Advice about Running a Small Business

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2010 - 2013 Recommendations

Solo Practitioner & Google

Sept 2012

I am self employed as an attorney. I have a web site, but when I put my practice area into google, (without my name), my website does not come up. A whole bunch of other attorneys do come up. I have heard that there are people who you pay to figure this whole thing out (Search Engine Optimizers?). Wondering if anyone has worked with such a person, or company, how you found them, and if it has resulted in more business. resigned to the modern world

For a solo practitioner or a small business it may seem difficult to have their site shown in Google search. But it's not rocket science and has become easier with the Google search engine algorithm changes that have occurred in 2012. (I specialize in Google search. I am not looking for more business at this time, but I am happy to help.) Here are some simple steps to take:

* Create a ''Google place'' for yourself at; it is free and will pop your site to the first few search results in any relevant local search.

* Create a Google-plus profile for yourself, a Google-plus page for your business and follow the simple rules #2,#3 on their help page (Google the phrase ''direct connect'' to find it)

* Create a LinkedIn profile if you haven't, add some substantial info about what you do, and list your website on your profile. You will see the changes in 2-3 weeks after having done that. (Do not take the road of ''link building'' that paid search optimization professionals may offer; it is inefficient.)

** As the next steps you may want to start posting some good content useful to people who seek legal help. You may want to create a Facebook page for your site, which will not directly affect Google search, but will affect it indirectly, through accumulating followers. Irina

Although I'm sure there are reputable SEO folks out there, a lot of them are not worth the money or use unscrupulous methods, so proceed with caution if you decide to go that route. As a web designer, the things I usually recommend to clients who want to improve their search engine rankings are: 1) Include the key words you think people will search for in the content of your page, not just in the HTML keywords tag - Google looks heavily at how relevant your content is to the search. Include them in an article or in your description of your services, not just piled in at the bottom or hidden in the background. 2) Foster links to your site from relevant sites, another thing Google takes into account in rankings. For example, if you are a member of an industry group or write an article for a legal magazine or other relevant publication and they link back to your site, that boosts your rankings. It can't be just any old link, though; only ones relevant to your site's business or content are helpful. 3) Update your content frequently - fresher pages seem to get better rankings from Google.

Consider starting a blog on your site with news or tips or other relevant articles. 4) Make sure your home page includes a text menu so search engines can crawl your site - if your main menu is made of graphics, include a text menu in the footer. There are other things you can do (submitting a sitemap to Google, etc.), but I really think those are the top four. Also, keep in mind that many people won't just be randomly searching for lawyers on Google - you might be better off spending money on a little well-targeted advertising (for example, in a local magazine or website) or sponsorship (school auctions or local events) that promotes your URL than you would on SEO. For more info on how Google works, see these articles:, or JP

2007 - 2009 Recommendations

2004 - 2006 Recommendations

Failing Entrepreneur Husband

Feb 2005

I am hoping someone reading this has been through this and can help me dig my family out of this hole. My husband quit his well-paying job over a year ago to fulfill his entrepreneurial dream. He laid out the best and worst case scenarios and had me convinced that at worst things might be tight the first year, but thereafter we'd live as well if not better than before. He'd have more time to spend with me and our young children. We could move to a nicer area, nicer home and send our children to good public schools.

Well, things didn't go as he had hoped. And he has not been clear and upfront with me about what was happening with the business (''You worry about the kids, I'll worry about the other stuff.''). Now over a year later, we are in massive debt, our safety net for anything unforseen is gone, used toward the business. He had to get a FT job so we wouldn't have to file for bankruptcy. We can't sell the business yet because we owe so much and it as least makes enough to pay down the bank loan. In the mean time, he has not apologized to me in the way that I think he needs to. I am resentful and depressed. He is emotionally distant, defensive of the things that have happened.

