Interview with Dan Casto of Offit Kurman, Attorneys at Law

This interview with Dan Casto, Principal Attorney at Offit Kurman, was conducted by Robin Suomi of Startup to Growth, LLC by email.  Dan shares his Top 3 Tips for startups who want to build a strong business, and his Top 3 Mistakes to avoid.

Q:  Dan, thanks for taking the time to talk with us about the legal side of small business ownership.  Please start by telling us a little bit about your firm and yourself, and how you work with small business owners. And for fun, please include something few other people know about you. 

Dan: Offit Kurman Attorneys At Law is a regional law firm that assists clients throughout the mid-Atlantic region, including Northern Virginia. I work as an adviser and partner to my clients to help with matters related to corporate and business law, securities issuances and disclosure requirements, commercial transactions, business and strategic planning, risk assessment, corporate governance, government contracting, taxation, financial regulatory, education regulatory, and government affairs.

One little known fact about me is that while with a former law firm I started the firm’s Bitcoin practice (note that I sold my one Bitcoin when it was only $70!).

Q:  Dan, you mentioned your firm assists clients through the mid-Atlantic region. Does that mean that if one of our readers is looking for a small business attorney outside of Virginia, they could contact you and you would make the appropriate introduction to another member of your firm for them?

Dan:  Yes, I’d be happy to.  That is one of the advantages of working with a larger law firm.  Our attorneys practice in many jurisdictions as well as in multiple legal practice areas.  Some even have Bitcoin experience!

Q:  Thanks, Dan.  Now, please give me three words that best describe you and why.  We want to know a bit more about you personally here. 

Dan:

  1. Responsive
  2. Efficient
  3. Timely

I strive to provide my clients with sophisticated legal services on par with the world’s best law firms, all while being more efficient and cost effective. Clients deserve nothing less.

Q:  Dan, this blog is to educate small business owners.  Given that, I’d love to know why you enjoy working with small businesses.   

Dan:  I enjoy working with small businesses because of the excitement and drive they possess for their business to succeed. When a small business owner is involved, it becomes more personal for me to partner with them in order to protect their business and livelihoods.

Q:  What is one entrepreneurial trait you like to see in clients you work with?

Dan:  The drive to succeed – it’s contagious!

Q:  I agree.  Now, if you could give small business owners, specifically startups, your top three tips, what would they be?

Dan: 

  1. Build a team of professionals from the get-go. Having an accountant, attorney, and banker will more than pay for itself in the long-run.
  2. Invest in the resources you need to succeed, especially an accounting system that allows you to keep tabs on your revenue and costs.
  3. When something fails, learn from it, move on and move on quickly.

Q:  Conversely, will you share the top three mistakes you have seen startups make? We’d like to help our readers avoid these.   

Dan: 

  1. I’ve witnessed startups fail at something and keep trying to fix it, where they need to just move on from that one piece and try it from a different approach.
  2. I’ve seen startups over promise, and under achieve too often.
  3. I’ve seen startups fail to professionalize their operations when it became necessary.

 

Q:  What is next for you and your company?

Dan:  We will continue to do what we do best: provide sophisticated legal services to small and medium sized clients in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Q:  What one book/blog would you recommend small business owners read?             

Dan:  The book Moneyball because it shows you can compete at the highest levels without having he most money.

 

Q:  And that’s a great ending to this interview.  By necessity many small businesses start out with fewer monetary resources and tons of drive and perseverance.  Thank you again, Dan, for your time. 

If our readers would like to get in touch with you, what is the best way to do that?  

 

Dan:  By email at [email protected] or by phone at 703-745-1820.  Thank you, Robin.

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About Robin Suomi, MBA,  Founder of Startup to Growth, LLC.  Success is rarely accidental. My passion is helping my small business clients move from concept through growth (many clients surpassing $1M in sales), unleashing their vitality, innovation and creativity as they launch or grow their successful and sustainable companies according to their vision. For over 10 years I have helped thousands of small business owners launch and grow their dreams through 1-1 and group small business coaching, technical small business consulting, mastermind groups, business plan classes, and other educational programs. As an adjunct professor, I taught Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management and Business 101 courses. Our services at Startup to Growth, LLC are delivered online and in-person.

