rows of silouhettes of diverse peopleEric is really angry. Less than a year ago, he started a business with four guys he knew from friends of friends. They shared the dream of opening a sports bar dedicated to soccer that would serve international beer and bar food.

They found the perfect spot and signed a lease. Eric personally guarateed the lease and put $30,000 down for a deposit. He paid for all the kitchen equipment and hired a contractor to bring the building to code.

His partners (they were all equal according to the one page document he typed up) chipped in for a little while. One brought in some TVs. Another bought some beer and tended bar sometimes. Another pitched in a few thousand dollars to buy some advertising to announce their grand opening.

After a month, the first partner was run out by Eric after taking cash from the till. He never came back.

Then one of the partners got sued for pinching the waitresses. Eric became embroiled because they were not a registered partnership or corporation.

Six months in, Eric ran out of savings before the bar started turning a profit and he got behind on rent. He asked the third partner for money. Instead, the third partner took all the TVs and left.

The waitresses quit because they were paid late. There was no cash for food or beer. And the landlord said that Eric was personally responsible for the five year lease — a debt of $250,000 at least.

After a few more months of barely scraping buy, Eric closes the doors to his dream bar. And the landlord sues.

Although this is a fictional story, I get a call from someone like Eric at least once a month. The details vary, of course. But the story is more or less the same: an erstwhile entrepreneur gets burned by less-than-honest partners or landlords and now has major problems. He’s broke, depressed and ruined.

It’s a really depressing story for an optimistic entrepreneur like me. But sadly, 80% of businesses fail within their first year. And the blow up is usually spectacularly devasting for an owner like Eric.

I am CONVINCED that many businesses would not fail if they had simply started off right. New business owners make a lot of the same mistakes that lead to failure. These include:

  • Not organizing legally, following ALL the steps necessary (e.g. just filing an LLC is not good enough)
  • Failing to keep professional accounting records from Day 1 and getting into tax problems
  • Not having good contracts with business partners and investors (this is one of the biggest mistakes)
  • Getting stuck in a bad commercial lease
  • Not having adequate resources to deal with all the things a new business must do because of lack of planning or education, which destroys cash flow because of constant traps and problems
  • Failing to follow good employment and pay practices from Day 1
  • Underestimating what starting and running a successful business takes

Eric didn’t call me before starting his business. If he had, I would’ve given him my ebook, How to Start A Business… Legally: A Quick and Easy Checklist.

I cannot stress this enough. Getting set up right and under the guidance of someone who has started or help start many businesses will save you thousands of dolalrs and help prevent failure.

Someone like Eric spends $100,000 to open his bar, only to crash and burn in just a few months. Now he’s liable for another $250,000 just with a broken lease…. There are still employee liabilities and taxes to deal with (and that’s if the partners all just disappear). His legal fees with me are going to be a minimum of $50,000. Alternatively, he will bankrupt and lose everything.

In a more perfect universe, Eric would have come to me a year ago. He would have hired me for between $5000 and $18000 and I would’ve helped him set up everything and given him the benefit of my years experience in business start ups.

He would’ve avoided the bad partners, the bad lease, the sexual harassment lawsuit and the waitresses quitting.

He also would have been on track to avoid the plethora of other problems that come from starting a business.

And then his $100,000 investment would not have been such a hopeless risk!

If I practiced law just for money, I would rather have people like Eric pay me $50,000 or more to pick up the broken pieces of their dreams and help them move on.

But I’d rather more small businesses be successful. And the odds of that are much improved when you invest in the foundation when you start up.

Either way, you’ll be calling me.

Alicia Dearn

Alicia Dearn

CEO + Trial Lawyer at Bellatrix PC
Ms. Dearn gives sharp and insightful legal counsel to entrepreneurs and employers so they can advance their businesses fearlessly. She fixes legal problems.
Alicia Dearn