Continuing along with his ''plan'', we cannot realize the dreams we previously had discussed. At least not for a long time. We are stuck or going down the road, or something. I feel we need more than just counseling, though that would certainly help. We need a plan for our family, the business, his career and our marriage. And the plan must be financially and legally sound to prevent financial ruin. Thank you for your advice. Miserable S.A.M. Needs a Plan

Your posting struck a chord as I have been thru the failing entrepreneur thing from both sides. I lost a job managing in a major company after a merger and started my own company. In five years I used up all my own savings and some of my husband's. I went to career counseling and seminars by a group of retired business men (S.C.O.R.E). I would highly recommend Toni Littlestone who has Career Strategies in Albany. She has worked with me, my ex-husband who now is in a successful job, and a number of our friends. Her husband is also a career counselor and I think works in San Francisco.

After five years my husband finally put his foot down and made me realize the business wasn't working. The business owner has a tremendous amount of pride and self esteem tied up in their idea, but even working 24 hours a day on it won't always make it go. In my case, I wasn't a strong enough salesperson, I started too big, and I was too nice (if someone had a problem I refunded their money and made it up to them like a larger corporation might have and as a result lost thousands of dollars a year and never paid myself a salary in the five years although I always paid my bills on time and paid my employees). I finally gave up, went back to school, and got a teaching credential. It was a relief to get a paycheck again! Ten years later I am totally out of debt and building up retirement and education funds for my kids.

My boyfriend went through a very similar situation, leaving a stable research job to start a tech company. After the first round of funding was gone, he couldn't get a second round to ''prove the product.'' He is still bitter about it and hasn't been able to get on with his life. He feels he is too old to start a new career and that no one would hire him. So, recommendations for you and your husband. Gently sit down and set out some goals. Where do you want to be in terms of your marriage, finances, etc. by the end of the year, five years, ten years? Recommend a career strategist like Toni Littlestone to him. Go together to your bank and sit down with an officier to do some financial planning. Many banks do this for free when you bank with them. Have him review his business plan with you. Has he met goals he laid out? Can he reasonably meet them? You need to be kind as ego is at stake, but a good business person needs to know when to cut their losses and get on with it. kl

Step one is for you to find a way to release some of the stress you feel--and that method, whatever you choose, should be something that doesn't involve your husband. You can't rely on him to soothe you ! right now because he is struggling too.

I'm 15 years into my marriage with my die-hard entrepreneurial husband, and only now am I learning to manage the stress. We've had a few good financial years and a few bad financial years (really bad) and a whole lot of marginal years, but our pledge to one another was to support eachother in our pursuits, and so we have more or less, if you can overlook his occassionally panic-stricken spouse begging him to get a job!!!

The simple fact is that if I don't manage the stress I feel, our life together is tense and sexless and no fun at all. Only when I keep up with my swimming, my singing, my time with my counselor, and most importantly with my amateurish but satisfying zen practice, can I meet him in a loving and supportive way. The zen practice especially helps me manage my fears. (The book ''Radical Acceptance'' was very meaningful for me.)

Do what makes you feel better, then share a little quiet calm with him, even for a few minutes, and see what you get in return. The business will do what it will do, and I hope that it will succeed and I assure you that moments of enormous doubt are par for the course, but what's more important is that your relationship suceeds...your love and admiration for eachother...your respect and your support....and that means increasing your skills for handling the stress and the fear. What would feel good to you? How can you baby yourself? How can you separate out the fear that the business and it's debt raise from your feelings for your husband? It's hard hard hard, I'll tell you that, but you can do it and you are likeley to be deeply rewarded.

My heart goes out to you! It's hard to be tied into something that is beyond your control. But just remember that spouses who have jobs sometimes lose them; that people who have security sometimes lose it due to illness or other forms of bad luck. Don't think that suffering is the exclusive privelege of the entrepreneur's spouse!

