Is the Threat of a Lawsuit a Real Fear?

As a small business owner, you may be one of the 48% concerned about frivolous or unfair lawsuits.  According to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, actual lawsuits and the fear of lawsuits cost U.S. small businesses $98 million in 2005.  That figure may seem large because it includes money spent on damage awards, settlements, legal costs, liability insurance premiums, and costs incurred by insurance companies on behalf of policyholders.  Is the fear of lawsuits a real fear?  Unfortunately, yes.  Anybody can sue anybody over anything at any time.  In reality, 46% of small business owners have been threatened with a lawsuit, 34% have been sued in the past 10 years, and 62% have made business decisions to avoid lawsuits.  Indeed, small businesses bear 69% of the total cost of the tort system to all U.S. businesses.

What is the Best Course of Action?

What’s a small business owner to do?  For starters, realize that the best defense is a great offense.  While most small business owners fear the law, it is much wiser to use the law as a protective shield.  There are many business and legal components that contribute to creating the strongest shield possible – business entities (the type of structure that governs your business), insurance, and intellectual property (copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secrets) to name a few.

As a former full-time practicing attorney and now a small business owner, I have been on both sides of the fence when it comes to the legal issues a business owner may face.  It is imperative that organizers understand the basics of the legal side of running an organizing business, and how to use the law as a shield to protect yourself and your business.

Creating a Shield Through Business Structure

The first item an organizing business owner should consider is the structure of the business.  There are 4 basic types of business entities: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and limited liability company.  A common misconception of small business owners is that the business entity itself always creates a legal shield.  In some instances (a corporation, or limited liability company, for example), this is generally true.  However, if you are a sole proprietor (and, if so, you are not alone, as 78% of all small businesses in the U.S. are sole proprietorships), then you essentially have no shield.  As a sole proprietor, you are personally liable for all business debts and other obligations.  Fortunately, the law is not the only means to create a shield to protect your business.  If the business entity itself does not provide a shield, then you can create one by acquiring appropriate and adequate insurance coverage.  Thus, a sole proprietorship that is adequately protected by insurance may have an effective shield.

In the case of partnerships, another misconception is that the partnership is a distinct legal entity that provides a shield.  A partnership is essentially a sole proprietorship run by two or more individuals.  Thus, the structure itself provides no shield.  Again, insurance can be used to fill in the gap, and/or a different business entity can be chosen.  For example, did you know that you can create a corporation and the same two people that would have created a partnership will now be shareholders?  What about a limited liability company with more than one member?  There are many ways for two or more individuals to own a business together.  Carefully consider which makes the most sense, not only from an operations and decision-making standpoint, but to garner the most legal protection for the owners involved.

Even with corporations and limited liability companies, there are limits to the force of the shield.  Simply creating a business entity is not enough.  The business must be operated as a distinct legal entity, including refraining from co-mingling of personal and business funds, keeping personal guarantees on behalf of the company to a minimum, maintaining corporate/business records, and paying business-related taxes.  If the business entity is a sham or the owner does not follow the rules in terms of keeping the business shield up, the legal doctrine of “piercing the corporate veil” may be applied by a court if the business is sued.  Piercing the corporate veil allows a litigant to pierce the business structure and reach the owner personally.  Granted, piercing the corporate veil is only applied in very limited situations, but it should be used as a reminder to keep that shield up at all times when it comes to operating your organizing business as a distinct legal entity.

Creating a Shield Through a Written Client Agreement

As an organizer, when you agree to perform services for a client, and the client agrees to pay you for such services, you and your client have entered into a legal contract.  The terms of the contract, however, are difficult to recall and prove unless in writing.  A written contract is pivotal as it puts clients on notice of business policies and terms, sets a professional tone, promotes consistency of policies, and is legally enforceable in court (the decision whether to sue a client to enforce a contract is, of course, a business decision, as well as a legal one, and should be carefully considered).  The contract, thus, helps to prevent misunderstandings and clearly defines the expectations of the parties.

