10 Questions That Must Be Answered To Develop Your Business Plan

1. Who is my target audience and how can I most effectively reach them?

  • Your business plan must be doctored to reach this target audience

2. What goals can realistically be reached through this plan?

  • Set realistic goals. You are not fooling anyone by underestimating the potential challenges you might face.

3. Who can I ask for help?

  • Your personal network of family, friends and colleagues are your best resource. Use them to shape your plan.

4. What do I bring to the table?

  • Think about your strengths. Focus on now only how, but also why, you utilize them  to accomplish tasks.

5. How much capital is going to be necessary?

  • People are sensitive about their money, and rightfully so. Make them feel comfortable by explaining why you need the specific amount, how it will be used, and most importantly, how they will get it back.

6. How can I make my target audience more comfortable?

  • Anticipate the questions your audience will ask, and have answers already prepared. This can include anything from why will your product succeed to how much money are you going to make me. Provide estimates of revenues, costs, and any other issues that will calm their angst. But, always keep in mind Question #2, be realistic.

7. How well does my target audience know the industry?

  • You may be an expert in the field, but your potential customers may not be. Think about an easy way to communicate the ins and outs of the market. This can be visual aids or even a strong and succinct verbal pitch hitting all the major points.

8. How much competition is out there?

  • If you compete in a crowded market, ask yourself what would cause your target audience to sway one way or another. Cost? Availability? Necessity? Figure out what the competition is doing in regard to these factors.

9. Why am I better then the next guy?

  • Be able to demonstrate to your target audience that they are making the right choice. You must believe your product is better then the next guys, and have evidence to prove it.

10.  What am I going to do to pull this off?

  • Not only is this a question that your audience will like to know, but it is one you must figure out to put your plan in motion. Lay out the steps your going to take and follow them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using Land Trusts to Buy Real Estate: Protecting Your Property

In the event of a lawsuit in which you are named as a defendant, the most important first step is to protect yourself. As a defendant you may be found liable and may be required to pay damages to the party bringing suit. Sometimes, however, your assets may be found and targeted before you are even aware that you are being sued.

Parties bringing suit will target those individual defendants with deep pockets. Real estate, in particular, becomes a target for the plaintiff seeking damages against you. If you or your business entity’s name appears on the title to a parcel of land, available to anyone as public record, you may find yourself fighting to hold onto your own house. In such an instance, real estate becomes a huge bargaining chip for parties in settlement negotiations. How can you keep this bargaining chip “off the table?” The answer is to set up and use a land trust to take title of real estate.

A land trust is an agreement that allows real property to be held privately. The trust itself owns the parcel of land. The land trust is not filed in public records. Your actual ownership of the land itself remains private to any outside parties, including potential plaintiffs in a lawsuit. By using a land trust, you will effectively hide your ownership from a future plaintiff looking to see just how deep your pockets are.
A land trust has four components; a Settlor, a Trustee, a Beneficiary, and a Trust Corpus. A brief discussion of each will prove helpful to you in setting up your own land trust.

• A Settlor is the person who creates the trust. Usually this will be you, the person or entity that seeks to purchase or hold the parcel of land in question.
• A Trustee is someone you trust (simple enough), someone that will control the parcel of land. A close friend, a spouse, a family member or trusted business partner can serve as your trustee. Try to find someone that you trust who has a different last name from yours. This will further increase your privacy and ultimately bolster your protection under the land trust. When creating the trust, you will be able to define how the Trustee may act by carefully and narrowly defining the terms of the trust.
• A Beneficiary is the person who receives the benefits of the trust. You can establish yourself as the beneficiary to your land trust, but to further bolster your protection and privacy, use a company that you own.
• A Trust Corpus is the actual parcel of land held by the trust.

Land trusts are available to residents of all 50 states, and have been used in each state before. Most states do not have explicit statutes that provide for land trusts. In such an instance, the land trust is simply a contract between the settlor, the beneficiary, and the trustee. As is the case in most ventures, being informed and knowledgeable is critical to protecting you and your assets. Land trusts are simple to set up and offer strong protection to you against parties bringing suit.