My last thought is that it might help you to involve yourself with the business. Sometimes the fear of the unknown is bigger that the fear of dealing with it. Do it if it calms you. If it rattles your cage more deeply, then maybe that's not your answer. Best wishes, The Entrepreneur's Wife

With one kid in college, and two to go, my father decided to leave his good paying corporate job to fulfill his dream of starting a business. It was a financial disaster that led to divorce and me having to pay my way through college. It was really awful, but you know what - I wouldn't trade the experience for anything in the world. My peers at college had everything in the world handed to them on a platter and didn't appreciate anything. Yes, it took me six years to get a simple engineering BS, and yes, there were many heartaches, but in return I got a toughness and insight that others didn't. It has been a major asset in my career. After ten years my father emerged to resume his corporate career, and even with that late restart he died well-to-do - not as a CEO or anything, just a regular execut! ive in a regular company Advance the clock 20 years...

I left my good paying job to fulfill my dream of starting a business. I should have failed, and lost our family's cushion. In the end, it was a modest success, though well below our hopes, and we had no choice but to sell after three years of 12x7x52 hours of hard work. At this point I have a lot of experience with the whole ''let's start a business'' racket. (For those spouses out there facing this challenge, go ahead and be the wettest blanket you can be - if your spouse is really on fire and right, s/ he will burn through it.)

I empathize with the pain, fear, anger and sorrow that you feel - it's hard to lose certainty and comfort. It will help you to take stock/accounting of the good that you're getting in return. Even in the face of financial disaster don't you often find yourself proud that your husband has the guts to do what the rest of us only read about in magazines and newspapers? Are your kids getting some kind of toughening experience that's going to make them better adults?

The sad fact is that 95% of all businesses fail in the first year. The odds are that your husband's business will also fail. But fail to what? There are many ways to ''fail'' a business, and bankruptcy is not the only one. There are infinite exit strategies, and it would be good for you to start learning about that - you *are* a partner in that business and you need to get your interests in it under control. That starts with education and networking - like you're doing here. Perhaps you can help your husband find partners, a willing buyer or some kind of liquidation strategy. If there's no workable exit strategy, and the obligations are stacking up then you need to get out and both go to work on paying down those obligations with your own labor.

Now, having said all of this, you can expect that your husband is going to want to do this again (and again). He might even fail 2-3 times more. But what does that say about your husband? I think it says that he's a survivor, a leader and probably a good example for your kids of how to stick with things even when they're hard. Keep in mind there are few American business success stories that don't start with failure - even spectacular failures.

I admire you both for having guts - I wish you luck! anon

You have a right to be upset, of course, and you both may want to seek counseling, independently and collectively. Moreover, as you clearly understand from your post, communication between partners is probably the cornerstone of getting through hard times, so he's got to be honest with you and you have to push for honesty with him (without finger-pointing, since you agreed to this plan). All that said, here are some hardball questions:

1. Is your husband really failing or is it just taking longer to get things started than he anticipated? There's a difference between the two, and in this economy, perhaps you both need to be reasonable about your return-on-investment timeframe. Can this business turn around?

2. Have you considered going back to work yourself? Your husband is currently shouldering the financial burden, which I'm sure was by choice. I'm certain that he feels as bad about his ''failing'' business as you do, and certainly did not get into it to make things worse in your life. Have you considered sacrificing your stay home status, which may be YOUR dream, and shouldering this burden together? Or perhaps that's the focus of the resentment?

3 You wrote that you were resentful, but I'm confused: you agreed together to go down this road (indeed, he appears to have gotten your go-ahead before proceeding). Notwithstanding the scenarios he laid out, surely you understood that there were risks involved in starting a business. Did you ask any hard questions back then, like whether there was a back-up plan, or how much in debt you'd be in before he would agree to give up the dream? If you are an equal partner in the marriage, then did you take any responsibility at all for the financial well-being of your family when he proposed this idea? If you didn't, and you merely relied on his representations, you may want to rethink your level of responsibility in the matter.

4. Clearly define, given your current situation, what you want. Do you just want therapy? Do you want to get out of debt? Do you want to have all those things he promised? Do you want him to PAY for making you angry? Do you want to be an equal partner? (and you don't get to say you just want to be happy. That's for 20-somethings). Seriously, I think it's important to truly define what it is you're looking for and whether it's a) realistic, b) merely vindictive, c) productive.

