Making Apologies as a Small Business Owner

After Wells Fargo CEO and Chairman John Stumpf stepped down following news of two million bogus accounts opened by employees under pressure to meet sales goals, a new CEO was culled from the ranks and put in charge. One of Tim Sloan’s first tasks as the new CEO of Wells Fargo was to reassure his employees and customers that things were going to get better. One thing is certain – before offering up his apology and presenting his plans to turn things around, he had legal advice. You may never face a televised congressional hearing evaluating your business practices, but you may someday find yourself making apologies as a small business owner. Here are three tips for getting the apology right, and some thoughts on when you may need legal advice.

1. Fix the Problem

This may seem obvious, but your apology will not have clout if the situation that allowed the problem to occur in the first place still exists. In Tim Sloan’s case, try to imagine that how effective his apology would be if his employees and the public knew customers were still being sold products they didn’t want, need, or authorize. You may need to make difficult choices to make sure you’ve fixed the root cause of the problem that lead to the need for an apology, choices which could include letting people go, changing the structure of your business, or altering your sales practices. If so, make sure you obtain legal advice before you fix the problem. If it’s a simple issue that can be resolved with simple changes to procedure, you may not need to talk to an attorney. But if your solution includes a major change to policy or practice, or a remedy that could expose you to risk, you should consider legal advice.

2. Make Sure Your Employees and Customers Know They Are Valuable

Regardless of what went wrong, even if the mistake that was made was an honest or unintended one, your customers and employees may be wondering if you value them. In the case of outright mistreatment – such as Wells Fargo employees being fired for reporting unethical behavior, or outright fraud – such as Wells Fargo opening unauthorized accounts for their customers – employees and customers will feel used and distrustful. But even if you simply made a mistake, or are facing a situation out of your control, people may wonder if you care about them, or if you carelessly “let this happen.” Make sure your apology includes a confirmation of caring that goes beyond your words if possible. Put yourself in the shoes of those who feel harmed. Is there anything that could make it better? What ever your solution involves, make sure you employees and customers know they are valuable to you and to your business.

This is another good point to consider legal advice. You need to make sure that what you offer in the way of making things right does not expose you to unintended legal consequences. Find a business attorney in Colorado and check in. This is one of those times when legal help in advance can make a big difference.

3. Listen to Employees and Customers

Advising you to listen to employees and customers who are impacted may seem like the first step, but I’ve placed it at the end because this is a two part listening practice:

  • You need to listen to all parties to understand what went wrong and why they are upset. Understanding why they are upset is as important as knowing what went wrong. When you make your apology, and you explain your steps to correct the problem, it is essentially that you also be able to apologize to people about how they were made to feel. Do people feel they may no longer be able to trust you to keep promises? Are employees afraid you’re not paying attention to issues that could impact their livelihood? Don’t assume you know what they are feeling. Ask, and listen.
  • You also need to listen to feedback on your solution before you present it. Find a small group of key individuals and ask for their input as you formulate a solution and before you present it. Their feedback will be crucial to understanding the impact of your apology and how your solution might be viewed by those who are counting on you to make things better.

One final note on listening: make sure your listening process offers anonymity. Some people may not want to tell you what they knew about the problems in your organization before and after they surfaced – they may look at Wells Fargo as an example of what could happen and worry they could be fired. You will not be able to come up with the complete picture, and thus a viable solution, if you don’t get the full story.

Making apologies as a small business owner may not be easy, but if you are well prepared, it can make a real difference. If you need helping understanding the legal ramifications of a less than desirable business situation that may require an apology on your part, or crafting a solution that doesn’t compromise you legally, I can help with business coaching, or a business planning consultation to help you move forward. For any type of Colorado small business legal review, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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Time, Money, and Talent: Three Keys to Inclusive Small Business Giving

As we approach the end of the year, many Colorado small business owners are thinking about philanthropic giving. In addition to the need to vet a chosen charity, finding a variety of ways that allow you and your team to offer time, money, or talent can insure all employees have an opportunity to give and no one feels left out.