Some organizers choose not to use contracts for fear that a written agreement may be too formal or legal in nature and, thus, may scare a client away.  Again, this is a business decision that should be given consideration, and you should determine if this is a real or imagined fear by communicating with your clients to test the waters.  You can also use a “letter agreement,” which may be less intimidating for residential clients.  In the corporate organizing arena, a written contract is generally expected.  Another disadvantage of using a written contract is the cost of creating and advising if you use an attorney.  While there are standardized contract forms available online and in books, be careful not to accept such standardized forms carte blanche.  I often see small business owners fail to adapt contracts appropriately, which causes embarrassing typos, inappropriate clauses, and general confusion.  Not only does this look unprofessional, but in extreme cases it can also result in unenforceability of the contract in court.  Therefore, it is a good idea to have a business lawyer review the agreement to make sure it adequately protects you, contains the relevant terms, and fulfills the goals you want to accomplish.  It is an expense worth paying for to secure adequate protection in the long term.

A word of caution: stay away from “legalese.”  Use plain English so that the agreement is easy to understand and helps, rather than hinders, the understanding between you and your clients.  If you do use a client agreement, here is a list of sample clauses you should consider including:

  • Definition of the parties (define your status as an independent contractor if the contract is for corporate organizing);
  • Services to be performed;
  • Code of ethics;
  • Confidentiality;
  • Pricing and payment policies (pricing structure, retainer guidelines, travel time or expense, shopping charges, cancellation policy, when payment is due, fee for bounced check, credit card acceptance, payment of expenses, etc.);
  • Provision of materials, equipment, and office space;
  • Assurance of insurance coverage;
  • State law governance;
  • Permission to take and use photos;
  • Term of agreement/termination of relationship.

Now, go forth with shields raised!

The information provided in this article is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered.  For a comprehensive overview of legal issues involved in running an organizing business, refer to the CD “Navigating the Legal Landmines of an Organizing Business”  from the 2008 NAPO Conference in Reno, NV. 

Contact Lisa Montanaro by visiting www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com, by email at , or by phone at
(845) 988-0183.

This article originally appeared in NAPO News, Volume 23, Number 4, September 2008
Copyright © 2008 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2008. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on
after others have let go.”
~ William Feather

When the economy is slow, many business owners tend to pull back. Some even throw in the towel. But what if you change your mindset, and look at this recession as an opportunity to “reinvest” in your business? If you have funds set aside for slow periods, good for you. If not, then all you have on your side now is time. If business really is slow, chances are you aren’t working as much. This may be the perfect time to do some of the business-building activities that you never have the time to do when you are too busy working in the business. This may also be a golden opportunity for professional development, reflection, and brainstorming.

If time is on your side, here are some ways to reinvest in your business during the downturn in the economy. They will stimulate and rejuvenate your business. When the economy picks up again, and you get hit with a ton of new business, you will be in a better place than before.
  1. Incorporate Your Business – If you have toyed with the idea of incorporating or becoming an LLC, now is a great time to do so. You will be able to research which business entity makes the most sense, work with a business coach or attorney, and file the necessary paperwork. Come boom time, you will have all of your ducks in order.

  2. Hire an Overqualified Employee or Try Out an Independent Contractor – If you have been grappling with the idea of hiring an employee or independent contractor for a while, now is an ideal time. Due to the many layoffs, there is a large pool of qualified professionals just waiting for a career opportunity to come their way. Take the time to interview properly and try someone out before you get so busy again that it becomes a distant and fleeting thought.

  3. Familiarize Yourself with Tax Deductions – You just filed your taxes, but still never took the time to really learn which tax deductions can be taken. Even if you have an accountant, a basic understanding of what deductions you can take will help you track expenses better throughout the year. Take the time to learn how to maximize business deductions and keep more money in your pocket when business starts booming again.

  4. Get Testimonials From Clients – We all know how powerful testimonials can be, but when many business owners get busy, they forget to ask. Do it now, while you have the time. Then put those testimonials to good use on your website and in business marketing materials.

  5. Get Out and Network – When business owners are crazy busy with work, they often do not make the time to network and feed the funnel. This is a great time to attend live networking events with chambers of commerce, business networking groups, and the like. Be visible, so when the money starts flowing again, your business will be top of mind.

  6. Develop a New Product, Program, or Service – If you have been itching to add on a new product, program, or service, develop and test it now. When business picks up again, your new offering will be in place and ready to go.

