Overview of Small Business Administration Online Courses

Ever since our government created the SBA (Small Business Administration) back in 1953, it’s been working hard to promote, assist and protect America’s small business interests. Chief among its goals is to help entrepreneurs as they try to create and “grow” new companies.

During recent years, the SBA has been offering online courses that can help people focus in on creating viable business plans – while also securing adequate funding for their initial marketing and other needs. Whether your business is still in the planning stages – or already gaining traction – you can benefit by taking several of these courses.

SBA classes can greatly help many business owners

  • The All Small Mentor-Protégé Program. Like most of the courses offered, this one allows you to glance at a course transcript or outline before starting the class. This 30-minute program is designed to help entrepreneurs decide if they’re businesses are ready to sell goods or services to the federal government. If you believe your business is ready, you can take this course and use the certification of completion while applying for acceptance into this mentor-protégé program;
  • Business opportunities. This 30-minute class (offered on a self-paced basis), helps entrepreneurs learn how federal contract procedures work and what they must first do before trying to sell goods to the federal government;
  • A course on gaining a competitive advantage for your company. This SBA class teaches students how to accurately evaluate their competition, create a brand, seek out potential customers and decide how best to set prices for their goods and services;
  • Financing your business. There are many ways to come up with the money you’ll need besides funding it yourself or obtaining a bank loan. This class explains the basics facts about venture capital, crowdfunding, angel investors, grants and other sources. You’ll also gain a better idea how to figure out your exact start-up costs and other expenses;
  • Legal requirements for a small business. This course explains many basic aspects of employment law that must be understood before trying to start a company. One key topic looks at how you must responsibly hire and fire employees. Be sure to speak with your Houston business law attorney during the earliest stages of starting your company to make sure you’re complying with all applicable state, local and federal laws;
  • Social media marketing. Every small business owner must learn how to properly market goods and service to the public using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr and others. This course also teaches students how to reach their prime or target audiences based on such factors as age and location;
  • Growing an established company.  At some point, most companies find themselves facing unexpected competition or a change in market forces that makes them need to retool their approach to winning new customers. This class will help you determine if your company is ready to expand and how to carry out that goal. It also teaches important growth strategies;
  • A course on buying a company already in business. Terms like due diligence are explained so that students will understand the critical need to learn all they can about any business before buying it,
  • The special cybersecurity needs of small businesses. This course helps acquaint owners with some of the ways they can try to protect themselves against major cyber threats that can take down websites and otherwise disrupt normal business transactions. There’s also a related class that describes useful ways to prevent general crimes from being committed against your company.

All the courses referenced above may prove useful to a large percentage of new businesses (or those needing to reinvent themselves). The following brief synopses are related to classes created for unique groups of entrepreneurs.

SBA classes designed for the needs of specific individuals and groups

  • Special contracting opportunities for veteran entrepreneurs. Nearly one in ten U. S. businesses are owned by military veterans. Since these men and women often face special burdens after serving our country, the government has created unique programs to help them find profitable ways to support themselves and provide jobs to others;
  • A course designed for Spanish-speaking young people. Titled Jovenes Emprendedores, this class provides key guidance for those who need business training materials taught and presented in Spanish). There is also a class designed for young entrepreneurs who are native English speakers;
  • Business development class for Native American businesses. Students in this class will learn more about the 8 (a) Business Development Program that’s been specially set up to help many small business owners facing economic disadvantages;
  • Entrepreneurship program for women over 50. Given the high number of seniors now needing to remain in the workforce past normal retirement age, this course is perfect for older women wanting to get new businesses off to a good start. Those who take this course may also want to review the materials designed for the more general WOSB (women-owned small business) Advantage class.

The courses referenced above are just a sampling of the roughly 63 free classes available to anyone who has 30 minutes (or more) to spend mastering these core topics. Should you decide to contact the SBA directly or online, they may be able to provide you with additional online and community resources that can help you get your business off to a promising start.

Please feel free to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys while trying to start up a new company – or purchasing one that’s already helping customers. We appreciate the opportunity to help all our clients succeed in all their new business endeavors.

Six Approaches to Effective Negotiation

1. Understand your Opponent’s Position

a. Crawl into the shoes of the other guy. When you understand your opponent, you have a        better chance of reaching a successful conclusion. That means paying attention to how they    view the issues.

