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Business Basics 105 – Starting a Small Business

The Small Business Administration advises that one of the major causes of failure of small businesses is poor management. This could mean poor planning, cash flow management, recordkeeping, inventory control, promotion or employee relations, among others. It likely also includes poor capitalization. There are several key steps for starting and managing a small business, as follows:

You may come up with an idea and begin discussing it with your friends, family, professors, and other business people. At this stage you need a business plan, which is a detailed written statement describing the nature of the business, the target market, the advantages the business will have over its competition, and your (the owner’s) resources and qualifications. The business plan forces you to be quite specific about the products or services you intend to offer. It requires that you analyze the competition, calculate how much money you will need to start, and cover other details of the operation. It is also a must document for talking with banks and other investors.

A good business plan takes time to write, but you’ve got just five minutes, in the executive summary, to convince your readers not to throw it away. Next comes an outline of the comprehensive business plan. Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect business plan, it will and should change as the business changes and grows. Getting the business plan into the right hands, finding funding sources, requires research. The time and effort you invest before starting your business will pay off many times later. Remember, the big pay off is survival.

The next step is financing your business. After your personal savings, friends and family are often the next source. Additional sources of funding can include banks and other financial institutions, angels, crowdfunding and venture capitalists, the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Program, and a Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Once you have planned and financed your business, it’s time to get it up and running.

Step three is knowing your customers/market, which consists of people with unsatisfied wants and needs who have both the resources and willingness to buy. After identifying the market and its needs, fill those needs. Offer top quality at fair prices with great service. Not only do you want to get customers, but to keep them as well. Small businesses have the ability to know their customers better and adapt quickly to their ever changing needs. To best know your customers, LISTEN. Don’t let yourself get in the way of changing to meet the wants and needs of the customers.

As your business grows it becomes more difficult to oversee every detail, thus you must hire, train and motivate employees. Yet it is difficult to find good employees when you offer less money, skimpier benefits and less room for advancement than larger companies do. This is one of the reasons that good employee relations are a key to small business management. Employees of small companies tend to be more satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts in big companies because they find their jobs more challenging, their ideas more accepted, and their bosses more respectful. Employees who feel they are part of the team work to make that team, and thus the company, successful. Don’t fall into the trap of promoting employees simply because they have been with you the longest, or are family members, but aren’t qualified to serve as managers. You need to delegate to the most qualified individual(s). You may be best served to fire those who don’t meet your requirements, regardless of their tenure and regardless of family relations, so that you can recruit and groom employees for management positions who you can rely on as you delegate more of your responsibilities.

Small business owners often say the most important step in starting and managing their business was in accounting. Setting up an effective accounting system early will save you a lot of headaches later. Accurate record-keeping allows you to follow daily sales, expenses and profits, and also helps with inventory control, customer records and payroll.

Many businesses fail as a result of poor accounting practices leading to costly mistakes. A good accountant can help you with tax planning, financial forecasting, choosing sources of financing, and writing requests for funds. The key is to find an accountant experienced with small businesses. This critical advisor can help you to not only survive, but also to thrive.

Small business owners have learned, often the hard way, that they need outside advisors, especially early in the process. This includes legal, tax and accounting advice, and also marketing, finance and other areas. A necessary and invaluable advisor is a competent, experienced attorney who knows and understands small businesses. We can help with leases, contracts, operating agreements and protection against liabilities. A marketing advisor is also key and should help you make your marketing decisions long before you introduce your product or open your store. Market research can help you determine where to locate, who to select as your target market, and an effective strategy to reach it. Experience with small business marketing can be enhanced if this advisor also has experience with building websites and using social media. Two more critical advisors are a finance expert and an insurance agent. The finance guru can help you design a business plan and provide valuable financial advice, and an insurance agent will explain the risks associated with a small business, and in your industry, and how to cover them most efficiently with insurance and other means. And finally, don’t forget to seek out other small business owners and discuss and exchange ideas.

Both BauerGriffith attorneys and BG Consulting Group consultants serve as trusted advisors. Let us help you get your business off the ground.

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Business Basics 104

Part 2 – How to Form a Business, Corporations

You don’t have to be a big business to form a corporation. A corporation, sometimes known as a C corp., is chartered with the secretary of state, and is a unique “person” with separate liability from its owners, known as stockholders. The biggest advantage of forming a corporation is that it limits the stockholders’ liability to the amount they’ve invested; they do not have personal liability for the debts or other problems of the company. A corporation also allows multiple people to share in the ownership, and hopefully the profits, of a business without the necessity of working there or other commitments to the company. Corporations choose whether to offer ownership to outside investors or to remain proviately held.