  7. Sharpen Your Skills – We all know how important professional development is to success, but many entrepreneurs short change their professional development when business is booming. If time is abundant, attend a conference, or take a teleclass or webinar. There is a plethora of offerings available in every price range nowadays. This may be the time to get certified in your area of expertise, take continuing education courses, or just explore some educational options that would be beneficial to you and your business.

  8. Audit Your Business – Do you have adequate insurance in place? Is your client contract in need of some revamping? Are there any policies or procedures that need tweaking? This is a great time to examine your business to see if there are any areas that need improving and get to work on them.

  9. Update Your Marketing Materials – Have you been eager to create a new logo, redesign your website, or get new professional photographs taken? The time for this could not be better. Due to the recession, there are deals to be had. Approach professionals that can assist you with these projects. You may be pleasantly surprised at the rates you can secure.

  10. Keep Advertising – The first thing most business owners do when the economy takes a nosedive is to stop advertising. Don’t jump on the bandwagon. Why? Because if all the other business owners are pulling ads, you will be the last one standing. If a prospect is looking for what you have to offer, they will find you. There will be less competition and clutter for a prospect to sift through. If you have refrained from advertising in the past due to the expense, check again. You may very well be able to afford it now.

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

Deciding Whether to Go Legal

As a former full-time practicing attorney and now a small business owner, I have been on both sides of the fence when it comes to the legal issues a business owner may face. This provides me with the distinct advantage of knowing when to call in an attorney for assistance, as opposed to using another professional, such as an accountant, financial planner, insurance agent, or business coach — or perhaps handling the matter myself. In addition, my background helps me to select an attorney that is the best fit for the business matter at hand. Many entrepreneurs have had limited experience deciding whether a matter needs legal attention and, if so, what type of attorney to retain, how to find the best match, and how to maximize the attorney-client relationship. As an entrepreneur, it is imperative that you understand when to “go legal,” and if you do, how to find and work with an attorney that is the best fit for your issue.

If you are confused about whether your matter needs legal attention or whether you can handle it yourself, try researching the matter on the American Bar Association’s Self-Help online center at www.abanet.org. Go to Public Resources, then Legal Help, and then Self-Help. The section is organized by state and is a user-friendly resource for determining whether a matter is complex and needs a legal expert, or whether it is something you can handle yourself.

In addition, a good business coach, especially one with a legal background, is a great sounding board to assist you in determining whether an issue is truly legal in nature, and if so, which type of attorney to retain. You would be surprised how many issues appear legal in nature, but turn out to be business decisions instead. So don’t be hasty when deciding whether to go legal!

Not All Attorneys Are Created Equal

So, assuming you have decided to “go legal” and retain an attorney, which one are you going to call? If you broke your arm, would you make an appointment with an allergist? If you had an ear infection, would you seek the advice of a surgeon? Of course not! Yet, everyday, many entrepreneurs contact and use attorneys to handle matters for their businesses that are completely outside the realm of what that attorney specializes in. Yes, attorneys specialize.

First, there is the main issue of whether your matter is civil or criminal in nature. Generally (and, thankfully!), the average legal matter an entrepreneur will face is a civil matter. Thus, you will be dealing with a civil attorney (hopefully in more ways than one). However, civil law is a huge umbrella. Typical small business matters may include incorporation, intellectual property (trademark, copyright, and patent), contract drafting and enforcement, employment or labor law issues, etc. Thus, look for an attorney that specializes in the area you need help with. Don’t be tempted to use your cousin, who is a residential real estate attorney, to assist you with a complex trademark issue. While this may be tempting in terms of saving money, it may (and often does) cost you more money in the long run if the matter is not handled properly. So match the attorney to the problem, and you are on the right track.

If you are unsure what type of legal issue you are even facing, speak up! Talk to a friend or business colleague that is an attorney, and ask his or her advice on the type of issue you are dealing with. You can also call the local bar association, or do some basic internet research to find out the area of law you are dealing with There are several sites that provide basic legal information for non-attorneys, such as www.nolo.com, www.findlaw.com,  and www.legalzoom.com. This background research will arm you with enough terminology and basic knowledge to make the best match with an attorney whose legal practice covers the area of your business issue.