We are launching How to Start A Business: Your Successful Launch, an online course, which will educate potential small business owners about starting their own business. It will be a refresher course for the rest of us.

Debbie Cabala of John Marshall Bank Talks about Small Business

Debbie Cabala of John Marshall Bank Talks about Small Business

By Robin Suomi, Founder, Startup to Growth, LLC.
I recently interviewed Debbie Cabala, Vice President, Business Development Officer of John Marshall Bank, asking her about her experience working with small business owners in Leesburg and the surrounding Loudoun County, Virginia area.

When I first met with Debbie, I was struck by her friendliness and savvy small business banking knowledge.  I knew I wanted to tap into that expertise, so I asked her to help me launch a project I was working on at that time, a series of blog posts titled, Ask the Experts.  She jumped right in.  Not that that surprised me, because all the bankers at John Marshall Bank have shown equal professionalism and enthusiasm in my interactions with them.  Read what Debbie says about how she works with small businesses and learn more about John Marshall Bank.  Don’t miss Debbie’s Top Tips to help you improve your business, and read her Top Mistakes so you’ll know what to avoid!

I’d love your help on this project, too.  In our Ask the Experts series we will also interview attorneys, accountants, marketing professionals, insurance brokers and other small business professionals to get their advice for entrepreneurs.  Is there someone you recommend we interview?  Do you have a specific subject or question you would like us to ask an expert about?  Great!  Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it.

Finally, are you or a friend thinking about starting a business or re-energizing a company you started a while back that has been ho-humming along?  Look for our How to Start a Business: Your Successful Launch online course launching July 2017.  Make your summer count.

We’re all about small business here at LoudounSmallBusiness.com.  We love watching YOU start and grow YOUR business!

Happy blogging!
Robin Suomi

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Q: Debbie, thank you for giving us your time to help educate small business owners about banking.  Let’s start by giving our readers your name and telling us a little bit about your company and how you work with small business owners. 

Debbie:  How many community banks can claim they are one of the Best Performing Banks in Virginia?  Or how about a local bank claiming a national “health” rating of an A+?  My name is Debbie Cabala, and I work at that bank – John Marshall Bank.

Our bank’s corporate culture puts the customer first, offering a hefty dose of personal attention while tailoring the latest banking products and services to meet your financial needs.  We are local bankers, at a local bank, working with small businesses to customize the right package of banking products to suit their unique needs.   I am interested in the business you run, and working closely with you, developing a banking plan that I am confident will kick-start your business to the next level.

Major points about John Marshall Bank:

  • A Northern Virginia-based community bank with assets of over $1B.
  • Corporate culture is “customer first.” Personal attention in all departments.
  • We have an A+ rating as one of the healthiest banks in the USA
  • As a community bank, our bankers live in, work in and enjoy the same community as you
  • Decisions are made locally and quickly, with all customers – no matter large or small – having easy access to top executives
  • We customized banking solutions to satisfy the needs of individual businesses and individuals
  • Our online and mobile banking products are robust and secure

Q. Thank you. Those are excellent points.  Now let’s talk about you.  List three words that best describe you and why. Yup, just three!

Debbie:  Persistent because I will not be content until my customer is satisfied with the products and services I have recommended;  Confident because I know our bank and my expertise will set us apart from any other bank in the area; Cordial because we will work together for the benefit of your business with a cordiality that will lead us to a long-term banking relationship.

Q. And to continue in that vein, tell me why you enjoy working with small businesses.

Debbie:  Small business, when supported by the right bank and other professionals like CPAs and lawyers, often grow into success stories.  I enjoy the challenge and the satisfaction of working towards that success with my customers.  There is nothing like participating in the success of a small business owner’s hard work and sacrifice.

Q. Great.  Let’s talk about the entrepreneurs you serve.  What is one entrepreneurial trait you like to see in clients you work with?