Federal Government Acting as an Incubator for Startup Moguls

Stanford University begins the Innovation Corps Program, an entrepreneurial education course funded entirely by the federal government, this September. The $10 million dollar grant for the program comes from the National Science Foundation and will fund five years of operation for the course, offered quarterly to twenty-five teams of three or more individuals.
The NSF is a government agency focused on research and education in all non-medical fields of science and engineering. Nearly 20% of all federally supported research projects taking place at United States colleges and universities are NSF-funded. The NSF provides grants to specific project proposals from the scientific research community. The review process is carried out by a panel of independent scientists and is done blind so as to avoid any potential conflicts of interest; 25% of proposals reviewed by the NSF receive funding.
The NSF’s goal in funding the Innovation Corps Program is to teach the nation’s leading scientists and engineers how to become entrepreneurs. In doing so, the program looks to create businesses that will grow and create jobs. The teams are selected by the NSF, and the program is only available to those who have an active science and engineering grant from the NSF. The class will focus on having teams create a business model. The model, as well as the product or service, will then be tested against the real world. The curriculum (found here) is modeled after a private incubation program called YCombinator. YCombinator, started in 2005, has provided the platform for startups that include Dropbox, Reddit.com, and Loopt. The course will be taught by entrepreneur Steve Blank, the professor of a similar course previously offered at Stanford, as well as, Stanford entrepreneurship professor Tom Byers and venture capitalist Jon Feiber. Blank believes “the process is eminently cloneable” and plans to establish programs and curriculums similar to his at other universities including UC Berkeley and Princeton.

Investing in Foreign Real Estate

Investing in foreign real estate is a good way for investors to diversify, increase exposure to other markets, and generate revenue. This is especially true for foreigners who invest in American real estate. The problem, however, is that many of these investors are unfamiliar with American laws, and neglect to file the subsequent paperwork. Therefore, individuals must be aware of the laws and regulations surrounding real estate matters and investors must familiarize themselves with tax laws and other obligations after purchasing property, especially in instances where they are looking to rent the property to others.
An article by RJ Palano entitled, “Foreign Investors in U.S. Real Estate- Are You in Compliance with the IRS?” offers several ways to maximize the return on investment properties rented out to third parties. His suggestions are based on minimizing the financial tax burden on investors, but there are other issues that one needs to be aware of besides tax law.
Renting out property in a foreign country is dangerous if the investor has not taken the necessary steps to become educated about the laws, or fails to be mindful of the property once the rental deal has been completed. Issues resulting from property or contractual concerns could also arise. For example, issues as to who should run or maintain the property, how rent should be paid, and what forum or jurisdiction should be used for judgment if there is a dispute between the two parties are all concerns that must be addressed. Thus, even though investing in American real estate might generate revenue, the process is difficult and requires constant oversight.
Investors want to generate the maximum amount of revenue and avoid any liability for tax purposes. The problems, however, can be even more accentuated when the investor owns multiple properties or owns a single property that is worth a large amount of money. In these cases where the stakes are higher, the amount of paperwork increases and there is even more potential for issues to arise, especially when foreigners decide to rent their property to others in order to have someone else maintain and operate their investment. Consequently, foreigners must ensure they are aware of the legal concerns associated with American real estate and foreign investors should be wary to give up all control of their property.

How to Choose a Good Property Manager

Property managers are responsible for a lot of crucial aspects of real estate management including, managing homes, apartments, office buildings, retail buildings, and mobile home parks. Therefore, hiring a property manager is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Tasks that property managers are responsible for include (but are not limited to): collecting rent, taking calls from clients, arranging for repairs, and inspecting the property. Not surprisingly, property managers do not come cheap. Most charge between 5% – 20% of the gross rent – some even charge set-up fees for advertising and visits to the property.

