Client Spotlight: Ann Arbor Real Estate Associates

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Today, I had the pleasure of speaking with Caitlin Phillips, who recently incorporated Ann Arbor Real Estate Associates through Direct Incorporation. From the moment I walked into her office, I could tell why she was a successful real estate agent. She was so personable and open, and it was clear that she truly loved her job. She welcomed me in and we sat down to chat about her experience with Direct Incorporation, but first, she told me a little bit about herself.

Caitlin has been a real estate agent for years, but until earlier this year, she had never worked for herself. She wanted to incorporate on her own, but she wasn’t sure where to start. When she found Direct Incorporation, she said that the process could not have been easier.

“The [Direct Incorporation] website made it very easy for us to figure out how we should take our incorporation status, and which one would be best to fit our needs,” she told me. She then expanded on how Direct Incorporation’s ability to figure out whether her business name was available for use, so quickly and confidently, “was very important.”

“And then it was very easy because we could just finalize the process in the same transaction time…just in one sitting,” she continued, highlighting that our representatives were “personal, professional, and incredibly responsive.” She said that it was important to her that she was able to talk to a real person, rather than dealing with a recorded voice or computer, so that she could ask all the questions that she needed and get a quick, personal response.

“It’s very important that we have a firm that we can trust with all of our incorporation needs as we grow and expand. Having that kind of trust in that staff to take us through the process is really comforting.”

It was wonderful meeting with Caitlin, and if you ever need a real estate agent in Ann Arbor, I would highly recommend stopping by her office!

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Where Should You Incorporate Your Business?

Rachael, Direct Incorporation Staff

If you’re thinking about starting a new business, but are wondering where you should file your Articles of Incorporation, here are some ideas to help you figure out what to do:

The Delaware Option

Thousands of startup companies choose to incorporate in Delaware each year, due to its low incorporation and franchise fees. Companies don’t actually have to operate in the state that they file their incorporation in, and incorporated companies that conduct business outside of Delaware aren’t required to pay Delaware’s state income tax. Also, legislation in Delaware allows for corporations with less than 30 shareholders to be managed directly by those shareholders.

Yet Delaware incorporation is the most beneficial to larger companies that intend to offer their shares to the public, and for this reason the majority of Fortune 500 companies and those in the NYSE are incorporated in Delaware.

If you incorporate in Delaware but operate in another state, you may have to go through additional processes to qualify to do business in your state of operation. You may also have to file annual reports and franchise taxes in both Delaware and your state of operation.

Also, if you incorporate but do not operate in Delaware, you will need to designate a resident agent with a physical street address in Delaware. The resident agent is someone designated to receive important legal and other documents on the company’s behalf, and is a legal requirement.

The Nevada Option

Nevada’s favorable corporate laws have made it an increasingly popular state of incorporation in recent year. Nevada has no corporate profit tax, personal income tax, or franchise tax. Nevada also has minimal reporting and disclosure requirements, such as not requiring shareholders to be listed publicly.

However, like the Delaware incorporation, it is larger corporations that have the most to gain from incorporating in Nevada. If you incorporate in Nevada and operate in another state, you again may have to qualify to do business in that other state, and deal with the reporting requirements of both states.

Your State

Incorporating in your home state or state of operation is the least costly and least complicated. Unlike in other cases, you won’t have to qualify to do business in your home state as a “foreign corporation,” or file annual reports and pay income and franchise tax in multiple states.

Also, when incorporating in your state of operation,  you or someone closely associated with your company can serve as your company’s resident agent, which ensures that you will personally receive important documents with no extra time, money, or extra communication required.

Happy Incorporating!