As previously stated, a corporation offers limited liability for its owners. Additional advantages include the ability to sell stock to raise money from investors; to borrow money from banks or investors; perpetual life, i.e. the company does not terminate with the death of its owner(s); ease of ownership change; ability to offer stock options to attract valuable employees; and to raise money separate from getting investors involved in management of the business.

The corporate heirarchy, from the top down, begins with the owners/stockholders who elect the board of directors, the board hires officers, the officers set the corporate objectives and hire management, the managers supervise the employees, and the employees perform the functions of the business. Thus the owners help dictate who runs the company, but not its day to day operations.

There are also disadvantages to corporate entities, including the initial set up costs; paperwork, both initially and ongoing; double taxation – first the corporation pays tax on its income before any is distributed to stockholders as dividends, then the stockholders pay income taxes on the dividends they receive; two tax returns, a corporate return and individual return; once started a corporation is hard to end; and finally the potential for conflict between directors and management.

While we are all aware of many large corporations, IBM, AT&T, Apple, many corporations are small business owners who typically do not issue stock to outsiders, focusing more on limited liability and possible tax benefits.

An S corp. is a regular corporation that elects to be taxed like a partnership, thus avoiding double taxation. Profits of an S corp. are taxed only as the personal income of the shareholders. In order to qualify to make this election, the company cannot have more than 100 shareholders, must have shareholders that are individuals or estates, and who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States, must have only one class of stock, and must derive no more than 25% of its income from passive sources. If an S corp. loses its status as such, it must wait five years to make another S election.

Finally, there’s an interesting hybrid known as a limited liability company. This entity does not have the formal requirements of a C corp. and has the tax advantages of an S corp. It offers limited liability to its members; is taxed as a partnership, though it can choose to be taxed as a corporation; does not have the same ownership restrictions as an S corp.; has flexible distribution of profits and losses, which do not have to be distributed in proportion to the money each person invests, but is by agreement of the members; anddoes not have to comply with the ongoing operating requirements of a corporation, such as annual meetings, minutes and written resolutions, though an operating agreement is a good document to put in place.

LLCs have disadvantages as well, including limitations on transferabiity of membership interests; a limited life span, which could be triggered by the death of a member; inability to deduct fringe benefits, thus few incentives available for employees; although less paperwork than a corporation, more than a sole proprietorship; and members must pay self employment taxes on their profits.

Determining the appropriate form for your business typically involves input from both a lawyer and an accountant to ensure you create the best opportunity for you and your company.

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Business Basics 103

Part 3 – Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to companies as good citizens, concerned with the welfare of society and not just the owners. CSR is based on fairness, integrity and respect. While a company’s loyalty and obligation is to its owners, being a good corporate citizen can increase profitability in the long run. Companies with a good CSR reputation are cosidered ethical and often attract and retain better employees, enjoy greater employee loyalty, and draw more customers.

There are a variety of methods for CSR, including corporate philanthropy, corporate social initiatives, corporate responsibility and corporate policy. In addition to money, many companies allow their employees to volunteer during company time.

We know that companies have a responsibility to customers, pleasing them by offering real value. All things being equal, customers tend to favor the socially conscious company over its less socially conscious competitors. In fact, customers are often willing to pay more for goods from the socially responsible company. Thus CSR is also a tool to attract new customers. The question then becomes, how to make customers aware. Social media has become a low-cost, efficient way of conveying a company’s CSR efforts, allowing companies to reach and interact with a broad and diverse audience. However the company must live up to its hype or face dire consequences. If a company does not follow through on its CSR as claimed, it loses customers’ trust; customers do not want to do business with a company they don’t trust.

Many investors also believe that it makes financial sense to invest in companies engaged in CSR , and that ethical behavior adds to the bottom line.

Companies that treat their employees with respect usually earn the respect of their employees. This mutual respect can have a significant impact on the company’s profit. Retaining good employees saves money, is good for business and also good for morale. A disgruntled employee can wreak havoc on a business, thus loss of employee commitment, confidence and trust in the company can be extremely costly.

CSR has many benefits, each of which can increase a company’s profitability while also doing good for society as a whole.

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Paycheck Protection Program

We are navigating uncharted territory: COVID-19 the virus, the economic fallout, the government assistance programs. It seems that the SBA’s assistance programs, including PPP and EILD, change daily, maybe even hourly. This New York Times article from yesterday provides answers to frequently asked questions for small businesses, freelancers and more.

We are here if you need us, please reach out and we will do what we can to help you through these difficult times.

Stay safe!