Choosing the wrong property manger could cost you a lot of money. For example, a property manager may not take good care of the property, which could result in lower rent and deferred maintenance. In opposite, the property manager could reduce profits by spending too much on maintenance and repairs. Furthermore, property managers could end up approving tenants who cannot afford to pay or do not make timely payments, resulting in additional unforeseen problems.
So, how do you choose the right property manager? First, it is important to ask the potential candidate a lot of general questions, such as:

• How do you handle property maintenance and repairs?
• What is your method for choosing tenants?
• How do you collect rents and fees? If tenants do not pay, what is your course of action?
• How do you advertise vacancies?
• Will I get monthly reports of the services you perform?
• What is included in these monthly reports?

Next, find out how long a potential property manager has been managing properties. Experience is the most important quality in a potential property manager because experience gives the property manager the ability to better deal with both expected and unexpected problems. The more hands on experience the candidate has, the more likely they are to appropriately manage your property. You want someone that has been through the trials and tribulations of being a property manager and who has learned valuable mistakes – at their expense. An experienced property manager will effectively serve you, without costing you money.

Different types of real estate pose different issues. Thus, make sure your property manager has extensive knowledge with your specific type of property. Also, make sure the manager has experience managing properties in your area. The more hands on experience a property manager has managing real estate in your location, the more likely the property manager is going to be able to successfully manage and maintain your investment. “Real world” experience cannot be substituted with theory or high levels of confidence. Therefore, the only way to ensure you hire a great property manager is to hire one with experience in managing properties.

Trademark Practice Tips

The world has drastically changed with the birth of the Internet, making almost everyone connected with the click of a mouse. For companies, this means that branching out into foreign countries is more accessible than ever before. Small, medium, and large sized corporations now find themselves able to market their businesses across a wide realm of places in order to establish a wide clientele base. The desire to branch out into more places is apparent in many companies that have now established themselves abroad, especially in places that many deemed extremely difficult or impossible to enter not too long ago.

This inter-connectivity, however, has many problems. For example, if there is a dispute, what country’s law should apply? Or, what are the tax consequences of venturing into a foreign country? Furthermore, there may be local ordinances or laws that forbid or severely limit certain types of foreign venturing.

One of the more important concerns centers on intellectual property rights. IP rights fluctuate from one country to the next, and because everything is easily accessible on the Internet, questions concerning how to protect one’s IP rights in a foreign country, and whether there are any safeguards to ensure other organizations do not file IP claims before the company successfully branches out are abound. Thus, all companies need to be aware of trademark and copyright considerations before branching out into foreign countries.

One country where many trademark and copyright problems have been coming into play is China. A Corporate Counsel article entitled, “Trademark Practice Tips in China”, Mr. Xiang Go of Peksung Intellectual Property offers several suggestions for the foreign enterpriser who desires to have trademark rights protected in China. The article suggests filing as early as possible, filing broadly but properly, filing in other classes as a precautionary measure, choosing a proper mark, using it consistently, keeping track of evidence relating to the mark, timely filing, and periodically monitoring possible infringing marks. But, these ideas are not just unique to China, as they apply to any company wishing to venture into another country. Even though the article is tailored to Chinese IP laws, corporations must be aware of what they can and cannot do before establishing themselves abroad.

The underlying theme of the article that goes unmentioned is that each company must do its due diligence as early as possible to determine first what the IP laws of the foreign country are, and then determine whether the company can file for protection. Without proper research, corporations are left blind and could end up in trouble with the local authorities. Although the author’s recommendations are important, indeed even necessary, they do not matter unless the first step of researching the relevant laws is undertaken. Getting acquainted with the local laws should be done as soon as the company desires to go abroad. This step seems obvious, but it must be emphasized that a proper foreign establishment must research and conform to all relevant IP laws before utilizing trademark protection ideas, like the ones mentioned above.

In the modern age, the first question is not how to protect one’s IP in a foreign country; but rather, can the company even file for foreign intellectual property rights? Thus, organizations must familiarize themselves with local laws, a necessity that cannot be overlooked. After doing so, companies can then tailor the aforementioned strategies tailored toward each specific country.