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Why You Should Incorporate Now

 

Rachael, Direct Incorporation Staff

It’s time for shorts and sunscreen, barbecues and bonfires. School’s out, the sun’s out, and it’s the perfect time to do what you’ve been wishing you could do for the past nine months. The past nine years, maybe. That amazing business idea, that company you’d love to start. Maybe you’re unsure where to begin, or maybe you know exactly what you’re doing but haven’t set aside the time to do it. The summer tends to be the least busy time of year here at Direct Incorporation, but here are five reasons you should start making moves to incorporate your business before fall:

1. Less time processing your paperwork

The amount of time an individual state takes to process your Articles of Incorporation can vary widely depending on factors like the time of year, the state of the economy, and the particular state’s backlog and staffing. January through April is the busiest time of the year for processing incorporation applications at many Secretary of State offices, and so taking advantage of the less busy summer months is a good way to lower your wait time, which can be up to 40-60 days when filed during the busiest months.

2. You give yourself more wiggle room

Incorporating doesn’t always go smoothly–you could run into any number of roadblocks, such as issues leasing property, working out the perfect website, or just finalizing your business plan. Giving yourself extra time to work out the kinks is far less stressful than trying to finish everything at once.

3. Meeting with the necessary people

It’s likely you’ll have an easier time scheduling any necessary meetings–whether you’re discussing a business plan with your partner(s), meeting with investors, searching for talent, or meeting with a brand consultant, it’s likely you’ll both be able to find some free time in your schedule to meet up.

4. People have more time to listen

Summer is full of opportunities to spread awareness of your upcoming business. People are out and about, and word-of-mouth marketing is not to be overlooked. Alternately, people have more time to be active on social media, and so using the summer to pop up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more is imperative.

5. Ready for the holidays

If you incorporate now, you’ll be ready to tackle the busiest part of the year as an already established business. Once fall starts, numbers 1 through 4 just aren’t the same. Besides, it’s more likely that you’ll be stressed out too, and that’s the last thing you want when you’re getting your business off its feet.

It’s summertime, and it’s time to get started. You don’t even have to put down your lemonade.

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The Importance of Trademarking Your Business

 

 

Rachael, Direct Incorporation Staff

What even is a trademark?

When creating your own business, you can trademark a symbol, logo, word, slogan, or a name registered to your company. This protects your image, and ensures that other businesses don’t infringe on the intellectual property of your business. If you don’t register a trademark, you could lose the rights to your own idea, artwork, and all of the creative energy you have spent on your name, logo, or slogan.

Why run a trademark search?

A trademark search is incredibly important, because if you’re looking to trademark a slogan, word, or logo that’s already in use, you could be sued for trademark infringement, which could lead to a big financial setback for your company, and you would have to restart your branding from scratch. According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, if a trademark owner is able to prove infringement, outcomes may include:

  • A court order (injunction) that the defendant stop using the accused mark
  • An order requiring the destruction or forfeiture of infringing articles
  • Monetary relief, including defendant’s profits, any damages sustained by the plaintiff, and the costs of the action
  • An order that the defendant, in certain cases, pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees

This is the last thing you want to be dealing with when trying to start your own business, so it is imperative to clear the availability of your name, logo, or slogan before it is too late. You can conduct a registered trademark search here.

Registered vs. unregistered trademarks

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A federally registered trademark is recognized everywhere in the country—examples include Nike and Coca-Cola—and have been registered through the US Patent and Trademark Office. An unregistered, or common law trademark, is usually enforceable only within the geographic region or locale where the trademark owner is using it in business.

Common reasons for refusal of trademark registration

There are 5 common reasons your trademark may not be granted:

1. Likelihood of Confusion
If there is a conflict between the mark in the application and a mark that is either registered or pending in the USPTO, the trademark will not be granted. This depends on both the similarity of the marks, and the relationship between the goods and services identified by the marks. Similarity in sound, appearance, or meaning may be sufficient to support a finding of likelihood of confusion

2. Merely Descriptive and Deceptively Misdescriptive
A mark will be deemed as merely descriptive if it solely describes an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose or use of the specified goods or services. A mark will be refused as deceptively misdescriptive if the mark misdescribes an ingredient, quality, characteristic, function, feature, purpose or use of the specified goods or services.

3. Primarily Geographically Descriptive and Primarily Geographically Deceptively Misdescriptive
A mark will be deemed as primarily geographically descriptive if the primary significance of the mark is geographic, purchasers would be likely to think that the goods or services originate in the geographic place identified in the mark, or the mark identifies the geographic origin of the goods or services. A mark will be refused as primarily geographically deceptively misdescriptive if all the above is true, yet the goods or services do not originate in the place identified in the mark.