Finding an Attorney

So, now that you know the area of law, how do you find a good lawyer that practices in that area? The same way you find any other professional to assist you with your business. Referrals from friends, family and colleagues are a fantastic way to find a reputable attorney. You can also ask your local chamber of commerce, local law school, and local and state bar associations. Still can’t find an attorney that is a great match? Try Martindale-Hubbell’s Lawyer Locator online at www.martindale.com.

Money Matters

If you’ve never worked with an attorney before, here are some basics of the legal profession with regard to money matters. Most attorneys charge by the hour, so ask what the hourly rate is, and an estimate of how many hours the matter may take. If the matter is small, or a typical one that the attorney handles often, there may be a flat fee for the entire transaction instead of an hourly rate. Be prepared to pay a fee for the initial consultation, which is standard, but not a hard and fast rule. In some cases, the attorney may require a retainer, which is money that you provide upfront that the attorney works off of as the matter progresses.

One thing to consider is that law firms are typically broken down into partners and associates. Partners are essentially co-owners of the firm, while associates are employees, albeit high level professional ones. Who demands the highest rates? Usually, the partners. Thus, ask yourself if you truly need a partner, or can an experienced associate handle the matter. Do you need the best litigator in the firm? Often times, the best litigator may be an associate that is still active in the courtroom, as opposed to a partner that may be more of a rainmaker bringing in business for the firm.

In some cases, for very small matters or legal research, even a law clerk or paralegal may do. Ask who is the best match, and don’t assume it is always the person whose last name is on the door.

Maximizing the Attorney-Client Relationship

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of accurate, concrete, and timely record keeping and documentation when preparing to work with an attorney, and during the relationship. An attorney will need to go on a fact-finding mission in order to best represent you and your business. Help your attorney do his or her job better by coming to the table with all of your ducks in a row. Be prompt in providing requested information, as often legal timelines are at play. Honesty is also vital when working with an attorney. The best attorney-client relationships are built on mutual trust and, thus, withholding information can make or break your case. An attorney needs all of the facts in order to make tough decisions with you about the best course of action for your business matter.

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

As summer is “off-peak” for many businesses, it couldn’t be a better time to engage in some business building activities. If business is slow, don’t fret! Use this time wisely to gear up for the fall rush. Change your mindset and look at the slow summer time as an opportunity to reinvest in your business. If you have funds set aside for slow periods, good for you. If not, then all you have on your side now is time. This may be the perfect time to do some of the business-building activities that you never have the time to do when you are too busy working in the business. This may also be a golden opportunity for professional development, reflection, and brainstorming.

If time is on your side this summer, here are some ways to reinvest in your business. They will stimulate and rejuvenate your business. Come fall, you will be ready to prosper and succeed with a new and improved business.

  1. Audit Your Business – Do you have adequate insurance in place? Is your client contract in need of some revamping? Are there any policies or procedures that need tweaking? This is a great time to examine your business to see if there are any areas that need improving and get to work on them.
  2. Get Out and Network – When business owners are crazy busy with work, they often do not make the time to network and feed the funnel. Summer is a great time to attend live networking events with chambers of commerce, business networking groups, and the like. Be visible, so when the money starts flowing again, your business will be top of mind.
  3. Sharpen Your Skills – We all know how important professional development is to success, but many entrepreneurs short change their professional development when business is booming. If time is abundant, attend a conference, or take a teleclass or webinar. There is a plethora of offerings available in every price range nowadays. This may be the time to get certified in your area of expertise, take continuing education courses, or just explore some educational options that would be beneficial to you and your business.
  4. Develop a New Product, Program, or Service – If you have been itching to add on a new product, program, or service, develop and test it now. When business picks up again, your new offering will be in place and ready to go.
  5. Keep Advertising – The first thing most business owners do when cash flow takes a nosedive is to stop advertising. Don’t jump on the bandwagon. Why? Because if all the other business owners are pulling ads, you will be the last one standing. If a prospect is looking for what you have to offer, they will find you. There will be less competition and clutter for a prospect to sift through.
  6. Get Testimonials From Clients – We all know how powerful testimonials can be, but when many business owners get busy, they forget to ask. Do it now, while you have the time. Then put those testimonials to good use on your website and in business marketing materials.
  7. Incorporate Your Business – If you have toyed with the idea of incorporating or becoming an LLC, now is a great time to do so. You will be able to research which business entity makes the most sense, work with a business coach or attorney, and file the necessary paperwork. Come fall, you will have all of your ducks in order.
  8. Update Your Marketing Materials – Have you been eager to create a new logo, redesign your website, or get new professional photographs taken? The time for this could not be better. Approach professionals that can assist you with these projects. You may be pleasantly surprised at the rates you can secure.
  9. Hire an Employee or Try Out an Independent Contractor – If you have been grappling with the idea of hiring an employee or independent contractor for a while, now is an ideal time. Take the time to interview properly and try someone out before you get so busy again that it becomes a distant and fleeting thought.
  10. Familiarize Yourself with Tax Deductions – Perhaps you never took the time to really learn which tax deductions can be taken. Even if you have an accountant, a basic understanding of what deductions you can take will help you track expenses better throughout the year. Take the time to learn how to maximize business deductions and keep more money in your pocket when business starts booming again.

