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Starting a business

April 10, 2012 1 comment

I gave a presentation yesterday to a group of folks looking to start a horticulture, landscaping, or plant nursery business. It was a great impetus to force me to write this post – that I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

So, let’s start with what you need to start and run a successful business in NC

  • A lawyer – a lawyer is going to be your best friend in the early stages. A lawyer will help you decide how to organize the business, what you need to do to be compliant, and how to protect yourself from future claims by creditors, potential liability, and other sources of risk. An attorney will also help you with whatever licenses you might need to operate in your state, county, or city (or all three!). Work with a lawyer to develop your overall business structure to protect your investment and yourself from future risks. Also, a good lawyer will work *with* you (not just *for* you), so you can help yourself and save money where possible.
  •  An accountant or bookkeeper – there is so much going on (especially early in developing your business) that it’s easy to make a mistake, forget something, or make a choice that will impact you later. When it comes to finances and taxes, you need to get an expert to help you understand the consequences of your choices: Do I start as a home based business? Is it cash-only? Can I claim mileage on my car for business? Even if you’re a professional accountant or bookkeeper, it’s probably a good idea to get an independent assessment in the beginning, if nothing else.
  • Business Plan – I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a business plan. Whether you’re trying to raise money from investors, trying to get credit, or just knowing what to do next for your own peace of mind, your business plan should be your road map. Your business plan may change over time (because your business may change over time!), but you should make every effort to follow you business plan. There are lots of resources (including the Small Business Administration) for putting together a solid business plan.

    business plan

    business plan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  •  Insurance – you will need insurance (in some form or other). Especially if you have anything to do with dealing with the general public, government contracting, or working with businesses (ok, so, pretty much if you do ANYTHING). Find a reputable insurance agent and let them work with you on what you need – you may not even know what or how much you need until you talk to your attorney or when you’re getting started. Whether you need liability insurance, premises insurance, malpractice insurance, or how much… don’t underestimate how important it is to protect your investment from accidents or potential claims.
  • Bank – the same way you need to find a good insurance agent, you also need to develop a relationship with a banker. Not only do you need a bank account, you may need things like merchant services (credit card processing), a lined of credit, a small business loan, or even just someone to call when you can’t figure out why your deposit is showing up in your account. Your banker should work with you to address your financial needs.
  • Policies, Procedures, and Systems – it doesn’t *really* matter if you’re using a fancy software system to manage your business or if you’re using good ‘ol paper and pencil. What does matter is that you can do it consistently and efficiently each and every time. You will spend a lot of your time, as a small business owner, on the administrative work that’s needed to keep the business running. Find forms, checklists, or whatever you need to streamline your routine processes and make them consistent. The less mental energy you have to spend on this aspect of the business, the more you can spend on…
  • Marketing – you have to go get the business. Most people start a business because the like doing the work. For example, if you’re a woodworker, you start a woodworking business because like woodworking. Here’s the bad news: you better be pretty good at selling woodworking too! As a small business owner a tremendous amount of your time will also be spent in actively searching for new business. You have to fill not only your workday, but tomorrow’s workday too. And the day after that, and the day after that, you get the idea. The more time you can spend here, the more – overall – successful the business can be or can grow to be.

This is really just a “getting started list.” My presentation included another bullet in this list: “about a billion other things.” As you develop your business, it can be overwhelming, complex, frustrating, and a bunch of other adjectives too. There are a lot of moving parts and it’s a stressful time. Get help from experts and remember – you get what you pay for! (beware of the free advice from cousin Earl).

And, when you forget something or make a mistake (and you WILL forget something or make a mistake), it’s OK. Small business is the backbone of the US economy. Millions of people own and run businesses everyday. You’ll get through it, there are people that can help – like lawyers. (sorry one last shameless plug)

This post is getting on the long side, I’ll expand on some of these themes in the coming days. In the meantime, let me know if you think was helpful in the comments and check out our website at www.jslawcenter.com

Next time: Business Structures in NC – what makes sense for you?

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points vs POINTS: What means more when.

April 5, 2012 1 comment

So, in North Carolina, whether you know it or not, we have TWO different sets of point systems.

The first system everyone is familiar with: Driver’ License points. This ins the one where speeding tickets counts as so many points depending on your speed, where it was, etc. Then, if you get too many points in a certain amount of time, you lose your license.

For example, in NC, conviction of speeding over 55 in a 55 mph zone is 3 DL points. Do that 4 times in 3 years, that’s 12 points, and the DMV can revoke your license (max of 12 points allowed per 3 year period).  OK, I get it. Each violation has a point value add up your points if it’s >12 in 3 years, you’ve got an issue. That’s pretty simple.

Oh, BTW – if you’re caught speeding over 55 in 55 mph zone 3 times within 1 year, that’s a suspension too, even though it’s less than 12 points. See! This is why you may want a lawyer to help you even it’s just a traffic ticket.

