COVID Funding Tips for Small Businesses
A strategic asset protection mindset will separate those who accumulate long-term wealth and keep it. Most successful entrepreneurs let their big egos get in the way, and they don’t take steps to set up a complex (not simple) structure to protect their assets.
A strategic asset protection mindset is part of this important business equation; you must master two skills: first, the skill to generate profits in the shortest period possible and keep them. Many times, keeping them may be harder than creating profits. Keeping them focuses on the strategy of asset protection. You must protect your assets from everything, like lawsuits, taxes, creditors, and bankruptcy.
This success requires a certain mindset for survival. It requires working backward to think through what could go wrong and how your assets would be affected.
You Must Ask Tough Questions
It requires asking some tough questions like, “What would happen if I get sued, and my business insurance (if your business even has any) did not cover the legal fees and damages? What would happen to my financial fortress? If my assets were to take one direct hit (a lawsuit), what would be the outcome? Would I lose everything? How do I mentally handle being totally unprotected?”
Perhaps you have formed a separate legal entity for your business, and a hit at the business level should protect you at a personal level. How do you handle a lawsuit at your business-level where the business has to pick up the tab?
Does Your Business have the Cash Flow for Legal Expenses?
Could your business survive defending a lawsuit that would require a retainer of $20K and $3K a month for 18 months? What would that do to your cash flow? Is there even enough cash flow to handle that extra monthly overhead?
What about an IRS audit? Is your business being operated as a business, not a hobby? What would the IRS discover if they looked at your records? Would there be large holes and gaps in the business records which would lead to huge penalties and interest? How would you and your business handle such an attack?
Here are the key attributes of the asset protection mindset for survival:
- Consider the downside first. If you were in the business of setting up firework shows, you would take every precaution and consider what could go wrong to determine the best safety so that no one would be hurt. Are You Negative or Smart?
But in most businesses, it could be considered being negative to consider what can go wrong.
I know you do not want to spend all your energy in this space, but it has a vital role in stepping into the consideration as part of your survival plan.
Do You Have a Partner? Business is like Marriage…
This is a must, especially if you have a business partner. You must consider if there is no cash flow to pay yourself, who will personally guarantee the accounts? What legal issues can you create for each other, and how will you avoid them?
In most businesses, the founder gets so excited (similarly to how you feel before getting married) about their great idea and how much money it could generate, how their life would be different…that if you enter the conversation with a point of what could go wrong, or what if that does not work out…you would be considered negative and unsupportive of the idea.
Keep in mind that being positive and excited has its role and is the genesis of most great businesses. At some point, ideally, in a separate meeting, the downside must be considered.
I mean, consider it first, before you open your doors, sign the big lease, and commit your capital. Not that you have to consider everything that could go wrong when an idea comes into your mind, because you would never get started, in that case (that is an entirely different issue).
Want Results? Model Walt Disney’s Approach
The best approach is to model Walt Disney. Walt would conduct a separate meeting to create ideas (the dreaming room) versus evaluating the ideas.
This was key to separate them because the creative and open-ended thinking phases were not the time to evaluate an idea to determine if it would work. That would more than likely stifle the ideas in the first meeting. The same approach works well when it comes to evaluating the downside of a business opportunity. Have fun with the open-ended green light thinking and plan a separate meeting to evaluate the downside or what could go wrong.
The huge mistake is to skip this separate meeting and let your enthusiasm carry you to signing a lease, committing large amounts of capital…
- Separate for success. Putting all your eggs in one financial basket is crazy and irresponsible.
It blows my mind that over 67% of all small businesses still operate as sole proprietorships. I realize the pattern that creates that outcome (comes from a tax point of view and belief about the ability to succeed), but it still blows my mind.
Separate Safe and Risk Assets…
You have taken the first step by forming a separate legal entity for your business. Step two is to protect your safe assets from your at-risk assets. That means stocks, crypto, gold, silver, ownership in other companies (this is a big one), artwork…assets that do not cause direct liability.
Did You Protect Your Ownership/Investments in Other Companies?
Why leave any of your assets on the table that is likely to be taken in lawsuits, bankruptcy, or IRS issues? Many will say, “I only have $_____ in safe assets. I do not have enough to protect.”
Do You Have Enough Assets to Protect?
Actually, the less you have, the more important it is to protect it because if you lost $25K, and that represents 100% of your safe assets, that is more meaningful and impactful to you than if you were Elon Musk and got hit with a $10-million lawsuit.
Is the Equity in Your Home Protected Properly?
The next step in asset protection is to protect the equity in your home (if you have any in this economy). Check into your home state homestead laws to find out how much equity is protected.