Copyright © 2011 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2011. Lisa Montanaro, “The Solutions Expert,” is Principal of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, a professional services firm created in 2002 that offers professional organizing, business and life coaching, and motivational speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for the general public, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for professional organizers and entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com.  Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through LMOS, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how LMOS can improve your home or work environment, or help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

Well, summer is finally here, and for many people, that means vacation time!  Whether you plan to drive, fly, or travel by other means (a cruise, perhaps?), planning ahead will help your travel experience go off without a hitch.

I not only love to travel, I love to plan to travel. I can spend hours researching locales and lodging choices, preparing itineraries, packing, etc. Therefore, it seems only fitting to share some of my well-honed travel planning tips so that you can benefit from my travel planning addiction, and enjoy an organized travel experience. The 11 tips that follow may be common sense, but are not always commonly applied.

  • Create a Personalized Packing List – Create a packing list on your computer so that you can revise it constantly as you travel and realize what you forgot and would have liked with you, and what you could have left behind. My packing list is organized into the following major categories: Essentials, For Business, For the Beach, For Overseas Travel, For Active Vacations. It is then further broken down into subcategories that are specific enough to easily grab and check off each item without too much forethought (and certainly without that nagging feeling of forgetting something). My list has been customized over years of traveling. Make your list work for you and your family by personalizing it to match your needs.
  • Freshen Up Your Suitcases – Air out your bags before you pack. There is nothing worse than putting clean clothes in a stale smelling bag. (Hint: A scented dryer sheet or lavender sachet can work wonders.)
  • Check Luggage Guidelines – Go online and check your airline’s luggage guidelines to ensure that your carry on will fit, and that you will not be charged extra if you exceed the weight restriction.
  • Pre-Pack and Weigh – Print out your packing list in advance, and start laying out items so that you can get a visual snapshot of what you are bringing. It is wise to pre-pack in advance, especially with today’s strict airline luggage guidelines. I even recommend putting the items in the suitcase and weighing it. Better to know if you will make the cut at home when you can still remove things than to suffer an unexpected luggage fee at the airport.
  • Pack Extra Storage Bags – Pack a few storage bags for small items, like shoes, etc. Make sure that one is waterproof in case you need to pack wet bathing suits on the trip back home.
  • Get Your Gadgets in Order – Empty memory cards, and charge your phone and camera before you leave home. Consolidate power cords, chargers and extra batteries in your carry-on.
  • Refill Prescriptions – Refill prescription medications in advance, and pack in your carry-on in their original packaging in order to pass muster with the TSA. This also provides you with an easy way to remember the exact specifications in the rare event that the medication gets destroyed (melts in the sun, gets wet, etc.) or you are delayed longer than expected, and need to arrange a refill while still away from home.
  • Copy Important Documents – Carry duplicates of your passport and visa (if traveling outside of the country), travel itinerary, and any other vital documents that you need for safe travel, and keep them in a different location than the originals while traveling. Consider also emailing electronic copies to yourself or storing at a secure online site.
  • Give Your Wallet a Diet – Pare down the contents of your wallet to only what you need during travel. Only bring essential documents, such as driver’s license, medical insurance card (check to see if you have coverage if going outside of the country), passport, and credit cards.
  • Alert Credit Card Companies – Contact your bank and credit cards companies before you depart and inform them that you will be traveling, so that they will not be alarmed by out-of-town charges and put a security hold on your account.
  • Inventory the Contents of Your Suitcase – Take photos of your clothes, shoes, and jewelry, which will serve as documentation if your luggage gets lost or stolen. Download the shots onto your home computer or upload them to an online site just in case. It may seem like overkill (don’t all insurance and risk management measures seem so unless you need them?), but it will save you a lot of stress and money if your luggage gets lost or stolen, as well as peace of mind while traveling.

