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5 Hard Lessons Every Entrepreneur Must Learn

775_4704775Despite the fact that I’m now running my second successful business filing company, I continue to learn lessons in everything I do as an entrepreneur. Sure, they’re not as frequent as they were when I was first starting a new business, but they’re just as helpful in teaching me how to be an entrepreneur who succeeds in business and life.

Sometimes those lessons are harder to take than others. Here are a few new business lessons to add to your list.

Lesson 1: It’s Never Easy, and When It Is, It’s Temporary

Any entrepreneur will tell you that the path to success is a long and hard one. There’s simply no truth to the “overnight success” myth we get fed. A lot of overnight successes take years and years to actually happen.

You have to have a strong stomach to deal with the challenges. A recession. An angry customer. More competition than you can handle. These are all difficult challenges, but if you’re willing to put in the effort to overcome them, it’s so worth it.

Lesson 2: Failure is Acceptable

This is a lesson I’ve seen firsthand. First of all, know that you will fail. Not one of us on this earth is perfect, and failure is inevitable. But it’s not the end of your game in business. If you’re willing to learn from failure, it can bring great change that will help your business grow. It’s all in your attitude. Continue reading “5 Hard Lessons Every Entrepreneur Must Learn” »

By |August 31st, 2015|Business Operations, Running A Small Business|0 Comments

Did You Overlook Trademarking Your Brand?

business ideasYou probably didn’t come up with the perfect business or product name overnight. Most likely, you brainstormed. You sought the advice of colleagues and friends. You tested out a few options, and checked what domain names were available. In short, you’ve invested a lot of time to create and build the brand.

How well are you protecting this valuable asset? Do you know if you’re legally allowed to use the name you picked, and what will prevent someone else from using the same name?

Whether you just launched a business, have been running one for years, or are considering starting a new venture, there’s always more to learn.

Here’s what you need to know about trademarks and branding.

What is a trademark?

Let’s start at the beginning. A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design (or a combination of any of these) that identifies the source of a product or service and distinguishes it from competitors. Trademarks can be given for product names, company names, logos, and taglines.

Let’s use Nike as an example. “Nike”, the Nike swoosh design, and “Just Do It” are all trademarks owned by Nike to distinguish their products. But keep in mind, that trademark protection typically applies to a particular category of goods and services. In Nike’s case, these are athletic companies, sporting goods, clothing, shoes, etc. That’s why there’s also a Nike Corporation that’s involved in hydraulic jacks and industrial machinery.

Do you need a trademark?

One of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of trademark law is you don’t actually have to officially register a trademark with USPTO (US Patent and Trademark Office). If your company creates a brand new logo or name, you essentially have “common law” rights from the first time the name or logo is used in commerce. You can even attach the TM symbol by it.

However, if you register a trademark with the USPTO, you’re going to have much stronger brand protection compared to common law rights.

What are the benefits of registering a trademark?

By registering for U.S. Federal Trademark protection, you’ll be eligible for several benefits, including:

  • Treble damages in some cases where another company infringes on your mark
  • The right to use ® in your trademark (instead of just TM)
  • A streamlined process for securing your domains and usernames at social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube
  • Significantly stronger protection than ‘common law’ (aka. unregistered) marks.
  • This can make it much easier to recover your property, let’s say if someone happens to use your company name as their Twitter handle.

I’ve already registered my name with the state. Do I still need a trademark?

When you incorporate, form an LLC, or file a DBA (Doing Business As) for your new business, this process registers your business name with your state’s secretary of state. Before approving your application, the state checks that your name is distinguishable from all other business names registered in the state. Once your application is approved, the business name is yours, and yours alone, to use within the state. This protects anyone else from using your name within your state, but it doesn’t offer any kind of protection in the other 49 states.

Let’s say you’ve started a business that’s physically tied to your state (like a restaurant) and you have no plans on expanding to another state. In this case, registering your business name with the state (either through a legal formation like an LLC or Corp or getting a DBA) is probably enough brand protection for you. However, if you’re planning on conducting business outside your own state, then you should look into trademark protection with the USPTO.

How can I tell if a name is available for me to use?

In addition to wanting to protect your own branding, you need to be careful to make sure you’re not infringing on a name that’s already in use by someone else. You should conduct a free trademark search to make sure the name you want to use isn’t already registered by another business.