2. Build Trust through Personal Relationships

a. Through mutual trust, you are able to achieve things that benefit both sides. When there      is trust, you can talk about their assumptions, strategies, and even fears.

3. Build Confidence

a. Confidence building keeps the parties talking. The best way to think about a big                      negotiation is in a series of small negotiations. Start with an issue that could be resolved          quickly, reasonably and amicably.

b. The longer you can keep the sides talking with one another – instead of delivering                  sermons to one another – the better the chances that a middle ground can be reached.

c. Once the two sides are able to take small steps in unison, you can move to larger and            more complicated issues.

4. Compromise

a. Negotiation is by definition the art of compromise. But no compromise should be taken        to the extreme of sacrificing core principles. Know what you are willing to give up before the    negotiations start, and by abiding by Approach #1, you should have a pretty good idea what    the opponent can live without.

b. President Reagan once said; “I’d rather get 80% of what I want that to go over the cliff          with my flag waiving”.

5. Timing

a. Recognize when to press a point and when to withdraw. Like a good poker player, you          have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them.

b. On the other hand, bad timing can undermine successful negotiation.

6. Maintain a deep Appreciation of and Respect for Politics

a. The difference between success and failure is often measured by the ability to understand    how political constraints shape the outcome of any negotiation. Understand the external          influences the opponent may have.

b. Appreciate what objectives, arguments, and trade-offs are important to your opponents.

c. A public official must have the power to make the decision. That power largely derives          from public support or support of a board of directors.

d. A public official who loses public or board confidence also loses power. Understand that      the opposing negotiator may have to save face to get the deal done. Understand what is            necessary for the official to save face.

How one considers these six approaches will change from situation to situation. An approach to timing that proved effective in one negotiation might not work in another. Always remain flexible.

There are three maxims that remain absolute. Ignoring one of these maxims can seriously jeopardize a successful negotiation.

Maxim 1: Never lie.
Maxim 2: Nothing should be deemed agreed to until everything is agreed to.
Maxim 3: Keep a written record of all discussions.

“Series, LLC” -The Next Generation of Asset Protection for Investors

A series limited liability company allows a traditional limited liability company to separate into an unlimited number of multiple parts or “cells” with the establishment of one or more series of members, membership interests, managers, or assets – each a series – and each series is essentially treated like its own limited liability company (“LLC”). Currently, only the following states have statutes authorizing some form of series LLCs: Alabama, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin and Texas. Texas enacted its statue in 2009 and it can be found in the Texas Business Organizations Code (“TBOC”), title 3, subchapter M, sections 101.601 – 101.621.

Typically, each series (i) owns its own assets and has its own liabilities; (ii) has the availability to have different members, managers and types of membership interests; (iii) has the ability to sue and be sued; (iv) can have its own business purpose; (v) has the ability to contract in its own name; and (vi) can grant a security interest in its own name.

Generally, the debts, liabilities, losses, obligations, and expenses of one series will not be enforceable against another series’ assets or the assets of the “parent” limited liability company. This makes it a viable option for any business where it is desirable to separate assets or business lines into distinct entities, such as investment companies, real estate development companies, oil and gas companies and licensing or regulatory companies. The TBOC provides that in order for the liability shield to exist three requirements must be satisfied: (i) the certificate of formation of the main LLC must contain a “notice provision”, which references the liability protection provided for by TBOC section 101.602(a); (ii) the company agreement of the main LLC must contain a statement setting forth the liability protection provided for by TBOC section 101.602(a); and (iii) records must be maintained for each series that “account for the assets associated with that series separately from the other assets of the [parent LLC] or any other series”.

One of the great benefits of series LLCs are the cost savings related to organizational filing fees. In Texas, the filing fee to create a series LLC is the same as an individual LLC; $300.00 (non-expedited). Thus, to create six LLCs would be a minimum cost of $1,800.00 versus the cost of creating a series LLC of $300.00. Oftentimes, series LLCs may also result in lower legal costs as it reduces the need for separate operating agreements and some document preparation.

While there are still issues to be considered when determining whether a series LLC might be right for a particular business, series LLCs are growing in popularity and are an additional tool in any investor’s or businesses’ proverbial toolkit.