Debbie:  The ability to work together as a team to achieve a common goal.  I also like to see an entrepreneur who understands banking and the spreadsheets that bankers like to see as the business grows.  For those entrepreneurs who have a great idea and start their businesses, but don’t yet fully appreciate the importance of accurate bookwork, I enjoy the opportunity to work with them on their financial literacy goals.

Q. If you could give small business owners, specifically startups, your top three tips, what would they be?

Debbie:  First, get a banker you can relate to; one who gives you personal attention and who you can easily reach.  Your banker can be your best advocate and free consultant. Second,  though your banker can provide you with bank services, such as full reconciliation, hire a CPA, accountant or bookkeeper, who will keep your books straight and reconciled at least once per month.  This will benefit your business and your banking relationship, and you will have an easier time of it when April comes around.  Third, engage a lawyer and hope you never need to use their service.  In today’s litigious atmosphere, you just never know when you need to move fast, and it’s good to have a relationship already in place with a lawyer you’ve met and who understand you and your business.  A fourth tip is that I encourage companies to pay for adequate insurance with an umbrella policy that protects both your business and your personal assets.

Q. Conversely, will you share the top two mistakes you have seen startups make? We are hoping to save our readers a ton of pain!

Debbie:  Poor Bookkeeping/Cash Flow.  Poor cash flow management is the number one cause for depleted operating balances.  When balances drop and trigger overdraft lines to kick in, banks generally charge for non-sufficient funds.   By simply consulting with your banker, solutions to avoiding NSF fees can help businesses stay ahead of this asset drain and help to establish more reliable financial practices.

Hiring the wrong personnel.  I have seen fraud on business owners’ accounts by handing over full control of the bank accounts to an employee gone rogue.  Your banker can provide fraud prevention services to eliminate this risk.  However, the business owner should always stay involved in the finances.

Q. Debbie, I used to work as a court reporter and I can personally attest to your comments about fraud. Small business owners think it will never happen to them, but it certainly can.  I love your suggestion of getting your bank involved with fraud prevention services to eliminate this risk.  

Now, on a lighter side, what one book/blog would you recommend small business owners read?

Debbie:  Live Free or DIY by Justin Crawford.  This book is perfect for the small business owner pressed with too many things to do and faced with too little time.  Live Free or DIY reveals the obstacles small business owners face in every industry, and reveals how to overcome the challenges of entrepreneurship.  The book walks the reader through budgeting, time management, work-life balance, how to build a team and how to grow your business.

Q. Debbie, thank you again for sharing your time and expertise to help small business owners! If our readers would like to get in touch with you, please let them know the best way to reach you.

Debbie:  I can be reached on my cell or email, at 571-447-3919 or [email protected]. You may also visit the Business Banking website page for John Marshall Bank.

Interview with Jill Kurtz of Kurtz Digital Strategy

Small Business Digital Strategy TipsThis interview with Jill Kurtz, Owner of Kurtz Digital Strategy of Northern Virginia was conducted by Robin Suomi of Startup to Growth, LLC via email.

Q.  Jill, thank you for taking time to conduct this interview!  I know you are an active blogger and social media advocate, and I wanted to gain your insight about working with small business owners.  Please start by giving our readers your name, and tell us a little bit about your company and how you work with small business owners.

Jill:  My name is Jill Kurtz, and I’m the owner of Kurtz Digital Strategy, LLC.  I provide consulting services to help organizations to build relationships with target constituencies. The primary focus is website, social media, and content strategy.

Q.  Thanks, Jill.  What is one little known fact about you that you would like to share with our readers?

Jill: My dad is the only person in his family who was born in the US. I believe that the dynamics of his family give me valuable perspective into communicating across languages, cultures and generations.

Q.  In today’s multicultural world, I can see that can be a wonderful advantage. Thank you for sharing that.  Now, would you list three words that best describe you and tell us a little bit about why you chose them.  

Jill:  Sincere – I want to help and do the best for everyone who I know.  Joyful – I am blessed in both my personal and professional life. Efficient – I have been asked so many times “how do you get all that done?,” that I just embrace the label.

Q:  Jill, I have known you for a while, and I see all three qualities when I work with you.  Great choices.  Now, why do you enjoy working with small businesses?

