I relocated last year from New York to Northern California, specifically, to the college town of Davis. There are many things that make Davis a fabulous place to live: fantastic weather, an abundant farmers market, a University smack in the middle of town, a plethora of outdoor activities, proximity to the mountains and ocean (not to mention California wine country), and the amazing city of San Francisco about 60 miles away. But one of the things I love most about Davis is the bicycle culture.

bikes_in_DavisI read about Davis’ bike-friendly reputation before our relocation, and even experienced a little bit of it when we came out here to look for housing before we moved. But nothing prepared me for how truly unique and awesome it is. There are approximately 65,000 bicycles in the town of Davis — approximately one for every person. The bike lane was supposedly invented here, and there are bicycle lanes on almost every road in town. In addition, there is an intricate greenbelt system with bike paths that weave through residential neighborhoods, downtown, and campus, making it easy to bike miles without ever having to roll onto a road.

Davisites, as those that live here are called, bike for exercise, commuting to and from work and school, to do errands, and just about everything in between. It is not uncommon to see business events where professionals don’t only carry a briefcase, but also their bike helmet. Parents still get their exercise even if their little ones are too young to ride a bike by pulling their babies in a baby bike carrier. When school lets out, parents don’t line up in their cars the way they do in most other towns, but wait to accompany their kids home by bike. Some of the kids bike alongside, and others jump on the back of a tandem. The farmers market is surrounded by locked up bikes waiting for their owners to return with all of their farmers market goodies to be transported home in backpacks, clip on bike bags, or baskets affixed to the front or back of every type of bicycle.

I’d love to be able to say that every single person wears a helmet. Unfortunately that’s not the case. In California, it’s only a law that children under 18 must wear a helmet, leaving it to the discretion of an adult as to whether he or she chooses to protect his or her head. In other respects, the laws pertaining to bicycles are very strict. Cyclists must follow pretty much all of the same laws that an automobile does. Thankfully, because most people that live in Davis love the bike culture, drivers have a profound respect for cyclists.

loaded_down_bikeI already loved cycling when I lived in New York. My husband and I would ride for exercise and pleasure. A few years ago, we did a self-guided bicycle tour through the region of Provence, France. We biked about 155 miles over 5 days and loved every minute of it.  In some ways biking in New York was harder than biking here in Davis. We lived in the beautiful Hudson River Valley of New York, in a town called Warwick, which is filled with lots of hills, some of them quite large. Davis is blessedly flat from the standpoint of a cyclist, and all of the hills and mountains surround it, as opposed to being in it.  This makes for some pretty pleasant and fast cycling.

fruit_standI joined a cycling group in Davis and we bike often to the nearby town of Winters. It is a lovely ride totaling about 32 miles from my house round-trip. We bike past campus, olive trees, walnut farms, grapevines, and stop for breakfast at a great little cafe to fuel up for the ride home. When I get back from the ride, I always stop at the farmers market to load up on fresh fruits, vegetables, and baked goods before heading home. I fill up my bike bags and sometimes even have to balance an extra bag hanging from my handlebars. My new-found friends have told me that I am now a true Davisite because I’m able to carry so much by bike!

Using a bicycle as a means of transportation is a bonus in many ways. It obviously helps to keep one in shape because it is such good exercise. It also is better for the environment because there are so many less cars being used around town, which means less emissions being released into the environment. It’s also good for one’s wallet, because gas is so expensive these days, so it’s a convenient way to save money.

But by far my favorite thing about using the bicycle as a means of transportation is the unique vantage point that one gets to experience from being on two wheels. Life doesn’t pass by as fast on a bicycle as it does when you’re in a car. You’re exposed to fresh air, nature, sounds, the weather, people, etc. Yes, sometimes that means you might get caught in the rain. Sometimes it means that you might be a little hot and actually break a sweat. You do have to stop for the same traffic lights and pedestrian crossings as you would in a car, which means having a lot of patience.

Davis_viewIt also takes longer to get to many of your destinations, so you need to plan out your trips more carefully.  You also may wind up riding your bike home in the dark, which means preparing yourself with lights and reflectors.  One of the most romantic nights that my husband and I experienced since we moved here to Davis was riding our bikes home in the dark after we had gone to dinner and a movie together. The moonlight was streaming down on us, the air was crisp and fresh, and it felt like it was just the two of us on the road.

Is bicycling as a means of transportation, and as such a large part of the culture of a town for everyone? No, of course not. But for Davisites, and this brand spanking new member of the community, it’s perfect.

Lisa Montanaro will move and manage Warwick firm from West Coast, thanks to technology

WARWICK — When Warwick resident Lisa Montanaro, a productivity consultant, success coach, business strategist, speaker and author, moves to California, she will not only continue to manage the business she established here, she will expand it.

In 2002, Montanaro founded LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, which offered a variety of services including organizing, business and life coaching and motivational speaking. The company prospered as it drew on her skills as a lawyer, educator, mediator and performer. Today that Warwick company is the organizing division of Lisa Montanaro Global Enterprises.

Montanaro is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and the National Speakers Association (NSA). She has presented professionally to audiences throughout the United States and has been interviewed by many television and radio hosts. And her written content has been widely published online and in print. She is the author of “The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life,” published by Peter Pauper Press.

For the past decade Montanaro has lived in Warwick with her husband, Sean, a veterinarian.

This July, the couple and their two dogs, Dublin and Jerry, will move to Northern California. The relocation was prompted when her husband secured a prestigious three-year residency in veterinary internal medicine at the University of California at Davis.

But with modern communications technology, Montanaro, who was already traveling and serving clients throughout the nation and beyond, can simply expand her client base while continuing to conduct business as usual for those back East.

Headed in this direction
In the past few years, Montanaro has achieved success with expanding her business model and services, publishing a book and doing national speaking engagements. This path has allowed her to realize that she can live anywhere while her husband pursues his specialization in the field of veterinary internal medicine.

 

“I have been moving in the direction of a more global/virtual business model for years with coaching, consulting, speaking and online programs, and this has surely forced me to really change over,” she said. “But I am keeping the business open here and making my business bi-coastal. I plan to come back to this area every few months to do speaking engagements and book time servicing my clients in the New York area.”

Montanaro has a residential organizing associate, Camille O’Connor, and other team members that assist her as needed so even if she is not physically here, people who want to get organized can still do so under her business umbrella. And for those who want to work with Montanaro one-on-one, they can get on a wait list for the next time she returns or they can work with her virtually by phone, Skype and e-mail. For coaching, consulting and speaking, distance and geography are no longer a factor.

“Many of my clients and I have never met in person,” she explained, “and yet we have successfully co-created their business ventures, career transitions and life changes together. And I already travel for national speaking engagements, so the only thing that will change is the airport I use.”

As much as she is excited about this new venture, Montanaro admits she will miss Warwick.

“It will always hold a special place in my heart,” she said. “I have lived here for 10 years, and it has been an awesome decade that I will cherish. I chose to live here for the beauty and open space, but now realize that it’s true beauty is the people.”

Essential information
Lisa Montanaro Global Enterprises can be contacted by calling 845-988-0183 in New York or 530-302-5306 in California. Visit www.LisaMontanaro.com.

By Roger Gavan

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 .

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 .