How do I register a trademark (and how much does it cost)?

You register a trademark with the USPTO: you can either file directly with them or have a legal filing service handle it for you. Application fees are approximately $325 per class and it can take anywhere from 6-12 months once you submit your application.

You should always do a trademark search before you start the trademark application process. If your proposed name isn’t available, your application will be rejected (and you won’t get a refund on your application fees).

While registering a trademark costs a little more and is more involved than registering a name with the state, your brand will be protected by both the federal and state governments.

Business and product names are valuable assets, so take the right steps up front to protect them. Talk to us today about filing a Federal Trademark Application online.

By |August 30th, 2015|Legal Tips For Small Businesses|0 Comments

Why an Inactive Business is Costing You Money

dissolving an inactive business

Someone once told me that a true sign of a successful entrepreneur is the ability to know when it’s time to throw in the towel and move on. One failed business doesn’t define an entrepreneur… and the end of one venture means the start of something new.

Closing a business doesn’t just mean selling your assets and calling it a day. You’ve got to go through the right steps to ensure your business is legally closed and you’re primed for what’s next. Otherwise, you’ll still be responsible for filing annual reports, filing state/federal tax returns, and keeping up any business licenses.

At CorpNet, we don’t like paying any more than we have to – and we don’t think your business should either. That’s why you should officially close your business once you know it’s time to move on.

How to Close an Inactive Business the Right Way

Dissolve your LLC or Corporation

If you’ve been operating as a Corporation, LLC, or Partnership, all business associates need to vote on closing the business and the final vote should be recorded in the meeting minutes. If shares were issued in a Corporation, 2/3 of the voting shares must agree on the dissolution. If no shares were issued, the Board of Directors must approve to dissolve the company. Specific rules for LLCs vary by states and you should review the dissolution requirements in your state’s LLCA (Limited Liability Company Act)

After the vote, you’ll need to file a form called “Articles of Dissolution” or “Certificate of Termination” with the Secretary of State’s office in the state where your LLC/Corp was formed.

Contact a business specialist to file the paperwork to close your business for you today. We’ll make sure you follow your state’s instructions to the letter, so your dissolution will be processed as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Pay off any debts

In order to properly close your business, any company debts must be paid. In most states, an LLC or Corporation must settle its debts before you can distribute any money or assets to the members. If your business doesn’t have enough money to pay off the loans and debts, you should consult with an attorney.

Close your business’ federal and state tax accounts

Just because your business isn’t bringing in any revenue anymore, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically off the hook with the IRS. You’ll need to notify the IRS that your business is no longer operating by closing your Employer Identification Number (EIN). You’ll also need to file your final federal and state tax returns (check the box indicating that this will be the final return). And if applicable, your company’s payroll withholding taxes must be up-to-date. Members or owners can be held personally liable if the business’ payroll taxes aren’t paid.

Cancel any business licenses or permits

Contact the county where your business is located and cancel your business license, as well as your seller’s permit or any other permits you hold. Be active about cancelling these things, because you could still be assessed fees and taxes if the county doesn’t know your business is no longer in operation.

Notify any vendors, contractors, and clients

If you’re closing a business, you’ve most likely already made preparations for stopping work with your customers or clients. However, you should also notify any contractors, freelancers, vendors, and suppliers that you’ve done business with. Don’t just leave them guessing why they haven’t heard from you in awhile. By being considerate and upfront with your network, they’ll be more likely to join you on your next project.

Final thoughts

Walking away from your business is never an easy decision, but closing a poorly performing business can be the smartest thing you’ll ever do. You’re freeing yourself for the next big thing.

Remember to take closing your business just as seriously as you did opening it. Your credit and reputation are at stake. Start your Order of Dissolution online with CorpNet.

By |August 29th, 2015|Business Filings|0 Comments

Add Hours to Your Business Day by Handling These 5 Tasks Online

775_4297457When it comes to being more productive, you’ve got to give a hand to technology. Just think of how much less we’d get done when it comes to business efficiency if we didn’t have the Internet and all those amazing apps we use to get work done.

Still, I’m amazed at how many people still do certain tasks the hard way, when there are easier ways to do them online. Take a leap into the 21st century by updating these business processes.

1. Scheduling Your Staff

If you run a business that operates with an ever-changing schedule, you might be manually hand-writing the weekly schedule or entering it into an unwieldy spreadsheet. There’s a better way.

