Monthly Archives: March 2019

Two Secrets to Set Up an LLC With (Almost) No Money and No Time

You should probably have an LLC. When you create an LLC (or any other type of corporate entity), you’re essentially creating another person out of thin air.

Why would you want to do such a thing? So he can be sued instead of you! With a few exceptions, an LLC will shield your own personal assets from the assets that you use to run your business. Think of it as almost like the firewall between the engine compartment of your car and the passenger compartment. You want the engine to run and do its thing, but if something horrible happens, you don’t want to put yourself or your family at risk.

A lot of people immediately think they need a lawyer to handle the creation of a corporate entity. As a lawyer, I can tell you that when it comes to single-member LLCs, you almost never need a lawyer. If you come to me and ask me to set up an LLC for you, I will be happy to charge you $200 per hour. But at the end of the day, I’ll be using the same form that is available to you on your local Secretary of State’s website.

You can – and probably should – set up your single-member LLC without a lawyer. When more than one person is involved, however, this all goes right out the window. Contact me!

But wait!

Do you already have an LLC? My first secret is this: you might not need more than one.

People think they need one for each business, and it seems to make sense. Let’s say you have “Pat’s Ponies, LLC” and you decide to move into another opportunity: say, Pools. Well, “Pat’s Pools” is going to need another form and another registration fee, right? Well… maybe not.

If you’ve formed your LLC correctly (i.e. similar to the steps I outline here), then you might be able to simply keep using the same LLC. There are definitely exceptions. Read on.

Step 1. Find Your Secretary of State Website

If you haven’t already, you need to figure out which state you live in. I really hope you’ve done that already. LLCs are formed at the state level. Not the county. Not the United States. Your state.

Now, find the website for the “Secretary of State” in your state.

Most likely, your Secretary of State will have a “Business” section of his or her website. This is where you will find the LLC form for your state. It might be a PDF that you have to download and print. If you’re lucky, it will be an online form that you can submit right now. Once you’ve found that, you’re ready for…

Step 2. Fill out the Form

This should take almost no time at all. Typically, the form asks for three pieces of information. And I’m going to advise you to leave one blank. Start your stopwatch.

What’s in a name?

You need to come up with the name you want to use.

What’s in a name? For the purposes of your LLC, almost nothing. In fact, if you’re not exactly sure which direction your business will take, you might just want a jumble of letters or something very generic.

When you do business as an LLC, you do have to use the name of your LLC to conduct business and put others on notice that they are dealing with an LLC. BUT (and this is a big but), you can still use a “doing business as” or “DBA” name just like a person without an LLC might do.

Your contracts have to use the LLC. Your advertisements can keep it in fine print at the bottom or leave it out altogether. So don’t fret over the name too much. As I like to say: don’t business card this part of the problem.

You DO, however, need to make sure that whatever you choose is not already taken. Most likely, your Secretary of State’s website will also have a search tool that you can use to make sure that your chosen name is not already taken.

Here’s another important thing to know about these names. This is not the same thing as a trademark! Just because there’s no “Apple Computer” registered in South Dakota doesn’t mean that Apple Computer, LLC is up for grabs there. You will get sued, and you will lose.

Your (LLC’s) Life Without Purpose

The LLC form will likely ask for your business purpose. There are historical reasons for asking for this. It has to do with the corporate charters that used to be granted to robber barons.

These days, it’s typically not important that you state a business purpose. In fact, the LLC form will probably indicate that it’s optional. If not, you can essentially leave it blank by inserting “for any legal activity” or some such thing.

A Not-So-Secret Agent

The third and final piece of information that LLC forms typically ask for is your statutory agent. This is legalese for “if someone wants to sue you, to whom should they mail the Complaint?” You can use your own name and address. If you have an attorney, you can ask to use their name and address, and they most likely will not charge you for this service.

You typically cannot use a PO box.

Step 3. Pay the Man

Did I say “no money”? OK, I didn’t literally mean $0. How much your state charges will vary, but I can guarantee it will be pennies compared to fighting a lawsuit to protect your personal assets from a business dispute.