Hey, it totally sucks to be poor and it sucks more to be poor and angry, and it sucks even more to be poor, angry and scared (which is what I read in your posting). I don't want to diminish your feelings or blame you for what's happening. To open an honest dialogue between you, however, it might help to acknowledge your own responsibility -- or at least complacency and lack of due diligence -- in creating your current scenario. Merely blaming your husband is not going to bring him closer, anyway, and doesn't seem to be making you feel better Once you can center your anger where it belongs (somewhere between the two of you), then you can start to work toward a solution. You know, like ''hey honey, it's time for a little ''come to jesus/moses'' intervention. I know I agreed to this business and I know this is your dream. And I know that you are financially responsible, because you we! nt and got a job to support us (thank you)..... but let's talk about how we are going to spend the next 12 months getting out of this mess. Let's work out a plan together. Oh, and when I say this I AM worrying about the kids. Now, when can we talk?''
-- been there.

Please, please try to readjust your view of this situation with deep compassion for your husband's predicament. He had a dream, and he had the courage to pursue his dream, and now it has failed. This must feel devastating to him. I can assure you that he is COMPLETELY aware that he has let you down. He really needs you now to be nonjudgmentally loving and supportive. A couple of things I'd like to point out: Although his dream failed, he did the right thing by going back to work full-time, and is clearly attempting to climb out of the financial disaster. Also, I note from your signature that you're a stay-at-home mother -- I think it's fair to assume that you as a family have given up extra income so that you yourself could pursue a dream of being a full-time mother to your children. Your choice is a perfectly good one, but it did have financial implications, yet I sense nothing in your post to indicate that he has ever expressed any resentment toward you for making this choice.

Please try to be as supportive to him as he has been to you. Sure, he probably should have told you more of what was going on, but he probably was too scared as he watched it all dissolve in front of his eyes. He will learn from this failure, and the financial troubles will be behind you someday. but your response to the situation will be an absolutely critical factor to how well your marriage weathers this storm.

As you said, you could probably benefit from some counselling. But in the meantime, please reach deep in your heart to find the loving and selfless compassion for him that will keep your family and your marriage intact. You have the power to save your REAL dream. Letitia

Without any specifics about the business, it is difficult to evaluate if your husband's entrepenurial venture may become a success or not. What I can tell you is that my husband started a business more than ten years ago, and it took 3 years before it was making much more than a minimum wage job. We were in debt for over $30k, had no savings, didn't own a home... 5 years later, we bought a house and the business had matured into a healthy thriving place. That's the story with starting your own business. Now we are very happy with it- much happier than if my husband would h! ave stayed at his old job. Working for yourself can give flexibility, control and financial independence. I don't think you should put on blinders in the face of financial ruin, but maybe you should have someone from the ''outside'' help evaluate the situation- ie. a business consultant, or at least a good friend with some business knowledge. Going out on your own is always risky, but it can be well worth it. self employed and happy
I hope you are not using the label ''failing'' when you discuss your husband's venture with him- I wouldn't blame him for being defensive. Some things are more important than money- like having a job you love and believe in. You didn't mention your employment status- is it possible for you to shoulder more of the earning burden for a while, when your husband's business is just starting out? anon

Starting a small business

Feb 2004

I began a home business when I was pregnant with our first child with the intention of bringing in a little extra income during my maternity leave. It's now eight years later and to my amazement, I'm still at it. The problem is that my business has grown but I'm still using the same methods to manage phone calls, paperwork, etc. that I used when I began. I need some ideas on how to manage and track phone calls, resumes, referrals, etc. I'm not sure who to ask or where to go to help figure this out. Any ideas? Also, if you have experience tracking phone calls with something other than a notebook and pen, I'd like to hear what has worked for you. I do plan on hiring someone to help in my office once I figure out how to run it better. No sense in that person getting all caught up in a mess. I was ok growing a business though it was pretty much by the seat of my pants. Now that it's bigger, I really don't know how to make it run efficiently. I need to know where to turn, get some ideas, etc. so that I can reclaim my life, see my kids more, and tip the scales back toward my family. Got any ideas? Thanks. - An overworked mom Dori