4. Primarily Merely a Surname
The examining attorney will refuse registration of a mark if the primary significance to the purchasing public is a surname.

5. Ornamentation
The mark will be refused if the applied-for mark is merely a decorative feature or part of the “dress” of the goods. Such matter is merely ornamentation and does not serve the trademark function of identifying and distinguishing the applicant’s goods from those of others. An example of this would be a slogan on a shirt that does not directly identify the source of the goods.

If you’re thinking about starting your own business, visit directincorporation.com to get started today!

 

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The importance of building your brand in small business

If you’ve made the decision to start a small business, or even if you’ve been in business for a couple of years, making a conscious decision about your brand is essential to your long-term success.

Branding is more than the name you choose. It’s more than the logo. It’s more than the tagline.  All three of those put together are just a small part of what your brand is.

Branding is how people describe your business to other people. And that means you don’t own your brand. Your customers do.

Winning the hearts and minds of consumers can take years, and big money. Think about how much power brands like Apple, McDonalds and Nike spend on branding. Design, public relations, advertising, websites, agencies, firms, media, graphics… brands spend literally millions on branding. To a business owner, it can be daunting.

Now, throw all that out the window. You don’t have to spend anything to create your brand. Not a penny in ad space, direct mail or website. You don’t even have to have a logo.

Great branding in small business starts with great customer service. Every interaction with a customer builds your brand. Gather a community of people through social media who trust your opinion. Position yourself as an expert, and then give them something for nothing. Your experience is valuable to your customers. They’ll keep coming back. Brands create value in the mind of the consumer. Be what your customer wants you to be.

Building your small business brand takes work, but pays dividends in the long run. We make it easier to grow your business by helping you during all phases, from incorporation to building websites to protecting your trademarks. If you’re a small business owner and need help in any area, please give us a call!

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Dissolving your business partnership

In the beginning phases of any business, there are many things to consider that take up much of your time. Marketing, production, finances, personnel… these are all-consuming in the start-up phases of business.

Entrepreneurs are usually aware of the toll starting a business has on personal relationships. But they sometimes are unaware that the relationship with your business partner can suffer also.

If your business relationship has deteriorated to the point that continuing to work together is detrimental to the company, it’s time to dissolve the partnership. Preparing for this contingency is essential to ensure that the business suffers as little as possible.  The important thing to consider is whether you or your partner will forge ahead with the business.

For the sake of the company, and the partner who remains, a separation agreement is necessary. This is not unlike a divorce, and attorneys almost always have a role in these proceedings. This is no different. You should seek legal counsel to protect yourself, your partner and your business. Attorneys provide an objective point of view in what could be an emotional and trying situation.

We make it our mission to make it easier to start your business, from incorporation to trademark protection. If you’re thinking about starting a business, please give us a call!

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What’s in a name? The art and science of naming a business

Perhaps the most vital step when you’re starting a business, maybe even more important than writing the business plan, is naming the business.

There are companies whose sole purpose is naming businesses. They charge up to $80,000 to perform that service. Volumes have been written.  In fact, if you Google “naming the business” you can see almost 72 million results; while “writing a business plan” has about 38 million.

Generally speaking, you can choose one of four ways to name your business. All have their pros and cons.

  • Geographic – tells potential customers where you are and what you do, but is somewhat limiting – Northtowne Muffler Service
  • Fanciful – easiest to protect, but difficult to position in the mind of the consumer – Xerox
  • Descriptive – says something about what you do and how you do it – Speedy Printing
  • Generic – doesn’t say much about the company, but can lend itself well to branding – Apple

The most important thing to remember about naming the business is it has to be protected through copyright or trademark. Including a search of existing companies in the early stages of incorporating your business is essential. If your business hits it big, it would be a shame if an obscure company in another state with a similar name sues you for infringement.

