by Samantha Dammer, Esq.
Special to the Florida SBDC at USF
Most of my clients in recent years have suffered financial losses because of the economy. I have represented many individuals who have had to file a personal and/or business bankruptcy, and I am happy to say that some of them are now, once again, successful business owners. There is hope for those entrepreneurial folks out there who might be going through a temporary financial crisis. Remember, it doesn’t need to be permanent, especially if you keep in mind a few simple pointers:
1. Keep your nose clean.
This was one of my mother’s favorite bits of advice when I was growing up. Basically, if you’re going through a bankruptcy, don’t mess everything up by concealing assets, transferring property to family members, or any similar nonsense. The consequences of fraudulent actions and perjury could come back to haunt you for a long time, and the point of a bankruptcy is usually to give you a fresh start. You don’t want any impropriety to mar your new business.
2. Don’t be discouraged by any past failures, or even talk about them.
Most successful business leaders have had past failures. There is nothing wrong with learning from past mistakes, but don’t let them hold you back. It is unlikely that anyone will know or care too much about your bankruptcy in the future. Act in the present, and live for the future.
3. Learn about and take advantage of local resources.
Tampa Bay is a great place for start-ups. Some of the great resources include accelerator programs, access to investors, and business-friendly financing. The local chambers of commerce are a good place to learn about programs that are available to help your business grow and succeed.
4. Preparation is key.
Develop a clear idea of how you want your business to work. Even for a small business, you should create an organizational chart and written strategic plan. Consider seeking outside assistance with this early on in the business, and as you grow.
5. Satisfy your customers, but also your employees.
Your staff members will make or break you. Having a negative corporate culture will lead to high employee turnover, and customers will notice it as well. Develop a positive workplace atmosphere, and you will have less headaches, and probably more repeat customers.
See your obstacles as an opportunity for creative problem-solving, and do not be discouraged. Seek help along the way from professionals as well as other business owners in your industry. Joining professional associations is a great way to establish your own personal support system.
7. Keep your business separate from your personal affairs.
The legal and practical dangers of comingling personal funds with business assets are numerous. It also is very important to keep your new business separate from any old businesses that you may have had in the past. Starting fresh is the key, and this means forming a separate entity altogether.
8. Utilize experienced tax and legal professionals when you set up your new venture.
There are very distinct advantages and disadvantages to each type of company structure (i.e. corporation, LLC, partnership, etc.). It is much easier to set your business up correctly rather than trying to change the structure later on.
Remember, it’s always darkest just before the dawn. Henry Ford, Bill Gates and Richard Branson, among numerous others, experienced significant failures in their careers before they became successful.
Samantha L. Dammer is a Florida attorney concentrating her practice in the areas of business and personal bankruptcy, civil litigation, foreclosure defense and general business law. She is a member of the Tampa Bay Bankruptcy Bar Association and the Hillsborough County Bar Association and she has practiced law since 1998 (admitted to Florida Bar 2007). This article is not intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.