Jill:  I like to work with decision makers who can make things happen. In small businesses, I get to work with those kinds of people all the time.

Small business owners are determined and focused. They don’t waste any resources – time or money. I know when I deliver something to a small business that the work is valued and will be used.  That also lets me see the value of my work and measure results for my clients.

Q:  I’m always interested in the “why.”  Tell us what ignited the spark in you to start your business?  How did it all come about?

Jill:  I have accumulated more than 30 years of experience working in a variety of organizations. I wanted to be able to share my expertise across a range of businesses. And, frankly, I was tired of working for bad bosses who I couldn’t fire.

As the owner of my own business I get to pick my clients and projects. I select clients who are passionate about their work and pick projects that allow me to apply my expertise in new ways. I learn new things all the time and that keeps me energized.

Q:  What is one entrepreneurial trait you like to see in clients you work with?

Jill:  I like to work with entrepreneurs who are focused on a goal. That focus lets me develop marketing and communication strategies to get them there. It is really hard to hit a moving target, so I really appreciate clients who have a strong sense of what they want to accomplish.

Q:  I would love you to share your insight with our readers.  If you could give small business owners, specifically startups, your top three tips, what would they be?

Jill:  Tip 1: You can’t be a little bit in business. (Just like you can’t be a little bit pregnant.) You must be all in, dedicated to your business, or you are just wasting time. You can’t be “having a business” and looking for full time employment or working another full-time job.

Tip 2: Build a community. Some people call them trusted advisors, others call them the board of advisors. Whatever you call them, have a group of people who are go to resources for you as a business owner. Make connections with people who overlap your skills as well as people who have skills that you lack. You want a robust team that you can tap to navigate whatever challenges come your way.

Tip 3: Don’t underestimate yourself and don’t overestimate what’s needed to be successful. I was talking to someone just the other day who had a business idea but was afraid of the unknowns. Finally, one day someone in the industry told him, “Just do it. It’s not magical.” We are all in a continuous process of figuring things out. To make progress you have to start. Just do it!

Q:  Conversely, will you share the top three mistakes you have seen startups make? We can all learn a lot by understanding the pitfalls of others.  

Jill:  Mistake 1: Not setting/ignoring your limits. Know how much you can invest in your business without jeopardizing your lifestyle, how many hours you are willing to devote, etc. Only you can determine the right boundaries. Once you set them, stick to them. If you don’t you will be unhappy and potentially broke. Now that’s pain!

Mistake 2: Being all things to all people. Let me help here: you can’t. The more you can focus on what you are doing and who you are serving, the greater the chance your business will succeed. There are a zillion resources and opportunities out there. You will know which ones are worthwhile if you can determine which ones align with your focus.

Mistake 3: All work and no play. Be sure to build some fun into your days! Don’t let guilt prevent you from enjoying a sunny afternoon or catching a movie in the middle of the day. When you have fun you rejuvenate the energy you bring to your business.

Q:  Great insight, Jill. Thank you for sharing those tips and challenges with our readers.  Now, what is next for you and your company?

Jill:  I continue to refine my service offerings to get that optimal balance of bringing expertise to benefit each client and learning new things that help me to grow. I have set goals for incremental year-over-year increases and will continue that until I reach my targets for both work hours and income.

Q:  What one book/blog would you recommend small business owners read?

Jill:  I have been blogging for several years about marketing and communication topics. My goal is to offer quick reads that can help readers no matter what role or business they have. My stats show that articles I wrote years ago are still helpful today, so I know that am building a valuable resource: https://kurtzdigitalstrategy.com/communication-in-a-web-saturated-world/

Q:  Jill, thank you again for sharing your time and expertise with our readers.  If our readers would like to get in touch with you, how can they best do that? 

Jill:  Please visit my website and contact me using whatever method works best for you! https://kurtzdigitalstrategy.com/

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Ask the Experts Interviews Series:  In this series we are reaching out to small business professionals across the nation from various disciplines and interviewing them about how they serve the small business community, asking for their wisdom gained through working with small businesses.  Our goal?  To educate entrepreneurs about small business, help them learn best practices, hopefully avoid mistakes, learn how to choose the right professional to hire, and in general educate our readers on topics they may not have thought of.  Do you have a suggestion for us?  Let us know at [email protected]  We welcome your suggestions and comments!