Naming a business is just one area of concern when you start a business. We make it our mission to help you in every possible way, from incorporation to trademark protection.  If you’re in the planning stages of incorporating your business, we’re here to help!

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Updating your website

When you own a small business, performing regular maintenance on your website is an absolute necessity. I saw an article recently outlining seven steps for updating your website.

The article makes several good points about updating your site. For instance, if your site was designed a few years ago, the look and feel may be outdated. Cleaner layouts that use space effectively have taken the place of sites that shoehorn in pictures and content.

Another piece of good advice involves broken links, which are a telltale sign of neglect.  Make it a point to check the links on your site. (By the way, many experts agree that broken links adversely affect Google page rank.)

The one that hit home most for me concerned outdated information. I recently came across a site that had “New Arrivals – September 2010” on its home page. That doesn’t really entice me to go to its ecommerce page.

Also of utmost importance is the blog. The article discussed the liability having “a dusty, dated blog” will have on prospects. Quite simply, a majority of potential customers will go elsewhere if they see that your blog hasn’t had an entry in a few months. The article suggests once a week for a blog, which is about right for most businesses.

Promotion is just one area of concern when you own a small business. We make it our mission to help you in every possible way, from incorporation to trademark protection.  If your site needs an overhaul, or you need to build a website from scratch, we’re here to help!

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Using social media in business

Social media usage is on the rise, and it is important to understand the many different ways you can use it. Sure, you can use it for promotion, but it is really secondary to how businesses should be using social media.

I recently read about increasing customer retention using social media in a VentureBeat.com article. It lists 10 ways to help you keep current customers, but I thought it really boils down to three.

Service
Any complaints customers may have should be handled quickly and transparently. If there is a problem, address it. If an apology is necessary, do it and move on. Offer an unsatisfied customer a way to resolve the issue. It is important not to delete any negative comments. Show you are addressing issues. If it is on a public review site, it is important to show that you are responding, and not in a negative way.

Research
By tracking social media, you have your finger on the pulse of what people are saying about your company and your product. Your customers can sometimes help you identify issues you may not have anticipated.

Engagement
Remember the old adage: “The best form of advertising is word of mouth”? Social media is the new word of mouth, with one distinct advantage: Savvy businesses can use it to steer the conversation about their product or service. While it’s not free, it’s cheap and, most importantly, readily available to consumers. Studies have shown that people trust testimonials from other customers more than they trust advertising.

Protecting your image is just one area of concern when you own a small business. We make it our mission to make business ownership as easy as possible.  From incorporation to building a website, if you need information on our small business services, we’re here to help!

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2012 resolution for small business owners: Find venture capital

Over the Holidays I found myself reading those ubiquitous “Best of 2011” and “Resolutions for 2012” articles. If your resolution is to find venture capital this year, here are a couple of articles that might help.

 

“6 tips for raising capital in 2012” caught my eye, not because it was particularly ground-breaking, but because it drilled everything down to six simple steps. The last two, in particular, demand the attention of every small business owner seeking venture capital.

Don’t break the law.
Seriously, don’t do it. When you have a small business on the cusp of becoming something great, there could be some inclination to cut corners to raise funds as quickly as possible. If you’re unsure, speak to your attorney. Don’t risk your business by doing something illegal.

Start the process now.
It takes longer to raise capital than you think. Making contacts, getting paperwork in order and polishing your presentation… all are important. If you want to find venture capital in 2012, start now. It’s best to enter into that endeavor with some sense of urgency.

“Protecting your secret sauce” is a quick and dirty guide about protecting yourself when talking to VCs. The biggest takeaway from the article concerns non-disclosure agreements.

Put away the NDA.
Don’t bother presenting them with a non-disclosure agreement. They won’t sign them and they are ridiculously difficult to enforce. Venture capitalists and those who make it a business to invest see tons of pitches and executive summaries and hear about investment opportunities every day. Some will be similar and it would be impossible keep track of NDAs for all of them.

Financing your business is just one area of concern when you’re starting a business. We make it our mission to make it as easy as possible.  If you need information on incorporating your business, we’re here to help!

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