Now, you are prepared to travel. You can relax knowing that the essentials are in order. Enjoy, explore, and make great summer vacation memories. Bon voyage!

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A large percentage of my clients face paper clutter challenges. Despite visions of a paperless society when the computer was invented, we are still inundated with paper at home and at work.

One of the biggest culprits is “junk mail” — those credit card solicitations, catalogs, circulars, and the like that you don’t want or need, but that still keep coming. Experts estimate that the average person receives 41 pounds of junk mail per year.

How to stop the madness? Here are some great resources for helping you whittle down the amount of junk mail that comes into your home or office in the first place.

  • OptOutPrescreen.com is the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website to accept and process requests from consumers to opt-in or opt-out of firm offers of credit or insurance.
  • Catalog Choice is a free service that allows you to decide what gets in your mailbox. Use it to reduce your mailbox clutter, while helping save natural resources.
  • DMAChoice.org is an online tool developed by the Direct Marketing Association to help you manage your mail. This site is part of a larger program designed to respond to consumers’ concerns over the amount of mail they receive, and it is the evolution of the DMA’s Mail Preference Service created in 1971.  For the purposes of this site, direct mail is divided into four categories: Credit Offers, Catalogs, Magazine Offers and Other Mail Offers. You can request to start or stop receiving mail from individual companies within each category—or from an entire category at once.
  • YellowPagesGoesGreen.org was started because we are continually bombarded with yellow and white pages directories at both home and office. The site is not intended to stop the use of such directories, but to eliminate the unsolicited delivery of the books. The thinking is, if you want a book, you can call and order one.
  • 41Pounds.org is a service that helps you stop 80-95% of unwanted catalogs and junk mail. Yes, it is a paid service, but the fee is reasonable and they do all of the work of contacting the mailing companies for you. 41 Pounds donates over half of its profits to environmental groups, local schools, and youth groups.
  • Mail Stopper is another paid service that does all of the work for you. Mail Stopper plants 5 trees on behalf of each member to further fight the environmental impact of all of the wasted paper produced by junk mail.

Take the time to contact any of the above resources to help you stop junk mail from entering your home or office. The result will be less paper to process, which means less clutter and more time for you!

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

By Guest Blogger, Jared Heath

Everyone has pencil drawers and filing systems that we fondly refer to as “organized chaos.” But sometimes you have more to organize than five years of tax returns and insurance policies. If you’re anything like me, you love your motorcycle, the entertainment center you built for your wife, and that hideous couch-and-chair combo you bought before you got married. And if you’re still like me, you need to find a place to put all of it before your wife auctions it off on Craig’s List.

Fellas, I know you love your garage, but it just isn’t that big. In fact, home sizes have been shrinking according to this USA Today article, presumably to accommodate the new “slim-but-not-so-sleek” look of the average American’s wallet since 2008. So what do you do with all your stuff without all your space?

Storage units. You start by biting the bullet and selling the nasty couch, and then you take those valuable and seasonal possessions and put them away for the time being. As Lisa Montanaro recommends, getting rid of the clutter saves time and money. Some things, however, don’t fall into the “clutter” category, though it doesn’t quite qualify as junk, either.

Here’s the principle in action: my wife and I got married eight months ago, and we started collecting furniture before we had a place to live. Paying rent in the LA area is a beast as it is, and paying a few months’ rent before the wedding while still paying for our personal apartments was not going to happen. That’s when I discovered that Los Angeles storage units were far more affordable than Los Angeles apartments as my wife and I got our lives put together.

Everything needs it place, and your basement and garage are not as bottomless as you had hoped. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to sell absolutely everything with which you can’t bear to part. Downsize your house, downsize your life, and get a storage unit for a few bucks a month to keep things organized.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jared Heath is a freelance writer whose passions are his family, writing, and motorcycles. After reading Lisa’s blog on putting every aspect of life in its place, Jared offered his own ways to keep order in life and peace with his wife. Jared and his family now live in Utah.

