It isn’t only bedroom stories that start “Once upon a time . . . .” The advent of the internet is making DIY (do-it-yourself) small business management, accounting and legal services easier to understand and use than ever before. Even better, many of these business aids are completely free.
Once upon a time, you may have had to defer to an expensive local attorney or accountant to deal with the vagaries of the legal system or decipher the intricacies of government policy regarding taxation. The internet is demystifying legal forms and practices so the average small business owner can perform simple legal tasks without a lawyer, find reasonably priced representation when he needs it, and recognize the difference between the two. Although you will want to verify that you’re choosing the best option for your circumstances, legalese doesn’t have to be a foreign language anymore. Don’t rely on a single site for advice, though; find state specific (and even county specific) supporting resources either online or in your community.
Free and Low Cost Legal Resources for Your Small Business
If you’ve ever checked a medical website to see if the ache in your knee is something to worry about or not, you’ve experienced the good and bad of getting expert information over the internet. For every fact there’s an exception, and for every exception there’s someone willing to make it sound like the rule instead of an unlikely but possible outcome. Finding legal advice online can be a mixed bag too. If you love to dig, though, there are resources aplenty to explore.
Business.gov – If you haven’t visited business.gov, carve out some time to take a look around this helpful site sooner rather than later. It is government sponsored and absolutely free to use. Business.gov contains invaluable information that will make managing your small business easier in a lot of ways. From statistical information to tax tips and a dedicated legal section, without a doubt, business.gov should be on your short list of saved sites.
Google Docs – Google docs makes state specific legal forms available using easy to find and easy to use templates. If you’re interested in drafting a binding promissory note (as well as other legal tasks), these forms will get you started. They’re free too. You will probably have a few ancillary costs, like paying a notary or making a legal filing, but you can get a leg up on the process with a few clicks.
SCORE – Offering online and regional training and mentoring for small business, the dedicated and experienced brain trust at SCORE (Counselors to America’s Small Business and formerly known as the “Service Core of Retired Executives”) can help you over many of the hurdles you’ll face in the early years of your small business, even legal challenges. Visit their website or check the SuperPages listings for a SCORE location near you.
Legal Software and Sites – Do a simple search and you’ll find any number of sites and canned software packages that will help you with legal forms and legal terminology (and concepts) for a nominal fee. From drafting your will to writing up a temporary power of attorney, these packages and services are offered at bargain prices (usually under $75) and may include more background and handholding than some of the free stuff listed here.
Local Resources – In your enthusiasm to explore cyberspace, don’t forget to check out local resources that can help you with legal issues. Depending on where you live, organizations that promote small, minority, or female owned businesses may include divisions with free legal counsel and services. Your regional university system may offer community outreach and low cost or even free legal classes and seminars. Before you invest in expensive legal services to help fulfill state or local requirements, check with the appropriate government offices. Recession driven revenue shortfalls have left government coffers emptier than usual. Expanded government services for things like incorporating may mean bargain basement fees, faster processing, and no separate legal charges.
Before you call an attorney to handle a simple legal task, check out a few online and local options for low cost legal forms and services. Even though you may end up scheduling an appointment with your .Esq of choice, you’ll be better informed after some savvy research. You’ll also be armed with the right questions, including questions about rates and other specifics that you may not have considered otherwise.