About Robin Suomi, MBA,  Founder of Startup to Growth, LLC.  Success is rarely accidental. My passion is helping my small business clients move from concept through growth (many clients surpassing $1M in sales), unleashing their vitality, innovation and creativity as they launch or grow their successful and sustainable companies according to their vision. For over 10 years I have helped thousands of small business owners launch and grow their dreams through 1-1 and group small business coaching, technical small business consulting, mastermind groups, business plan classes, and other educational programs. As an adjunct professor, I taught Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management and Business 101 courses. Our services at Startup to Growth, LLC are delivered online and in-person.

In July of 2017 I am launching How to Start A Business: Your Successful Launch, an online course, which will educate potential small business owners about starting their own business. It will be a refresher course for the rest of us!

The post Interview with Jill Kurtz of Kurtz Digital Strategy appeared first on Startup to Growth, LLC.

Small Business Lessons from the Bike Trail

Small Business Lessons from the Bike Trail

Submitted by Robin Suomi, MBA, founder of Startup to Growth, LLC. (C) 2016.  All rights reserved.

Top 10 Small Business Lessons

I Learned on the Bike Trail

(Part 1 of 2)

I began biking on a local railroad trial this summer to get back into shape. While on the trail enjoying nature, pushing myself to my limit, taking longer and longer rides, renewing my biking skills and reaching my personal goals, I was struck by how much the lessons I was learning on the trail mirrored the small business lessons I have learned and regularly share with my clients as they 1) launch or 2) grow their businesses.  It is no surprise that they all surround planning – either planning my bike outings or small business planning.

Here are the Top 10 Small Business Lessons I learned on the Bike Trail this past summer while reaching my goal – biking 30 miles despite 98 degree weather in Northern Virginia.

1.      Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

BIKE:  When you are biking in the summer, water means survival.  In 98+ degree summer weather around our nation’s capital, you can get in physical trouble pretty quickly without water.  Always take frequent hydration breaks while biking, carry extra water, and never pass up a trail water fountain.

BUSINESS:  In your business, cash equals water. You’ve heard the phrase, Cash is King.  Well, it is.  You must make sure you have enough startup capital to launch your business and enough working capital to keep your doors open, paying your expenses and yourself until your sales are steady, your company is profitable and you can take a regular paycheck or draw.  Make it part of your financial projections in your business plan!

As a startup, it is not easy to get a loan. You will likely fund your business from your savings, use a crowd-funding platform, charge items to your credit card or maybe even borrow from friends and family. Be very, very careful of each one of these sources of cash.  If you are like many small business owners, you will start your business “on the side,” keeping your steady paycheck until one day when you can quit your day job.  Or you will start your business more slowly and more carefully than you would if you had, say, an open spigot of free-flowing cash.

MEGA TIP:  An open spigot of cash often makes you careless in your business, and can actually cost you a lot of time/money down the line. Start lean and learn your lessons as you grow.

2.      Snacks are your energy

BIKE:  Once your water is taken care of, make sure you have snacks for a steady supply of energy on a long ride.  Find out what snacks travel best on the trail, are easy to eat, carry a big punch of energy, don’t spoil, etc.  And make sure they’re things you like because then you will enjoy them! Snacks help ensure you will finish your long rides in good health and reach your goal.

BUSINESS:  Your customers are your business’s energy supply. Just land a new client? Huge, huge burst of energy!  Is it a customer you really enjoy working with and is squarely within your target market? Even more energy!  Potential long-term customer?  Woo-hoo!  If you don’t have enough customers over time you won’t have a business.  Make sure you have a business plan that identifies your target customer and outlines a plan to get them through the door and their money into your bank account!

MEGA TIP:  If you’re low on customers, you will take on customers who are very difficult to work with, are never (ever) satisfied, don’t pay their bills, and who make your business life harder than you ever thought possible. As quickly as possible, create a plan to get rid of those customers and replace them with better customers.