In some states, like Nevada, $550,000 is protected; and in others, it may only be $5,000 of equity. Florida is unlimited. Next, separate your real estate, both commercial and residential, from your own personal name. Typically, each commercial building (depending on the value and overall percentage of your net worth) would be held by a separate LLC.
Your real estate risk level would depend upon the overall percentage of your net worth, which would be a big part to dictate whether a separate entity should hold each piece of real estate or if you would have 3-4 properties in each LLC.
Your Living Trust Does NOT Protect Your Assets from Liability, But…
Next is to tie in the living trust, as the entities’ owner, for estate planning purposes. This is a critical step to remember. Why protect your assets during your lifetime and, upon your death, leave the state to handle the distribution of your assets? Probate can be costly and take years, in some cases.
- Lawsuit Strategy for Survival: Ask questions, understand the challenge, back to work. What happens when you are hit with a lawsuit? The natural reaction is to be upset, frustrated, and mad!
Most Lawsuits Emotional Derail Most Entrepreneurs, this is the Expensive Part
Typically, you were attempting to do good, help someone out, or provide a quality product or service, and an individual or a business did not see it that way. They think that you screwed them over (right or wrong). Now, you are staring down the barrel of a lawsuit.
Even if you feel right up front, this is totally bogus, not right, and should be set aside in court (which is, by the way, the mindset that may get your butt kicked in court).
You May Become Financially Paralyzed
That lawsuit can prevent you from receiving any financing in your business name or personally, depending on who is getting sued. You never want to assume a lawsuit is bogus or will have no merit in court.
You must approach it with 4-5 ways to attack this lawsuit, what you must do to protect yourself, and provide it invalid. You weIt would help if you organized and prepared.
Thinking you have a slam dunk leads to being unprepared and getting your butt kicked.
What You Should Do If You Are Sued…
Here is the best approach for survival if you get sued. First, interview 2-3 different attorneys on the lawsuit and ask a lot of questions.
Ask for their initial opinion, how they would approach it, how long it should take to defend, what stages are involved, how much is their upfront retainer, what are the time requirements involved, what would have to happen for you to lose, to win, can you counter sue, and should you attempt to settle outside of court…
Get Back to Work and Focus on Your Business
Once you get your asset protection mindset around the big picture, all the steps involved, the time frame, and what your game plan will be, then you can take the most important step, focus on your business, and get back to work.
The costly part of a lawsuit can be the profits you lose from your business because you are distracted by the lawsuit. You are up at midnight, upset at the person or company suing you, and thinking, “How can they do this to me after I attempted to do business with them or help them in some way?”
Are You Weak and an Easy Target?
The worst approach can be to let them see you will make no effort to defend yourself because the lawsuit has no merit. That sends a message that you and your company are soft.
I recently spoke to the VP of a $15-billion-per-year company, and the VP told me that they must aggressively go after every lawsuit that hits their company, so they do not appear as a weak and easy target.
The approach is correct. In the end, you have to be prepared to understand the challenge at hand, find out the time frame, issues, and expenses, put it in your budget, and get back to working on profitability. It’s like a military operation.
Expand Your Legal Budget
Again, as you can imagine, most do not handle it this way, and that is why even if you win and your insurance company pays the legal fees, a lawsuit can be financially devastating.
This will help you avoid many legal issues, to begin with. You may often sign an agreement or contract, and you assume the other party has reviewed the agreement.
You should NEVER sign a legal agreement or contract without having an attorney review it. I know it may take two hours to review, and it may be $500 or more for those two hours, but it can be a worthwhile investment in the long run.
Being Cheap can Comeback and Haunt You
Now, if you are opening a brokerage account with a major firm and you want to review it for the sake of understanding what you are signing, that makes sense. But if you think you will make some recommendations for changes to this major firm, that is not happening. Being cheap in this area can come back to haunt you.
Why Partnerships Fail
It does help when you start a new opportunity with another company if their side writes the agreement for you to review; that is much less than you writing the agreement. I have been on both sides. It does depend upon your position of strength in wanting to get the deal done.
If you are working with partners and do not put things in writing, that is bound to fail. This all refers to you really have a legal budget of perhaps $400-$700 per month in place, which may come into play 2-3 times per year.
If your company is much bigger, that number may be huge, especially if you have employees. HR issues can be very costly, and it is best to run it past an HR attorney vs. your buddy, who has 10 years of management experience.
All these areas are key when it comes to developing the best asset protection mindset for survival. When you develop a stronger mindset in this area, take action, and implement the recommendations. If you get hit with a big lawsuit, it will NOT derail your entire business or ruin you personally!