Opening the doors to your small business could just be the best day of your life. For most small business owners this act is a hard-won victory, preceded by years spent learning the ropes and paying dues in the corporate world, along with months or even years of saving, planning, and collaborating to build a solid business plan and obtain funding for your enterprise.
On the day you declare your company open for business, you will finally have reached your dream of being your own boss and running the show. And every ounce of sweat and hour of your life that you devote to your undertaking goes to benefit you. Of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done. If you haven’t yet considered the legal issues that affect small business owners now is a great time to begin looking into legal resources that can inform, advise, and protect you. Here are a few to consider:
- Small business attorney. This is easily the most expensive option when it comes to legal services, but of course it is also likely to be the best. Small business law firms deal exclusively with issues that affect clients like you, and so their lawyers are well versed in the legalities pertaining to your particular business model. You don’t necessarily need to pay to keep an attorney on retainer, but you might want to start your entrepreneurial journey by interviewing several small business attorneys to find one that you feel comfortable with. And when you select the perfect legal professional, have him/her conduct some basic business for you, such as creating employment contracts or setting up a corporate structure to protect your personal assets. This puts you on the firm’s client list so that you have a fallback in case you need legal advice or representation down the line.
- SBA. The Small Business Administration is an excellent all-around resource. Their website (and their representatives) can provide you with tips on owning and operating a small business, as well as help you to find grants and loans; but you can also find information on legal issues that commonly affect your scope of operation, such as contracts, taxes, loan payments, and so on. Many of the resources they provide are available for free on the SBA website, so it’s a good place to start if you’re simply trying to find out about potential problems areas to avoid.
- IRS. For some reason, many people don’t realize that they can contact the IRS directly for information pertaining to their taxes. As a small business owner you may have a mountain of questions when it comes to which forms to use, the deductions you can claim, and the ins and outs of employee paycheck withholding. While you can certainly hire an accountant that is familiar with your type of business to advise you or simply handle these matters for you, the IRS will tell you everything you need to know, free of charge, if you simply call in, email, or go to their local office in your area.
- LawGuru. You might be a bit skeptical when you hear that this website, owned and operated by lawyers, provides free legal advice. But all you have to do is hop on the site, type in your question, and see if you get a response from qualified lawyers in your area. If the answer is not satisfactory, you may pay for further information, but asking a question, at least initially, comes at no cost. In addition, the site provides an extensive listing of legal forms backed by a 100% money-back guarantee, although you can also find basic legal documents for free at Docracy.com.
- Law library. This may not be the first choice of the average small business owner, likely because the unfamiliar environment can be a little overwhelming. But there are several reasons you should keep it on the back burner. For one thing, law libraries house legal directories. So if you ever need a business, financial, malpractice, or injury attorney, you can find them all here. However, you may also be able to peruse both federal and state laws pertaining to small businesses, as well as case histories that can help you to avoid problem areas. In short, it’s a good resource for anyone willing to do some homework.
Leon Harris is a contributing writer for Hornsby Law.