in the past month about a tantalizing new opportunity for small business: corporate programs aimed at promoting entrepreneurship.

    Business giants such as Turner Media and Samuel Adams have launched their own programs for small business: in the case of Turner, an accelerator for media startups and, with Sam Adams, a coaching program for fledgling food and beverage businesses. And American Express is continuing its own small business campaign – Small Business Saturday – the hyper-local alternative to Black Friday.

    Crowd funding will open up more cash to startups in 2013

    Thanks to the JOBS Act, signed into law earlier this year, startups will be able to sell small amounts of stock in their businesses and secure micro loans online through crowd funding platforms similar to Kickstarter and Indiegogo. This is a major change from existing securities law that ought to allow startups to cast a wide net for revenues that were previously off limits to them. Many of the details are still being ironed out – and the first crowd funding platforms won’t officially go live until early next year – but the implications figure to be enormous.

    Small business owners are happier

    Study after study shows that the self-employed, including freelancers and small business owners, tend to be happier and healthier than people with permanent, full-time jobs. A recent survey from Harris Interactive showed some 86 percent reporting very good or excellent levels of job satisfaction.

    It’s not that entrepreneurship doesn’t come with its own stressors, but being able to follow your dream? That’s definitely something to be thankful for.

  • Danny DeMichele
    September 24, 2012

    11.5 Ingredients to the Ultimate Entrepreneurial Recipe

    Like all great things in life there exists a recipe or formula by which a certain level of success or outcome can be predictably achieved. We don’t pretend that this is the only recipe anymore than there is only one way to make chocolate cake, however, this is definitely a path to predictable entrepreneurial success that can be used as often as desired to achieve a consistent result. Like all recipes the simpler the better so we have kept it to 11.5 ingredients

    The Ultimate Entrepreneur

    -Preheat the market to 500 Degrees Fahrenheit with relevant thought leadership from you in the area of your interests and company purpose.

    In a mixing bowl or local Incubator:

    1) Add 1 cup of Liquid Passion

    2) Stir in 1 charismatic, self-aware, visionary leader with a good idea

    3) Add a credit card, family loan, or personal savings account of your choice

    4) Make a key hire or two with equity options and flexible comp terms to fill in your weak areas

    In a blender pour the initial ingredients and blend into a Minimum Viable Product and…

    4) Add a handful of paying clients/early adopters

    Watch what happens and adjust the MVP as you

    5) Add a second handful of new customers and repeat this until it tastes just right

    6) Hire a good attorney who believes in you with flexible payment terms

    7) Hire a good bookkeeper with experience in startups and cash flow management

    8) Be willing to take everything out of the bowl or blender and start from scratch with ingredient 1 and a new idea. Fail quickly and often until you get the right mix of people and ingredients

    9) Once you have the right mixture and its validated by your early customer base and you have outgrown your ability to scale with organic cash flows

    10) Add enough capital to produce and make enough to reach the first critical milestones and ask for twice what you have carefully researched and projected you need

    11) Focus and pray for a little “luck”

    11.5) The last ingredient that dictates the predictable outcome of Entrepreneurial success is a rare (often unteachable or innate) sense of high personal integrity, stubborn persistence, borderline delusional faith and belief in spite of circumstance, and the ability to continue moving forward regardless of setbacks, betrayals, failure, or ridicule.

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