Step 4. Wait

Your Secretary of State will let you know – typically in the form of a certificate – when your business filing has been accepted. When filing online, it will likely only be a matter of minutes.

Are We Done Yet?

Probably. If you have the certificate from your Secretary of State, you absolutely have an LLC and are able to use it to do all the things that LLCs can do: enter into contracts, sue, be sued, etc.

If you plan on doing any banking, you might need to create an Operating Agreement.

This isn’t a legal requirement. It’s just something banks need to protect themselves. If it’s just you and your single-member LLC, it can be a simple one- or two-sentence document stating that you’re the only member and you have all the ownership and voting rights. Then – and yes, this is weird – you sign the contract with yourself. Make sure you indicate that you’re signing as a “Member” of the LLC.

You can contact me if you want to pay for a form but you really should not.

Are you sure I don’t need more than one?

No, I’m just a guy on the Internet. I don’t know you or your situation. If there’s some circumstance making you uncomfortable, then you might need to see your lawyer

I can certainly think of a hypothetical situation where you WOULD need a second LLC. Remember the firewall analogy? It could be true that you want to shield a highly successful business (e.g. “Pat’s Ponies, LLC”) from a highly risky one (e.g. “Pat’s Thirty-Second Skyscraper Demolitions”).

Like all things in life, your mileage may vary, but if you’re just starting out or dabbling in things, it would definitely be wasteful to buy a bunch of LLCs.

If you have specific questions about your situation, you can contact me, and I can point you in the right direction.

Survey Time!

We want to hear from you. What is the biggest problem for you as a business owner? Is it something time-consuming? Is it costing you money? Let us know! If we feature your problem in a future issue of Small Biz Guerrilla, you could receive a free gift!

Fill out the *very* brief survey below. If we decide to feature your response, we will contact you for more information.

Stay hungry!

3 Ways to Get the Best Bang for Your Advertising Buck

You’ve just started out. You need to get the word out. The trouble is your budget is almost non-existent or quite small. You could blow your next three years’ budget on a billboard or a radio ad. Or you could become a small biz guerrilla and seek out the ways to get the biggest bang for your advertising buck.

Advertising is important no matter what stage you are at. There’s no silver bullet here, but there are many ways in which small business can advertise without spending big bucks. Here we will explain how you can effectively spend your money – or spend no money at all – for advertising success.

Stretching Your Advertising Dollar

Here are three of the most advanced and inventive strategies for small business to advertise:

Focus on Social Media

Social media has played a major role in helping small businesses. They are changing the rules of advertising. Because of this, many times “experts” recommend that you go ahead and sign up for every single social media network. However, it might not be such a great idea. After all, your time and money are limited.

Each social media channel is unique, and you need to understand the differences because you need to target your customers effectively. Understand your product or service category, and then choose the relevant platform. For example, business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers should focus on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. If you have a business-to-business (B2B) marketing message, you should prefer both Facebook and LinkedIn.

Facebook is the most popular medium for advertising with approx. 1.1 billion active users. You can boost your posts and reach a wider-yet-still-targeted audience even with as small a budget as $30-40 (USD). Furthermore, you can make your own advertising plan for your page. According to statistics, 94% of marketers report that they use Facebook for marketing.

Make it pop with video

Another popular social media trend that is catching on is bite-sized videos. A HubSpot survey reveals that 54% of users want to see more videos from the brands they like. With Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it is essential to remember that your target audience is flicking away through the feed quickly. If you want to gain their attention, you have to be quick and memorable. So you need to personally connect with your customers through interesting video clips!

Give it away now

Another way to connect with social media customers is through humorous content, polls, giveaways, and freebies. Engage your clientele with something that won’t cost them anything. This will help in building a relationship that will be beneficial in the long run. Introduce interesting hashtags in relation to your brand and present it in fun ways. When you will use these time and again, you will see others using similar tags and this could even lead to free promotion: the elusive viral marketing campaign!

Collaborate with other small businesses with similar goals. This will help you in targeting a larger audience as both your resources will now be combined. You can even get together to sponsor a giveaway in an ingenious way to build interest.