PARALLEL MEGA TIP FOR HR:  I remember discussing this point with one client.  After thinking about it, he fired about 80% of his part-time staff, and began raking in the money.  He got rid of the nonperformers.

3.      Watch out for snakes

BIKE:  Yes, there are snakes on the bike trail.  Some you recognize as snakes, and some you don’t.  Some you will see, and most you won’t.  Some are poisonous, and some are not.  No matter.  In my book, snakes are snakes.  If I see one, I get the heck out of there because I rarely see any good coming from a snake.

BUSINESS:  Yes, there are snakes in business, too.  Some you recognize as snakes, and some you don’t.  Some you recognize instantly as “poisonous,” and some you don’t.  Examples of “poisonous snakes” in business might be people who have questionable ethics, play “politics” and have a personal goal to hurt you or your business, knowingly infringe on your trademark, try to steal your clients, copy your ideas, or spread insidious lies or half-truths around about you or your company.  No matter.  In business, when you recognize a “snake,” your steps are clear.

  • First, decide if you must (must, not simply want to, but must) protect your flank against the snake.
  • Second, if you must, then protect it, whatever that means legally, ethically and morally in your specific situation.
  • But third, if you don’t need to protect your flank, then simply bike away as quickly as possible! If you concentrate so much on the snake that you take your eyes off your goals, the snake wins.

Consider consulting your mastermind group to help you identify and decide what to do with your snakes.  We get emotionally engaged with our snakes, and that is usually not a good thing.  Take the emotion out of it.  Just deal with the snakes.

I don’t know about you, but I hate to lose to a snake, and I rarely do.

MEGA TIP:  Snakes are more scared of you than you are of them.  With “business snakes,” it is typically THEIR insecurity, jealousy, fear, missteps in the past, repercussions, etc. — things they have experienced and carried with them — that makes them want to take it out on you.  Again, it’s a snake, regardless of what’s behind it.  Seek an outside perspective if you are too close to it, continue to be the best you can be at what you are doing,  and move on.

4.      Out-bike the gnats

BIKE:  Now and again you bike into a swarm of gnats.  They are annoying and slightly bothersome, but not a real threat.  Just out-bike them and leave them in your wake!

BUSINESS:  In business, gnats are those annoying competitors who are constantly swarming, nipping, or even (ineffectually) trying to draw blood.  No worries.  They are gnats.  Focus on YOUR goals and out-compete them!  Again, a solid business plan will keep you focused on YOUR goals and guide you here!

5.      It’s amazing what happens when you ride a unicycle!

BIKE:  On the trail in Northern Virginia, you see tons and tons of the typical, two-wheeled, 18-speed bikes.  What stands out are the rare unicycles, or occasional horse, or even the motor propelled go-carts.  Note to self:  Actually the motorized go-cart is illegal, so don’t go there.

BUSINESS:  In business, are you a unicycle or are you a two-wheeler?  Are you impressively standing out through your marketing, excellent products/services, community engagement and business practices, or are you simply in the middle of the pack, jumping up and down, wildly waving your hands and shouting “me, too! me, too!”?  The “unicycle” approach might mean you are king or queen of a narrow, focused and specialized niche.  Assuming your business foundation is rock solid, then with the proper SEO and online marketing techniques this can be a more lucrative approach than jumping up and down, waving wildly, shouting “me, too!”  Honestly, that is exhausting.

Be different.  Find your unicycle.

My next blog post will cover the final five lessons learned from the trail.

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Robin Suomi, MBA, founder of Startup to Growth, LLC has helped thousands of small business owners over the past 10+ years launch and/or grow their small businesses through 1-1 counseling/coaching, small business mastermind groups, seminars and workshops. In addition to designing her signature Business Plan Boot Camp course, she has taught Business 101 and Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management courses as an adjunct professor. Startup to Growth, LLC also writes business plans for their clients through customized coaching/business planning packages.  Contact Robin for specific details and current pricing at [email protected]

Executive Director of the Loudoun Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Inc. for 9+ years, Robin’s complete bio is available at www.startuptogrowth.com.