I would recommend hiring someone to come help you set up new, efficient systems that work for you. Whatever you spend you will more than make up in increased productivity and sanity later! My friend is a professional organizer and is also a very nice person and mom to boot. Check her out at Good Luck! Rebecca
My husband may be able to help you. He runs a consulting business that works with small and medium businesses. Often they are struggling with growing pains and need help to get focused on the right things. He specializes in helping owners to quickly and efficiently create a business and action plan that works. You can reach him at ron AT or 919-362-0679. Hardin

2003 & Earlier

Dec 2003

Hello, I am wondering what resources and/or groups there are for starting a business. My partner and I are thinking of starting a wine of the month type business and are torn whether it's easier to start from scratch or buy an existing business etc. We would also love to find a community of other small business owners starting out if such a thing exists. Thanks for any info!

The Small Business Administration has excellent classes for people starting a small business- look in the phone book for the one nearest you. The quality of them vary by instructor, so if the first one you try doesn't meet your needs, try another. It's very very important to go through the process of preparing a thorough business plan which will help you assess whether your idea is viable. Most small businesses fail because folks haven't done this.

I would bet that if you search the Internet you will find discussion groups for people like you. Long-time small business owner

There are quite a few good resources in the Bay Area for people interested to start a small business: In San Francisco I know of two terrific education and incubation programs that offer comprehensive, high-quality classes for business assessment and planning, as well as offering funding and other incubation services. ''Renaissance'' is one and ''Women's Initiative for Self Employment'' (WISE - It's not just for women, though).
I believe WISE has Oakland offices too - they used to, anyway. Their web sites will have links to othe resources as well. Best of luck! Anonymous
Hi. When I was exploring the idea of starting my own business, I looked at WISE and the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center programs. I knew one person that had graduated from Renaissance and done very well for herself. I sat in on an introduction to both programs and I decided to go with Renaissance even though they weren't in my back yard.

Why did I go with Renaissance? They were very good at telling you in detail what to do to get your business going. They didn't advocate getting into debt to start your business, unlike WISE. They advocated working out your business plan in detail. You have to finish your business plan in order to graduate.

They offer a 4 week class on exploring your business idea before you go on to the 14 week class. They have sliding scale tution. I highly recommend them. By the way, it was the working through of my business plan I realized my business would require more money, work etc. than what I wanted to do.

Also check out the book, Small Time Operator. It's a great guide on the nuts and bolts on getting started. However, it's good to work with a group of people too. Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center 's website is: Beth

April 2003

My husband is about to begin a career as a self-employed architect. We are wondering what sort of professional advice we should seek. We would need information about the pros and cons of structuring a business that would take into consideration the advantages/disadvantages of hiring employees versus free-lance consultants. We would also like information/advice on financial matters such as filing taxes (does this need to be done quarterly), rolling over a 401K from a previous job, setting up IRAs, paying social security, etc. Are these the sorts of things that could be addressed by one individual (i.e., an accountant), or would we be better off meeting with several different types of professionals (accountant, lawyer, financial planner, other)? Any advice about how to approach this situation, as well as estimates as to what this might cost would be greatly appreciated. annonymous

a very good resource for small businesses is the SBA which has a good website, too (; I think the nearest one for berkeley is in san francisco. you can ask for a counceling which takes an hour (or more if you need)and does not cost anything. they have different programmes in which you can take part, they can give recommondations, adresses and hook you up with other people.