Indulging in Word Of Mouth Marketing Strategy  

Word of mouth is the most effective advertising there is. It used to be almost impossible to buy. Because of the Internet, it is now easier than any time in history. It is an essential part of successful advertising. As humans, we tend to share information about our likes and dislikes with others. This can easily start off a chain reaction. If you want to attract customers, then take your great, inventive product to people who will openly talk about it.

A study by Olapic in 2016 informs that user-generated content or word of mouth marketing makes them 56% more likely to buy the product/service being talked about. But how can you get people to talk about your product? After all, you’re just starting out. Maybe you haven’t even made that first sale.

Encouraging Word of Mouth Advertising: A Case Study

One great example of a guerrilla marketing technique is Paul and Kathryn Sloan. They are the successful business owners of Sonoma’s small Vines. This husband-wife duo made their business a huge success with their intelligent marketing strategy. They used word of mouth to tell the world about their extraordinary wine.

The Sloans cooked up a plan to use the concierge teams at luxurious hotels to guide customers to try their wine. They contacted knowledgeable individuals whose opinion was valued by others to recommend their product. This created a much-needed buzz. Because of that, they were able to bring their products to 2- and 3-star Michelin restaurants.

There are many such stunts you can pull off to excite your customers. Search online for social media “influencers” in your target market. Send them free goods to review. This way you can reach out to a vast target audience in limited time as they blog about your product.

Invest in making a great website. Make sure it will support your marketing style in the future. If you plan to come up with fun game ideas like treasure hunts for your products, make sure you have the ability to post about it on your own site. Allow for customer reviews, if needed, and ask your customers to rate your product and write a brief review in the comments section. A traditional brick and mortar store can be a part of your “break even platform.” You have an advantage because you can use your location to hold innovative events with free sampling of products.

Happy Customers are a Gold Mine

CNBC conducted a survey which effectively concluded that 58% of small business owners scored word-of-mouth advertising as the best way to easily reach out to the customer. So, as a small business owner with a limited budget, focus on creating excited customers and ask them to endorse your products.

Encourage happy customers to leave positive reviews online. If you get an unhappy customer, make every effort to utilize this opportunity to woo them over. Be polite. Be humble. Most importantly, make them glad that the mishap happened.

We are bombarded with advertisements every day. The only way a small business can have a chance to win is by breaking through the clutter. So let your product/service be flaunted by a happy and loyal customer to induce positive word of mouth advertising.

Direct Email and Email Marketing

What?? SPAM people?? No way.

Email marketing is actually very much alive and well. Think about it: when was the last time you actually saw a true piece of unsolicited email offering you millions of unclaimed Nigerian Viagra or whatever? On major email platforms, those messages get filtered out and rarely see the light of day. But I bet you’ve opened at least one message recently that was commercial in nature. With adequate opt-in and opt-out mechanisms, email can be an extremely cost-effective way to get attention.

A HubSpot content trend survey showed that 46% of users would want email/newsletter content from the brands they love. Most millennials are deeply involved with their smartphones, so approaching them through emails can mean more exposure for your products/services. But research has found that Boomers and Gen X have an even more positive view of email marketing.

Direct Emails to the audience need to be crafted cleverly. The new generation is impatient and would not make it through long and boring emails. Excite them with cool offers and rope them in. It is also advisable to use edgy and funny graphics or videos in your emails. The “Cards Against Humanity” marketing campaign is a great example. It’s a card game, started by high school friends with funding through Kickstarter. They created a selective mail list and lured in people through creative – often sarcastic and over-the-top – emails.

There are many great software products and online platforms for email marketing that can help small businesses with a low budget. You can choose from unlimited attractive templates and personalize your content according to your audience. Keep your messages clear, short, and credible.

Final Words

Starting a small business, the budget and purse strings are usually tight. Most of the new ventures start off through bootstrapping and small capital investment. Be intuitive about your target audience and communicate a single message through all your advertising media. Personalize your content and directly interact with your customers to gather useful insights about what works. Lastly, we have mentioned quite a few free practices that can be useful for new businesses.

Selected Resources

The following images ARE NOT ADS! These are hand-selected resources for you to learn more about the topics covered in this post.