Employee scheduling software takes all those moving pieces and parts — who can work when, who’s on vacation, who needs to shadow a more seasoned employee — and puts them together. You can create a repeating schedule, see vacation requests, and even email or text your staff their weekly schedule. Continue reading “Add Hours to Your Business Day by Handling These 5 Tasks Online” »

By |August 27th, 2015|Running A Small Business|0 Comments

Marketing From the Ground Up

962_4076598I meet a lot of small business owners who are frustrated because they try one or two marketing strategies like email or blogging, and then don’t understand why those techniques don’t send them traffic.

What I tell them — and will tell you — is that you have to start with the right foundation and have marketing goals if you want to actually move the needle and get results.

Why Goal-Setting is Key

Any marketing technique you could do — from having a strong online presence to sending promotional emails — needs a tether. That tether is your plan, along with your goals. Knowing what you want to accomplish can help you measure results.

Making SMART Goals

There’s a popular strategy for setting goals that I’d like to apply to creating marketing goals. It’s the SMART strategy, which says to make your goals: Continue reading “Marketing From the Ground Up” »

By |August 26th, 2015|Marketing Your Business|0 Comments

HR-in-a-Box: Which is the Best for Small Businesses?

Human resources spinning wheels conceptThis is a guest post by Meredith Wood.

As a small business owner, you may not have enough revenue to justify hiring a full-fledged human resources department. But this doesn’t mean you can overlook the importance of HR-related tasks. Luckily, there are many companies out there whose mission is to help young businesses like yours tackle the complicated world of HR (without costing you a fortune).

There are many benefits of working with an HR service. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • You save major time by handing these tasks over to an outside service
  • You save a ton money as you don’t have to hire as many (if any) dedicated HR professionals
  • You can have peace of mind in knowing that you are in the hands of an experienced team
  • You’ve got somebody to answer all those insanely difficult HR questions
  • It’s easy to scale your business without any HR-related concerns

Hopefully you’re excited about these potential benefits. But, where do you start? Which “HR-in-a-Box” service is best for your small business? Continue reading “HR-in-a-Box: Which is the Best for Small Businesses?” »

By |August 25th, 2015|Managing People|0 Comments

Get Back Your Time: 5 Tools to Help You Manage Your Small Business Tasks

112_2825531I have to be really disciplined to ensure that I make the most of my time at work. After all, there’s so much to do and so little time to do it! For business time management, I’ve discovered a few cool tools that help me do more with the time I have.

1. Wunderlist

Who doesn’t have a giant list of things to do? I try to remember them in my head, but given that my wife, Nellie, often wags her finger at me for forgetting, I guess that doesn’t always work so well. So now I use Wunderlist. I can jot down something as I remember it on my phone, then mark it off when it’s done.

I like it as well because I can assign employees tasks and we can collaborate via a chat function about the task.

2. Slack

I’ve got so much going on on any given day, I feel like I don’t always have the time it takes to walk through my office to talk to the employee I need to communicate with. That’s where Slack comes in handy. We use it to communicate about projects we’re working on, and we can set up different channels for each project to keep our chats organized. Continue reading “Get Back Your Time: 5 Tools to Help You Manage Your Small Business Tasks” »

By |August 24th, 2015|Business Tools|0 Comments

Surviving Your First Year As A Small Business Owner

This post originally appeared on Forbes

small business ownerIf you are launching a business, you have probably heard the horror stories of business failure after business failure. Listen to some of the naysayers and you’ll start believing that 90% of new businesses are destined to fail. However, the reality is much brighter: according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, 75% of new businesses survive the first year, 69% survive the first two years, and 50% make it to five years.

Granted, a 50-50 chance of surviving to year five may not sound that great, but you don’t have to sit back and let chance dictate your fate. After working with thousands of new businesses and having started several myself, here are some of the things I have learned to help set a new business up for success:

Create a business plan

When you’re not looking for an investor or bank loan, it’s tempting to skip a business plan altogether. However, the process of writing out your plans is a great way to hone your vision: what problem are you trying to solve? Whose lives are you trying to improve? What’s your realistic timeframe for launch, sales, and profitability? You don’t need a 100-page document, but your plan should be detailed enough to determine if you have a good target market and business model.