Crafting Effective Social Media Policies for Educational Entities

The reach of social media into nearly every facet of our lives, including those of our children, shows no sign of slowing. While the potential of these resources to enhance the educational experience can be considerable, it is equally important for safeguards to be put in place to protect against the pitfalls they simultaneously present. As a result, school districts, colleges and other educational entities are under increased pressure to craft social media policies and guidelines that balance the interests and rights of all stakeholders while keeping vulnerable parties out of harm’s way. With significant experience advising school administrators, employees, parents and students at all levels, the attorneys at Murray-Lobb possess the knowledge required to create and refine effective social media policies for use in the educational arena.

Widespread Need for Guidance

Considering how pervasive social media tools are in our everyday lives, many would be surprised to learn just how many school districts, colleges, universities and other educational bodies have yet to put formal policies or guidelines in place to govern their use. While official board or institution-wide policies may not be critical in every educational context, it makes good sense for school administrators to give serious consideration to putting some concrete rules into writing. Whether promulgated in a handbook or through an amendment or addition to existing policy, a clear articulation of what is acceptable and what is not in the realm of social media usage helps protect the rights, privacy and safety of all involved.

Many school districts have put in place draconian penalties for students who are caught using their cell phones at “unauthorized” times, essentially during class instruction. The administrators typically collect the cell phone and will only release it to a parent or guardian and require the payment of a $15 or more fine. The time has come for school districts and other educational bodies to recognize the usefulness of such social media tools as educational tools and to craft more flexible policies.

Key Issues in School Social Media Policy Drafting

To ensure that a school district’s social media policy achieves the desired effect, it is wise to address several key issues that are almost certain to arise in the educational setting. While it is likely impossible to design a policy able to anticipate every problem that may emerge, having specific guidelines in place will make handling misconduct an easier and more straightforward task when the time comes.

First, it is necessary to determine what, if any, types of relationships district employees will be permitted to have with students or their families via their personal social media accounts. Some districts have placed no restrictions on such relationships, whereas others have attempted to issue blanket prohibitions on such communication. The latter option, however, may give rise to challenges of a constitutional nature, with opponents citing unfair infringement on free speech rights. Therefore, a district may choose to focus its guidance on strongly discouraging excessive (or any) personal interaction between students and teachers on social media rather than banning it or attempting to police and punish it when it becomes problematic. Personal emailing or texting between school district employees and students has exacerbated the number of incidents of inappropriate relationships between such employees and students because of the ease of conducting such relationships clandestinely. Many school district employees do not realize that even if those relationships are consensual, the school district employee may still be charged with a felony and lose his or her educational career entirely.

Personal use (or misuse) of social media by school employees is just one of the ways in which a lack of clear guidelines can prove troublesome for administrators. The use of social media for legitimate, educational purposes can jeopardize districts in often unanticipated ways, including placing them at risk of intellectual property infringement lawsuits. Trademark and copyright litigation is a legitimate concern when educators make unauthorized use of protected instructional or other content via social media accounts. Therefore, it is vital that employees are thoroughly informed and trained about the risks in order to prevent costly and cumbersome legal trouble down the road.

An especially prickly area of social media policy in the educational context is the issue of when employees or students can be sanctioned for conduct on personal social media accounts undertaken outside of work or school hours. To develop an effective approach to handling such circumstances, it is necessary for administrators and board members to carefully consider the First Amendment rights of district employees and students and to provide training opportunities and concrete factual examples to help everyone engage in responsible social media use that does not jeopardize the safety or integrity of the organization and those it serves.

Maintenance of district or entity-wide social media accounts can also pose difficulties if not handled pursuant to formalized, established policies. For example, a public educational body with its own Twitter or Facebook page may be tempted to delete unflattering or disparaging comments made by a member of the public on those sites. However, its ability to unilaterally delete or disguise such remarks can be in question if no guidelines have been issued or presented to those visiting the site. As is the case in all of the scenarios described above, thorough legal review of proposed policies and the rationales behind them is essential to success.

Experienced Counsel for Texas Educators and Administrators

As the start of the new school year rapidly approaches, school districts, colleges and other governmental bodies are encouraged to undertake a comprehensive review of the manner in which they handle issues relating to social media use. The legal exposure that can result from ambiguous or nonexistent policies is significant, and securing the counsel of a seasoned education law attorney is essential. With broad experience serving the needs of Montgomery, Galveston and Harris County educators, administrators, parents and students, Murray-Lobb stands ready to provide the knowledgeable advice and practical solutions our clients deserve.