Small Business Owners Value Time

If you are a small business owner, you know how valuable your time can be. It probably comes as no surprise that some of your employees are in the same boat – they might clock out after a forty-hour week, but they go home to lives that are busy. Asking them to give up a Saturday to plant trees, or volunteer at a shelter might be asking for much more than they can give. Does that mean you should not offer volunteer opportunities to your team? Absolutely not; but you should make sure that any philanthropic activity you engage in is inclusive and allows your team members to donate time, money, or talent as they are able. Here’s how:

Create Tiers of Time

If you offer an opportunity to volunteer time, make sure you create tiers of time; try to break up the activities associated with volunteering time into two or three levels of giving. In the same way that we are often invited to give what money we can, we can offer employees the chance to give what time they can, rather than asking everyone to give up an entire Saturday for a good cause. By offering a variety of activities with different time requirements which each support the core giving activity, we can find good ways to accommodate someone whose weekends are filled with family members who rely heavily on them, or are unavailable for other reasons.

Money Can Be the Preferred Way to Give

For some of your employees, money can be the preferred way to give. The key to tying that gift to a team effort is connecting the giving that comes from your organization to the people that it benefits. Go beyond the typical thermometer measure of how much was given and make sure those who gave money can see the impact it had. Find some way to connect the gift to actual people, not just to the numbers benefited, or the amount given. When a connection is made, and the impact of the gift is felt, giving cash can be as rewarding an experience as volunteering.

Talent Takes Time and Money

Some organizations need your abilities and those of your employees more than your cash or volunteer hours. A third way to consider giving is to offer the services of your employees as part of their work day. A precaution here: when an employer directs an employee to volunteer, that time is compensable. The regulations state:

Time spent in work for public or charitable purposes at the employer’s request, or under his direction or control, or while the employee is required to be on the premises, is working time.

In many ways, giving talent is the most costly way for you to give to charity; but you may be able to get real bang for your buck from a philanthropic perspective. Look for opportunities where you and your employees can offer to serve in ways the general public cannot. In the same way a legal firm can offer pro bono work, your team may have desperately needed specialized skills or talent. If your team can truly experience or see the impact of their gift, it can have great value to your organization as well as to the charity.

Still not sure how to get started? Kim Jensen of the Denver Business Journal gives six excellent tips on where to start, including tips to broaden inclusion, and even involve your customers and clients! As always, If you need help vetting a charity, or understanding the rules associated with charitable giving, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
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Five Year End Tasks for Every Small Business Owner

If you’re a small business owner, the end of the year can signal your busiest season, or a quiet time when you catch up on paperwork and planning. Either way, before New Year’s Day arrives, make sure you’ve reviewed this list of five year end tasks for every small business owner.

Be Organized Next Year

The New Year means a new tax return will need to be prepared, which means it’s time to start gathering your receipts and categorizing them now. If this is a chore you dread (who doesn’t?) you may also wish to spend a little time making it easier to be organized next year by utilizing online apps and collaboration tools that can make it a lot easier to keep track of mileage records, receipts, and business meetings during the coming year.

Plan to Spend Money

If you operate on a calendar year, pay any bills by December 31 to ensure that you can deduct them this year. If there are larger expenditures you’ve been considering and can afford, see how many you can pay for before the year ends as well. It may seem odd to plan to spend money at year end, but it can have a big impact on your tax liability if done correctly.

Talk to Your Advisors

The New Year brings a time to reflect on the past and prepare for the future. It’s also a perfect time to talk to your advisors, especiallyl since three of them might be able to give you advice that you won’t be able to use (or won’t benefit you in the current year) after New Year’s Eve. I suggest speaking to:

  • Your Insurance Agent
  • Your CPA
  • Your Attorney

Questions for your Insurance Agent: If you have insurance, it may be time to review your policy to make sure it adequately covers your business. An additional vehicle, employee, or owner may mean that you need additional coverage.