Keep your expenses low

New businesses typically fail because they run out of money, so it makes sense to keep your costs as low as possible until you build out your product and sales start coming in. Only hire people you desperately need; use contractors and freelancers for the rest. If you don’t actually need the space, forgo an office for as long as possible. And, in general, spend money on the things you need, not the things you think a business should have.

Reinvest back in the company

When going from a salaried job to entrepreneurship, it’s hard to give up the stability of a paycheck. But the first money you make should be reinvested back into the company, your product, and marketing. Many times, owners are the last ones to be paid during the first year.

Don’t mistake hyperactivity for productivity

In today’s culture, we are busy all the time. But how much of this busyness is actually moving the company forward? During the first year, you need to be very selective in how you spend your time and resources. Too many entrepreneurs burn the candles at both ends, yet only move sideways and not forward.

Don’t say yes to every request that comes your way. When considering each customer request, event, marketing, or partnership opportunity, think about how it fits into your overall game plan and priorities.

Focus on the customer

Your goal isn’t to create an awesome product or business; it’s to help your customer. Be very attuned to their needs and adapt everything based on their feedback. When you build something that people actually need and want, sales will follow.

Build your network

Generally speaking, the more people you know, the better. Anyone could be a potential partner, customer, source of inspiration, or sounding board. Reach out to professionals in your field or others who have started their own businesses. The more people you reach out to, the more opportunities will come your way and the more supporters you’ll have when you need them.

Be respectful of people’s time, but also fearless in reaching out for meetings. When you meet, ask questions, give others opportunities to talk about themselves, always pick up the tab, and send a follow-up thank you. Most important, remember the golden rule in networking: The more you give, the more people want to give back.

Measure and adapt

In the early days, resources are particularly tight, so it’s critical to make sure your money and time are being spent in the right places. Never assume you know what’s going on in your business; back everything up with numbers.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in analytics and charts, but you should have 2-4 key metrics for your business that you keep track of at all times. For example, where is your website or foot traffic coming from? What’s your gross profit percentage per product or project?

Make a longer runway

It’s common for new entrepreneurs to give themselves a test year to see what happens. Then, if they’re not profitable after that year, they decide to close shop. The problem is that many businesses need more than a year to reach profitability. One of the best ways to last beyond the year mark is to recognize and plan for the fact that it may realistically take 18-24 months for your business to get off the ground.

Launching a business is a risky, stress-inducing endeavor. But more small businesses actually succeed than fail in their first year. If you are ready, don’t be afraid to take the plunge and start your dream business, but be conservative in your spending, plan, measure, adapt, then adapt some more.

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Image by Photospin.

By |August 22nd, 2015|Starting a Business|0 Comments

Nellie in the News – August 21, 2015

Where should you start a business if you’re a female entrepreneur? How can you start an ecommerce business? Should you go back to school to help your company thrive? These are all questions that CEO Nellie Akalp has answered through various small business channels.

nellie in the news

Interviews & Press Mentions

Expert Contributed Posts

  • Small Business Trends – Your 10 Point Checklist to Starting an Ecommerce Business
  • Small Business Trends –  Do You Need More Education to Succeed in Business?

By |August 21st, 2015|Nellie in the News|0 Comments

Businesses to Start: Home-Based, Retail, and Services

430_5024362When you first think about starting a business, you might not even know what type of business you want to start. There are so many options out there, so you want to make sure you choose the best one for your skills and interests.

Here I want to cover three types of businesses to start: home-based, retail, and service businesses. Whichever resonates with you the most is probably the one you should start.

Home-Based Business: Zero Commute and Plenty of Flexibility

Millions of Americans run home-based businesses and thrive on the benefits. After all, having zero commute, being able to be close to your kids, and having a flexible schedule are pretty attractive, aren’t they?

Some types of businesses are better suited for being run from your home, like those that don’t require you meeting customers face-to-face. Some options for your home-based business include:

  • Writing services
  • Customer service
  • Ecommerce (selling products online)
  • Accounting
  • Legal services

A word of advice: while it might seem easy and fun to work out of your home, it’s not for everyone. Many people find that they’re too easily distracted by the television, snacks in the fridge, or the kids to get any work done. Be honest with yourself about how disciplined you can be working from home. Continue reading “Businesses to Start: Home-Based, Retail, and Services” »

By |August 20th, 2015|Starting a Business|0 Comments