But then things get more complex. In NC there is such a thing as the North Carolina Safe Driver Incentive Plan. It sets up a point system for INSURANCE separate from the drivers license point system. So, this adds a level of complexity. It says “incentive plan,” but what it really does is selectively raise the rates for insurance distinct from the drivers license scheme. Let’s take an example: If you get a ticket for failing to stop for a siren, that’s 3 DL points (same as speeding over 55), but it’s also 1 insurance (SDIP) point. What that 1 SDIP point means is that the insurance company can/will raise your rate by 25% (ouch!). If you get hit with 3 SDIP points, that’s a 65% increase in your insurance rate.

Let’s go back to a previous example: the >55. If you’re ticketed going 70 mph in a 55 mph zone, that offense is worth 3 DL points AND 2 SDIP points (that’s a potential insurance increase of 45%). If you just pay the ticket and mail it in, congratulations! you’ve just plead guilty/responsible to the offense and those points have been recorded in your DMV file in NC.

An attorney will help you figure out the best solution to your particular problem. Will the District Attorney reduce the charge? Can I use a PJC? You know, I think that’s my new catchphrase: “No, you don’t *need* an attorney. But, you may want one!”

Let me know in the comments if this was helpful. In the meantime, check out our website at www.jslawcenter.com.

Next Topic: LLC or INC, starting a business in NC.

PJC in NC or What is a ‘Prayer for Judgment Continued?”

March 27, 2012 19 comments

Well, it’s about time I did something with this blog. It’s been too dormant too long. I’ll start with an easy topic that I’ve been explaining to several folks recently: the PJC.

You’ll often hear the term “PJC” thrown around when talking with an attorney or someone who’s recently gotten (or thinks they’ve gotten out of) a speeding ticket.

In North Carolina traffic law, PJC stands for Prayer for Judgement Continued. You see, NC has this little tweek in the traffic and infraction laws that let you “pray” for the Court to “continue your judgement” or suspend making a ruling on this particular issue. Essentially, when you ask the Court for a PJC, you’re telling the court “It was a mistake, I promise I’ll never do it again.” In return for that pseudo-promise, the Court doesn’t convict you for whatever that was (let’s say speeding). At least they don’t do it right now.

See, that’s the catch. In North Carolina, you’re only allowed 1 PJC every three years, per household. If, within 3 years, you commit the same offense or something very similar, the Court revokes the PJC and charges you with both offenses at that time.  So, let’s say that you’re caught speeding. You go into court and ask for a PJC. Let’s review some options:

  • Option 1 – you’ve got a clean record, and no one in your house has used a PJC in the last 3 years. Great! The Court grants the PJC, you pay your court costs, you go home and everything is great. Just don’t do it again!
  • Option 2 – you’ve got a clean record, but your sister, who lives with you, used a PJC last year when she ran a stop sign. Too bad. You’re out of luck and on the hook for the speeding ticket, the court costs, the insurance increase and the points on your license. Not a great outcome.
  • Option 3 – you’ve got a couple of speeding tickets in the past few years, but you’ve always paid them by sending in the money and the ticket on time. You’ve never used a PJC, and no one in your house has either. Great! The Court grants the PJC, you pay your court costs, you go home and everything is great. Just don’t do it again!
  • Option 4 – you used your PJC a year ago for running a stop sign. Now you’re up for a speeding ticket. The Court sees you’ve got a PJC for a similar offense, and revokes the PJC. Now you’re up for the speeding ticket fine, the court costs from the speeding ticket, the stop sign ticket fine, the insurance increase for both tickets, and (probably) driver’s license points for both tickets. The worst outcome.

So, you might be saying to yourself, “Well, if the chances are only 50/50 that I could get a good outcome, why would I use a PJC? I should just pay the ticket!” Maybe, maybe not.

See, if you use a PJC and keep clean for three years, at the end the PJC evaporates and your charges with it! That means that while you’re under the PJC any points (insurance or driver’s license points) don’t count against you. When the PJC is over, if you’ve kept clean, it’s like the ticket never happened, the points don’t ever count against you. Now, if you paid the ticket, you’d be paying the fine, the court costs, and get the points assessed against you. Whether you use a PJC or not, you’re likely to get stuck with court costs. If you use the PJC, you generally pay the court costs, but not the fine.  It’s cheaper in the short term and in the long term if you use a PJC and keep your record clean.

If you can foresee a time (for whatever reason) that you may get caught with a worse offense than you’re up for right now, it may make sense to save your PJC for later or for someone else in the house – say… for your 16 year old daughter who can barely afford the insurance as it is. Also, you can’t use a PJC for just any offense. If you’re collared on a DUI, don’t ask for a PJC, they’ll laugh at you. And the Court can decide not grant a PJC in a given situation if they think you don’t deserve it (for example, you were caught speeding but it was while you were passing a highway patrol car in active pursuit). Knowing when, and how, to use a PJC is one of the reasons that you may want a lawyer to help you with the process, even though you could represent yourself.

Let me know in the comments if this was helpful. In the meantime, if you’d like more information or to consult with an attorney, check out our website at www.jslawcenter.com

Next topic: Insurance Points v Drivers License Points in NC

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