The So-Called “Pro-Business” Court

A Corporate Counsel article titled, “Is the Pro-Business Court a Bum Rap?” author Tony Mauro explains how tightening up pleading standards to discourage meritless suits against corporations has led to the current Supreme Court garnering a “pro-business” reputation. The decisions in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal confirmed such suspicion. However, a pair of recent court decisions ruling against businesses, Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. and Matrixx Initiatives v. Siracusano, is beginning to have individuals questioning whether the current Supreme Court is really “pro-business” after all.

In Kasten, the Supreme Court furthered the protection afforded to employees by deciding the Fair Labor Standards Act applied to both oral and written complaints. Moreover, in Matrixx, the Roberts Court unanimously rejected Matrixx’s claim that the class action plaintiffs had made insufficient pleadings to move the case forward. Both cases were decided against corporations. The string of decisions that followed, including a workplace discrimination, seat belt safety, and corporate privacy claim, echoed this same anti-corporate sentiment. Each case was decided in contradiction to perceived business interests, leaving observers to question why the Court is suddenly reversing its “pro business” stance.

Richard Samp, chief counsel of the Washington Legal Foundation, explains “perhaps it is because the Roberts Court is not quite as pro-business as critics make it out to be.” Samp believes statutory interpretation may be to blame for the Court’s “pro-business” reputation. Many of the statutes the Supreme Court is asked to decipher are specifically written to protect employees and Samp believes the Justices are doing no more than interpreting what is in front of them. As it turns out, observers may have been too quick to label the Roberts Court pro-business after all. From Samp’s account only four out of eleven business-related decisions the Court has issued this term have favored pro-business.

But, as the Huffington Post points out, business interests won slightly more often at the court than they lost in the past year, and high-profile decisions that have been decided favorably toward the business, such as Citizens United, or more recently, Wal-Mart v. Dukes have continued to fuel the accusations that the present Supreme Court continues to favor free enterprise over consumers, employees and investors. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy echoed this sentiment on Tuesday, June 28th when he opened a committee hearing by criticizing what he called “the most business friendly Supreme Court in the last 75 years.” Meanwhile, Senate Democrats continue to vehemently assert the Supreme Court’s conservative majority is wrongly favoring business interests and activists and media outlets alike continue to cling to their accusations that the current Court favors a free market.

However, in a country where the judiciary is supposed to be the neutral decision maker, it is hard to believe the Supreme Court is “pro” anything. After all, the legislature makes the law, while the Supreme Court merely interprets it. Nonetheless, the debate about whether or not the Robert’s Court is actually “pro-business” is destined to carry forward and the present Court will continue to be scrutinized from both sides of the fence as it continues to hand down controversial “business” decisions.

A Minority Law Student’s View

Every culture has different stigmas attached to it. Some are true, while others are stereotypical based off of people’s biases, observations, or historical tendencies. In today’s inter-connected world, however, people from varied cultures interact at a high rate. Often, people are relegated to these categories, or feel as if they must conform to the culture they grew up in. For example, growing up in a half-Asian household made me feel compelled from a young age to never settle and to always work and strive to be the best – nothing really mattered other than work, family, and religion. The challenge, that will hopefully lead to success in the legal market, for me and for other law students who have grown up with a similar cultural imprint, is to challenge the status quo and branch outside of one’s comfort zone. Success is not all in the books, but rather success also includes the personal network and relationships you develop.

This realization didn’t happen overnight for me, and it will take time to implement.. But, it is clear that developing relationships with people, while still churning out a good work product, is one of the secrets to success in the legal market. As a child, I was taught to put my head down, to not ask any questions, and to let my work do the talking.. Now, I can see that it is also important to talk with people in order to show them what and who I am. This sentiment is true not just in the workplace, but in other facets of life as well.