Questions for your CPA: If you’ve been using a bookkeeper all year, or doing your own books, your CPA probably hasn’t heard from you in awhile. Like your small business attorney, your CPA may have tips for you about tax breaks and allowed expenses, that you will want to follow before the year ends. This is also a good time to get on your CPA’s calendar for next year, before his or her appointment book fills up.

Questions for your Attorney: This may be the most important call you make, and I’m not just saying that because I’m an attorney; each year the laws, rules, and benefits of various business structures change. If you have not had an attorney review your business to discuss legal issues or examine your current business structure to see if it right for your business now, make sure you do so before the year ends.

Get Ready to Mail

For small business owners who have employees or independent contractors, now is the time to get ready to mail out those W2s and 1099s in time for the IRS deadline. Are your payroll records organized? Do they need to be updated to reflect current mailing addresses?

Review That Business Plan

For businesses that slow down during the holidays, this may be the perfect time to review that business plan sitting on your shelf. If it has been a tough year for your small business, this is a good time to look forward to building your business next year, and thinking about what changes you will need to make. If it has been a great year, there’s cause to celebrate and plan – growth can be as hard on a business as shrinking revenues.

Now that you’ve got your five year end tasks for every small business owner in hand, you may find you need advice about year end tax planning, or an expert review of your current business structure. For legal help or referrals to small business professionals, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
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3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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How the Apple v. Samsung Case Impacts Small Business

Several cases before the Supreme Court, which began its new session October 3rd, may not seem entirely relevant to small business owners, but there is one you should pay attention to if you do design work, including online applications, processes, and websites. It is the legal battle that Samsung and Apple have been in over design patent infringement.

Boiled down, the question is simply, when something is produced that incorporates a copied design, how much of the profit from the sale of the product should go to the designer? The design community says all of it, but other interested parties say that a single design element is not solely responsible for the sale, and handing over ALL profits when an idea has been “borrowed” is excessive.

Intellectual Property for Colorado Entrepreneurs

What exactly is intellectual property?

Intellectual property (IP) refers to the ownership of an idea or design by the person who came up with it. It is a term used in property law. … Common types of intellectual property rights include copyrights, trademarks, patents, industrial design rights and trade secrets. ~Wikipedia

If you are a Colorado entrepreneur who holds copyrights, trademarks, or patents (or thinks perhaps you should), this battle over a design patent between two electronics behemoths may seem far away and unrelated to the work you do. But let’s step back and take a look at both possible outcomes and see how each could affect your work.

Protection for Small Business Owners?

Punishment is meant to act a deterrent to would-be thieves. The initial award Apple was set to receive for the design patent infringement by Samsung was sizable, but do such awards offer protection for small business owners? In the United States today, if someone profits from “borrowing” your ideas, the courts will generally interpret the law to say that you deserve all of the profit. This acts as a deterrent to intellectual property theft, as there is no point in making a sale if you cannot profit from it. But this deterrent is less effective for small business owners, who often cannot afford a legal battle to prove that their idea has been “borrowed.” It works better for businesses like Apple that might realizes awards in the hundreds of millions, even if they have to spend millions to prove the infringement. This is not to say that intellectual property law offers no protection for small business owners; without it, you have no legal recourse against the theft of your ideas, but the strength of that deterrent is probably greater for a mega-corporation.

The design side of this particular legal argument (Apple) wants to keep this deterrent in place, and several prominent design based businesses have stepped up in support of Apple’s argument. If you work in design, a win for Apple may be a win for you, but a win for Samsung might not necessarily be a loss. Here’s why:

Intellectual Property License

An August 2016 post by fashion reporter Marc Bain explains the concerns of the design community, should the Supreme Court see things from Samsung’s point of view:

In theory, designers could become something like involuntary licensees, where the copier could still turn a profit off an infringing product and just pay for the portion that it copied.