By Guest Blogger, Art Gould

The other day, one of my co-workers was telling me about his second home. It wasn’t the first time I had heard about it either. He has a small beachfront cottage that he uses as a getaway almost every weekend in the summer. I have always wanted a second home as an escape from my day to day life. I have to admit that this latest time, when I listened to him talk, it sounded so inviting that I started to become more then a bit envious. That is when it hit me; maybe I already have a one!

It is located in my car.

Continue Reading…

Is the Threat of a Lawsuit a Real Fear?

As a small business owner, you may be one of the 48% concerned about frivolous or unfair lawsuits.  According to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, actual lawsuits and the fear of lawsuits cost U.S. small businesses $98 million in 2005.  That figure may seem large because it includes money spent on damage awards, settlements, legal costs, liability insurance premiums, and costs incurred by insurance companies on behalf of policyholders.  Is the fear of lawsuits a real fear?  Unfortunately, yes.  Anybody can sue anybody over anything at any time.  In reality, 46% of small business owners have been threatened with a lawsuit, 34% have been sued in the past 10 years, and 62% have made business decisions to avoid lawsuits.  Indeed, small businesses bear 69% of the total cost of the tort system to all U.S. businesses.

What is the Best Course of Action?

What’s a small business owner to do?  For starters, realize that the best defense is a great offense.  While most small business owners fear the law, it is much wiser to use the law as a protective shield.  There are many business and legal components that contribute to creating the strongest shield possible – business entities (the type of structure that governs your business), insurance, and intellectual property (copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secrets) to name a few.

As a former full-time practicing attorney and now a small business owner, I have been on both sides of the fence when it comes to the legal issues a business owner may face.  It is imperative that entrepreneurs understand the basics of the legal side of running a business, and how to use the law as a shield to protect yourself and your business. 

Creating a Shield Through Business Structure

The first item a small business owner should consider is the structure of the business.  There are 4 basic types of business entities: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and limited liability company.  A common misconception of small business owners is that the business entity itself always creates a legal shield.  In some instances (a corporation, or limited liability company, for example), this is generally true.  However, if you are a sole proprietor (and, if so, you are not alone, as 78% of all small businesses in the U.S. are sole proprietorships), then you essentially have no shield.  As a sole proprietor, you are personally liable for all business debts and other obligations.  Fortunately, the law is not the only means to create a shield to protect your business.  If the business entity itself does not provide a shield, then you can create one by acquiring appropriate and adequate insurance coverage.  Thus, a sole proprietorship that is adequately protected by insurance may have an effective shield. 

In the case of partnerships, another misconception is that the partnership is a distinct legal entity that provides a shield.  A partnership is essentially a sole proprietorship run by two or more individuals.  Thus, the structure itself provides no shield.  Again, insurance can be used to fill in the gap, and/or a different business entity can be chosen.  For example, did you know that you can create a corporation and the same two people that would have created a partnership will now be shareholders?  What about a limited liability company with more than one member?  There are many ways for two or more individuals to own a business together.  Carefully consider which makes the most sense, not only from an operations and decision-making standpoint, but to garner the most legal protection for the owners involved.   

Even with corporations and limited liability companies, there are limits to the force of the shield.  Simply creating a business entity is not enough.  The business must be operated as a distinct legal entity, including refraining from co-mingling of personal and business funds, keeping personal guarantees on behalf of the company to a minimum, maintaining corporate/business records, and paying business-related taxes.  If the business entity is a sham or the owner does not follow the rules in terms of keeping the business shield up, the legal doctrine of “piercing the corporate veil” may be applied by a court if the business is sued.  Piercing the corporate veil allows a litigant to pierce the business structure and reach the owner personally.  Granted, piercing the corporate veil is only applied in very limited situations, but it should be used as a reminder to keep that shield up at all times when it comes to operating your organizing business as a distinct legal entity.