I just moved here from san diego, where I opened my business and took all the help I could from the SBA - espacially as a foreigner I had a lot of questions. now I am very well set up, know my way around and always know where to go when I have another question. good luck.katja

How you structure your business affects everything: what expenses you can deduct, choices in retirement plans, compensation in the form of salary (which has social security taxes) or dividends (There's talk of eliminating this income tax), professional liability insurance (a.k.a., Errors & Omissions), etc. You can choose among C Corporation, S Corporation, Limited Liability Partnership, and sole- proprietorship. Go to Nolo Press (Parker and 9th Street, Berkeley) and study a few books on this subject. This and your tax accountant is your most important source of advice. Get a tax accountant (CPA) that will prepare a calendar of all the necessary FTB and IRS filings (don't forget about worker's comp and state disability insurance). Let a professional guide you through your first year. Take note of the schedule. Thereafter, you can do everything yourself by reading through the IRS and FTB publications and follow the previous year's professionally-prepared forms. Intuit's Quickbooks, Payroll and Turbo Tax for small business software can help. There are various quarterly and annual deadlines for payments and filings. Mishandling employee withholdings are a very serious matter: don't miss those payments. The first year is a little anxiety-ridden, but thereafter becomes a habit. Transfer your old 401K to a traditional IRA at a national discount broker or mutual fund family to take advantage of the sheer variety of investment products, and better-than-banks' money market rates. The brokerage will tell you how to start the transfer. Your business can setup a retirement plan for it's employees. Your choice of KEOGH or SEP-IRA will depend on how many employees you have. Reseach this, also with the brokerage, to find what I mean (I'm a little rusty on the details).

Employer pays 7.5% of the employee's salary for social security, and deducts another 7.5% from the employee's salary. If you're incorporated as a C corporation, you can take shareholder dividends instead of salary to reduce your FICA (Soc Sec) Tax. Congress may do away with double taxation on dividends soon. an ''independent consultant''. Many employers claim employees as consultants to avoid the cost of providing/administering benefits, income tax withholding, social security, etc. Because of this abuse, the IRS is always suspect of these claims and may audit you: if your employees don't meet their test, they can reclassify your consultants as employees and hold your business liable for back income tax withholdings (you, in turn, will be in the awkward position of collecting the money from your new employees!). Look up the IRS rules on independent consultants. I believe Nolo Press covers this and other employer issues. Last word of advice: I was a sole employee of my corporation. I was stressed that first year, being a determined do-it- yourselfer. All I had was my tax accountant who was available to me for the big annual filings but absent for the quarterly headaches. The addition to business responsibilities of learning the paperwork issues was nearly overwhelming. Seeing that you're in a similar situation, I must pass on this borrowed wisdom: if you can write a check and make a problem go away, then it's not a problem,'s an expense. Focus on growing your business first. Good luck. kim

Getting Oakland business license

Oct 2002

I'm finally going to march down to the business license deparment in Oakland and turn in my application for a small business license (and zoning for having the business based out of my home). I will have my two toddlers in tow, and I'd like to be prepared as possible so that this process is quick and bearable. Does anyone know how long the process will take approximately, where is the best place to park, and is the whole process relatively simple. Any advice welcome. Thanks a.m.

I took my (then 13 months old) son with me to renew my business license this year. It was absolutely no problem. I called ahead to find out when the slowest times were (so that neither of us had to wait :) and when I arrived there were two clerks to help, and only one other business owner! I think the entire process took about 20 minutes. There is public parking just steps away from the building, so there is really nothing to be nervous about at all. Janice

Looking to buy a small business

June 2003

Try buying a franchise. My father in law recently bought a wild bird store - yes sounds wacky, but makes a ton of $. I was absolutely shocked. There are a couple of them Wild Birds Unlimited and Wild Bird Center - both have web sites to check them out. I think they're maxed out around here as far as territories, but if you're open to moving.... Looking to buy a small business
I am an attorney with my office in Point Richmond. Another law firm in the same building,, works with several individuals that specialize in buying and selling small businesses. If you call Ron Clausen, he can direct you to these people. You can check out their website for information on the Clausen Group. Good luck! You can also contact me (John H. Griffin) at jhgriffin AT or (510) 439- 4123. John