The question for small business owners with intellectual property that can be licensed, is, would that be a bad thing? It depends on whether or not the cost of obtaining an award for the portion of the profit to be awarded to the patent holder were more or less expensive than obtaining an award for all of the profit. On one hand, getting someone to decide on whether your idea contributed to 10% or 80% of the resulting profit could be time consuming and expensive, but, the company that “borrowed” your idea may not fight as hard if they can still realize a profit, and might settle more quickly if they do not have to give up 100% of their earnings. For some entrepreneurs, having their ideas licensed – involuntarily or not – could be a welcome means of profiting from the idea. Ideally, the copycat would just come to you first, and with the help of your intellectual property attorney, would negotiate a license with you, but when that doesn’t happen, being awarded a percentage of the profits from the use of your idea might not be all bad.

If you work online or in design, you can find out whether any of your ideas, practices, applications, or web sites can or should be protected by contacting me, Elizabeth Lewis, your Denver small business and intellectual property attorney, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com. I can provide you with an intellectual property assessment for your business, or help you set up a licensing agreement with someone who wants to use one of your ideas. I can also help you determine if your intellectual property rights have been infringed on.

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Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
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3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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3 Small Business Owner Time Shortage Syndromes and How to Cure Them

Someone once said an entrepreneur is the only person willing to work an eighty hour week in order to avoid having to work forty. If you are a small business owner, you are likely often faced with multiple demands on your time and a severe shortage of hours in the day. Before you jump on a new solution to your time management woes, consider what is actually behind your time shortage. There are three “syndromes” I’ve come to recognize in the small business owners I offer legal advice to – if any of these sounds familiar, read on! There are tips and suggestions for what to do if you are suffering from Super Hero Syndrome, Growth Guru Syndrome, or Busy Body Business Syndrome!

Small Business Super Hero Syndrome

Some clients I meet with are so amazingly productive that I think of them as super heroes with unbelievable strength and endurance. But the truth is, none of us is a super hero. We have limitations. Sometimes we need help getting things done. If it is hard for you to let others be responsible for portions of your business,you may be suffering from Small Business Super Hero Syndrome. Your motto is, “I can do it (all)!” And most of the time you can.

If you have started to notice missed deadlines, work that is not your best, and good opportunities you have had to pass up, it might be time to look for a trusty side kick. If you are a small business owner, you probably sought legal advice from an attorney when you first formed your business, or before you signed your first big contract. So, why not look for a good bookkeeper to help with your books, or other tasks you do not have to do? If you need advice about who to connect with, and what services would benefit your small business, I am happy to refer you to the people and organizations I find do the most good for the small business super heroes my firm serves.

Business Growth Guru Syndrome

Some of the most brilliant people I know are those who are able to see opportunity in everything. Rather than seeing the glass-half-full, they see the glass spilling over with ways to create more revenue, and grow, grow, grow their business. Most of the time, this is a great way to see the world. However, if you are a Business Growth Guru, you may struggle with staying focused on the opportunity in front of you. Your motto is, “I AM focu… oh, look! Another opportunity!”

If you have noticed a dip in revenue from a once promising revenue source, it might be time to slow down and ask yourself if the most important things are getting most of your attention. If your core business is getting less attention than that new idea you just had, it might be time to step back and consider your priorities. You may need someone to help you complete a forecast, or provide advice on the best uses of your time. If you need a referral, and help determining the best course of action for your current business, I can refer you to some of the most gifted business advisers in Colorado.

Busy Body Business Syndrome

This syndrome is related to the Business Growth Guru Syndrome, but is not caused by abundant opportunity. Its root cause is an unmanageable task list. If you are suffering from the Busy Body Business Syndrome, you can remember writing your motto down (and it was a good one!), you just can’t remember where you wrote it.

If it seems like you are constantly dealing with a new emergency and you feel like working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week wouldn’t begin to help you dig out of the work you need to get done, you may have Busy Body Business Syndrome. You can study up on good advice from your peers, or hire a professional to help you organize your work space, create an environment where you can work without interruption when needed, and stay ahead of your tasks in order to reduce the number of emergencies you experience in a week.

The good news is, all 3 time shortage syndromes are curable! If you need legal help, or a referral to my network of small business support professionals who can help you organize, grow, or maintain your business, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com.

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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