Creating a Shield Through a Written Client Agreement

When you agree to perform services for a client, and the client agrees to pay you for such services, you and your client have entered into a legal contract.  The terms of the contract, however, are difficult to recall and prove unless in writing.  A written contract is pivotal as it puts clients on notice of business policies and terms, sets a professional tone, promotes consistency of policies, and is legally enforceable in court (the decision whether to sue a client to enforce a contract is, of course, a business decision, as well as a legal one, and should be carefully considered).  The contract, thus, helps to prevent misunderstandings and clearly defines the expectations of the parties.   

Some entrepreneurs choose not to use contracts for fear that a written agreement may be too formal or legal in nature and, thus, may scare a client away.  Again, this is a business decision that should be given consideration, and you should determine if this is a real or imagined fear by communicating with your clients to test the waters.  You can also use a “letter agreement,” which may be less intimidating for clients.  In the corporate arena, a written contract is generally expected.  Another disadvantage of using a written contract is the cost of creating and advising if you use an attorney.  While there are standardized contract forms available online and in books, be careful not to accept such standardized forms carte blanche.  I often see small business owners fail to adapt contracts appropriately, which causes embarrassing typos, inappropriate clauses, and general confusion.  Not only does this look unprofessional, but in extreme cases it can also result in unenforceability of the contract in court.  Therefore, it is a good idea to have a business lawyer review the agreement to make sure it adequately protects you, contains the relevant terms, and fulfills the goals you want to accomplish.  It is an expense worth paying for to secure adequate protection in the long term.

A word of caution: stay away from “legalese.”  Use plain English so that the agreement is easy to understand and helps, rather than hinders, the understanding between you and your clients.  If you do use a client agreement, here is a list of sample clauses you should consider including:

  • Definition of the parties (define your status as an independent contractor if the contract is for corporate organizing);
  • Services to be performed;
  • Code of ethics for your professional association, if applicable;
  • Confidentiality;
  • Pricing and payment policies (pricing structure, retainer guidelines, travel time or expense, charges for supplies or products purchased on the client’s behalf, cancellation policy, when payment is due, fee for bounced check, credit card acceptance, payment of expenses, etc.);
  • Provision of materials, equipment, and office space;
  • Assurance of insurance coverage;
  • State law governance;
  • Permission to take and use photos for marketing purposes, if appropriate;
  • Term of agreement/termination of relationship.

Now, go forth with shields raised!

A large percentage of my clients face paper clutter challenges. Despite visions of a paperless society when the computer was invented, we are still inundated with paper at home and at work.

One of the biggest culprits is “junk mail” — those credit card solicitations, catalogs, circulars, and the like that you don’t want or need, but that still keep coming. Experts estimate that the average person receives 41 pounds of junk mail per year.

How to stop the madness? Here are some great resources for helping you whittle down the amount of junk mail that comes into your home or office in the first place.

  • OptOutPrescreen.com is the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website to accept and process requests from consumers to opt-in or opt-out of firm offers of credit or insurance.
  • Catalog Choice is a free service that allows you to decide what gets in your mailbox. Use it to reduce your mailbox clutter, while helping save natural resources.
  • DMAChoice.org is an online tool developed by the Direct Marketing Association to help you manage your mail. This site is part of a larger program designed to respond to consumers’ concerns over the amount of mail they receive, and it is the evolution of the DMA’s Mail Preference Service created in 1971.  For the purposes of this site, direct mail is divided into four categories: Credit Offers, Catalogs, Magazine Offers and Other Mail Offers. You can request to start or stop receiving mail from individual companies within each category—or from an entire category at once.
  • YellowPagesGoesGreen.org was started because we are continually bombarded with yellow and white pages directories at both home and office. The site is not intended to stop the use of such directories, but to eliminate the unsolicited delivery of the books. The thinking is, if you want a book, you can call and order one.
  • 41Pounds.org is a service that helps you stop 80-95% of unwanted catalogs and junk mail. Yes, it is a paid service, but the fee is reasonable and they do all of the work of contacting the mailing companies for you. 41 Pounds donates over half of its profits to  environmental groups, local schools, and youth groups.
  • Mail Stopper is another paid service that does all of the work for you. Mail Stopper plants 5 trees on behalf of each member to further fight the environmental impact of all of the wasted paper produced by junk mail.

Take the time to contact any of the above resources to help you stop junk mail from entering your home or office. The result will be less paper to process, which means less clutter and more time for you!