Citations:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/theworldwineguys/2019/03/15/sonomassmallvinesmakesandsellswinetheoldfashionedway/#4631092b9466

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/07/a-marketing-trick-slack-used-to-become-a-multibillion-dollar-company.html

http://visualcommerce.olapic.com/rs/358-ZXR-813/images/wp-consumer-trust-survey-global-FINAL.pdf

https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Industry-Report-2018.pdf

https://blog.hubspot.com/news-trends/content-trends-preferences?_ga=2.37896161.315136155.1553069767-843325524.1553069767

It’s Not a Linear Process

We’re conditioned (maybe by the educational system? Board games?) to believe life is a linear process. You start at square one and you progress forwards in the correct direction gaining momentum all the time.

That’s not how anything works. In reality, if you start something new (a small business maybe??), you’re jumping right into the middle of a feedback loop.

Try => win some, lose some => improve => repeat.

If you’ve ever started any kind of group physical discipline class (Yoga, CrossFit, martial arts, etc) you typically don’t get a one-on-one introduction and spend a month going over the history and basic movements. You just jump in.

For a while, you’re the worst one in class. The noob. It doesn’t matter that this group has been together and has been working on Level Five Tree Pose (or whatever) for the past month. That’s now your starting point. You’re going to pick it up as you go along.

You’re going to fail a lot. But you’re going to pick up all the basics along the way.

Small Biz Guerrillas know that you’re going to fail and you’re going to learn along the way. But you can’t fail until you do something. If you’re waiting for the perfect business idea or invention to come along, then you’re going to be waiting for a loooooong time.

Whatever idea you have right now, well, guess what. That’s your business. You just started it. You should probably buy an ad or a a website landing page or something.

Now let’s examine what’s wrong with your business and make corrections.

It’s not a linear process. It’s more like a circle. That means it doesn’t really matter where you jump in. All that matters is that you jump.

Plancrastinating

That feeling of ennui where you don’t want to work has a well known moniker. It’s called “procrastinating.” Can you believe we have a word for that?

What’s more amazing is that we don’t have a word for “I’m not sure what I should be working on.”

But the most insidious demon of all is what I call “plancrastinating.” It’s a combination of the two in a circular death spiral. You don’t really want to work. You aren’t really sure what to work on. So you just wander off.

It can be hard to recognize because it FEELS like you’re procrastinating. So you employ your usual remedies against this familiar foe. But it doesn’t work because you’re not procrastinating. You’re adrift.

Sit down and start writing. Stream of consciousness. You’re already conscious. Just add writing. If you encounter a thing that might be considered a “to do” item, write it down.

Read here for how to conquer your to do list.

I’m willing to bet you’re ready to do at least one of the things on your new list. If not, NOW you can employ your procrastination defenses.

Split Up Your To-Dos

An important part of getting your business off the ground is being organized and productive. To do lists are a great way to get started, but they tend to grow until they paralyze us with fear.

In Getting Things Done, author David Allen observed that to do lists are typically more like project lists. That is to say, you can’t just sit down and accomplish many of the things on your list because they involve multiple steps in multiple different contexts. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s a great starting point for productivity. And then when you’re ready to level up, get one of these incredible productivity journals.

I’ve got a technique that I would add for dealing with project lists. When I’m planning – or to wade out of a period of plancrastinating, I use something I call “splitting.” Take a task from your list that seems like you can’t sit down and do it in less than two minutes. Delete it. Scribble it out.

Now, create at least two more in its place.

It might be that your resulting tasks are still too much to think about. Still too daunting. Still too boring. So do it again. Rinse and repeat.

I like to keep going until it’s stupid. As in “if I make this task any simpler, someone might think I’m mentally defective.”

Sometimes you can go one step further. You might be able to reword the task more in terms of HOW you need to do it rather than WHAT needs to be accomplished.

Make sure your small business doesn’t stagnate because of a productivity problem. Use Getting Things Done to get started; get yourself a productivity planner; figure out if you’re procrastinating or plancrastinating; split those tasks until you can’t split them anymore (and now you’ll know for certain if you’re procrastinating). Then… get to work!