Prevent Your Start Up from Stalling with These Legal Tips

For many Americans starting a business is a dream as big and beautiful as owning a home. Being your own boss has definite benefits – as proprietor, you get to be responsible for your own success, which could mean much greater financial gain than you’ve ever experienced working for someone else. And then there’s the satisfaction of seeing something you built from the ground up flourish.

Of course, business ownership isn’t without its risks. For example, chances are you’ll have to use some of your personal savings to get your start up revved up. But there are ways to mitigate that risk and increase your enterprise’s chance of success. Here’s what local experts had to say.

As the old saying goes, there’s no “I” in team. Even though you may feel you’re going it alone by hanging out your own shingle, in truth you should have a whole squad behind you, suited up and ready to hit the field. “You should at the very least have counsel, an accountant, an insurance person and some kind of a financial advisor,” says Bruce Warshawsky, an attorney and shareholder with Harrisburg law firm Cunningham, Chernicoff & Warshawsky. “I know a lot of people start small and they’re not really excited about spending money on professionals, but those four individuals are critical to the long-term success of any business.”

John Weidman, CPA, CGMA and a principal at Camp Hill and Lancaster accounting firm Brown, Schultz. Sheridan. & Fritz, suggests that in addition to these professionals, people who want to start their own business should “talk to a SCORE or Small Business Development Center advisor. They can help with reviewing your business plan and give you advice. It’s a free service that includes mentoring and workshops to help future business
owners. It is always helpful to have a different set of eyes review your plan.”

Speaking of business plans, yep, you’re going to need one, and it should be plenty flexible. “There’s an old saying, ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy,’” says Dave Getz, attorney and shareholder with Wix, Wenger & Weidner in Harrisburg. “If my business plan is to sell 55 subs a day for the first week and if I don’t sell those subs I’m in big trouble because I have no money, and the first week it snows every day… I’m still buying meat and bread and paying rent. And I’m not selling anything, so my plan is up in smoke. You have to have contingencies. You have to have room in your plan for things that you don’t expect.”

Finally, to help protect yourself from financial liability in case of lawsuit, you may want to consider some form of a limited liability entity, which limits liability to the value of the business itself. While this may not be important if you’re, say, tailoring clothes in your home, it’s very important if, for example, you’re a caterer who is cooking meals that could potentially make people sick. Without the protection of a limited liability company, you could lose your personal assets if you’re sued. You can also take out liability insurance; a large umbrella policy might offer enough protection you won’t need to consider a limited liability entity.

Echoing protection, Nicole O’Hara, associate attorney at Gross McGinley, LLP in Allentown, says that is crucial when it comes to a startup’s intellectual property. She comments, “Protect your logos, inventions, or processes and ensure that you don’t make these things public without ensuring adequate protection.”

Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to dream big – working for yourself may be the best move you’ll ever make. Just be sure to back up those dreams with some smart first steps to ensure you’re getting off on the right foot.