In a Corporate Counsel article entitled, “The Social Network”, the David Hechler tells the story of a successful Asian-American general counsel who was almost fired from his first job as an in-house lawyer. As a young attorney, the Asian-American man had written a document for the CEO to sign, but the CEO refused and complained to the GC of the company at the time. Fortunately, the young attorney had sparked a friendship with a doctor he met in the company cafeteria. As it turned out, the young attorney’s lunch partner happened to be the CEO’s personal doctor who vouched for the young attorney, helping him keep his job. If the young attorney had not created a relationship with the doctor, the lawyer would not only have lost his job, he would not have risen to be the GC of Toll Brothers, Inc.

It is never too early or too late to break out and start your personal network of contacts. Most people are willing to help out a friend or colleague that they know and trust, versus someone who they only know from a piece of paper. For Asian Americans like me, the trick is being able to conquer cultural stereotypes and the perceptions associated with them. Even though I grew up in a relatively strict household, my father was Danish and more liberal.. Thus, even though I was expected to get straight A’s and play the piano, a poor grade or learning how to play the drums was not punished, but accepted. I could tell my mother was not happy, but my father and his Danish culture softened the expectations and allowed me to pursue what I was interested in and these interests allowed me to develop friendships with people. I have tried to use my experiences from both cultures in establishing relationships in my career. Hopefully the lessons that I have learned and the observations I have made will pay off in the long run.

Adapt & Survive

In a Corporate Counsel article titled Adversity Breed Character, author Shannon Green describes how Wellpoint, Inc., the nation’s largest health benefits company ranked by enrollment, was able to overcome the negativity bestowed upon it by America’s health care crisis. When Wellpoint’s California subsidiary proposed a rate increase by up to 39%, policyholders and government officials alike took notice. The proposal, publicly criticized by President Obama, ultimately led to the federal health care reform law. But, in the wake of the criticism, Wellpoint’s legal department was able to unite.

Interpreting and complying with the new regulations of Affordable Care Act (ACA) was not an easy task. Wellpoint’s legal team spent hours upon hours analyzing and implementing the new provisions. John Cannon, current General Counsel of Wellpoint attributes the legal team’s success to a number of factors. He acknowledges Wellpoint strives to recruit and retain the best talent, but Cannon also contributes the relationship of the lawyers and the organizational changes to the team’s success.

Wellpoint is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. Wellpoint’s legal team, however, is dispersed throughout the country. The dissemination of lawyers makes valid business sense, given the largely state regulated health insurance industry, but Cannon, who came to Wellpoint from the Cigna-Corporation, initially found the scattered legal department difficult to embrace.
Cannon had formerly worked with a centralized legal department where he was able to develop close relationships with fellow colleagues. The dissemination of Wellpoint’s legal department, however, made this feat troublesome. Thankfully, Cannon was able to utilize video conferencing equipment to establish interactive quarterly “town hall” meetings with the entire department which allowed him to develop a rapport with the members of his department.

Given Cannon’s desire to be submersed among the corporation’s employees, it is not surprising that he also decided to flatten the corporation’s hierarchy, a move which allowed him to remain abreast of the day to day decisions affecting the company. But “flattening” the organization was not the only transition Cannon made. He also decided to integrate in-house counsel into the day to day business operations of the company so that Wellpoint’s attorneys would be viewed as an integral part of the business operations who just so happen to be able to share their legal expertise.

It appears Cannon’s moves have paid off. Wellpoint’s legal team has not only withstood the heat, but also has been able to successfully adapt to the ongoing changes facing the healthcare industry, persevering through one of the most trying times in the history of the industry. The lesson – adapt and survive. Any company is destined to face challenges, but it is how a company reacts to those challenges that will determine the course of the company’s future. In Wellpoint’s case, deciding to unite and become more integrated was pivotal to the company’s triumph. Wellpoint also discovered that an inclusive work environment was pivotal to fostering success within the legal department. Although Wellpoint’s modifications are not a blanket prescription for all businesses, a company cannot remain stagnant through trying times. In order to persevere, an organization must learn to adjust to the ever changing landscape. If a company is successfully able to do so, the lesson of “adapt and survive” will soon become “adapt and strive”.

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