Look before you leap into owning your own business! A cautionary tale.

Too often we have seen people who pursued the dream of owning their own business without careful thought and preparation. The result can be financial and personal heartache, and a personal bankruptcy.

Take the case of George (not his real name). After retiring from the military he thought starting up a food cart business would be a way to make money and stay engaged. He was able to get a substantial SBA loan, which was used to buy the food trailer and a truck to pull it. He leased new food preparation equipment and leased space for it. His wife co-signed. Within 6 months, the business was failing and he was behind on rent and struggling to make ends meet.

George’s wise move was to recognize the situation was out of control and not to turn a blind eye to it. We reviewed the business finances and both quickly agreed he should get out before more damage was done. The leased equipment, trailer and rental location were surrendered to the leasing company, business lender and landlord. Fortunately, George had not run up bills for unpaid payroll or sales taxes, and did not have unpaid bills for fresh produce or meat. These would have been major problems for which even a bankruptcy would not help him.

George’s mistakes?

  1. He did not have any experience running this business or indeed any business. Thus he did not know how to market and was not able accurately to predict his cash flow.
  2. He over-extended himself with debt, which he personally guaranteed. He got this because of his then-stellar credit and military credentials.
  3. He did not research the market. Who else is in the food truck business? How are they doing? What do they do that makes them successful? Is there a niche or a clientele that is not being served? Being the newcomer in a business with established players who know what they are doing is never good unless you have reliable customers lined up.

Fortunately, with our help George got out and has found a job using his training and skills. He and his wife now have the fresh start they need. Both are wiser and happier.

If you are having trouble with a business venture, getting the right financial and legal advice is critical. We have helped many many people like George sort things out.

Right and Wrong Ways to Close Down a Business

Unpaid Bills on Table with Calculator

There are times when, no matter how hard you work, the best thing to do is just close down your business. If you’ve reached the conclusion that winding up operations is your best option, there are right and wrong ways to do it. If you’re not careful, you could end up in trouble with tax authorities or have problems with the bankruptcy court, if that’s the approach you choose. Here are some guidelines:

The Wrong Things to Do

For most people, the biggest mistake when closing down a business is waiting too long. Be realistic and take an honest look at your prospects for turning the business around. If the odds are stacked against you, the longer you wait, the deeper the hole will be.

Once you’ve decided to terminate operations, be careful about how much money you take out of the business. It’s okay to take a reasonable salary, but it must be commensurate with the amount of work, time and effort you are putting in. If you simply let the business die, but pay yourself throughout the process, your creditors may have a legitimate claim to some of the dollars you took.

If you are trying to negotiate the closing of the business, don’t lie to creditors by making promises you can’t keep or by failing to disclose assets or income the business may have.

The Right Things to Do

The most important thing, when closing a business, is to have a plan. That includes what we call a “go dark” date—the date by which you expect the doors will be closed and the power turned off. Pick a realistic time period, but set a date, or you may be winding down operations for months or years.

Once you’ve determined your “go dark” date, get all your records in order.
It’s equally important to hire an attorney to guide you through the process, so that you comply with all legal requirements.

Make certain you’ve filed and paid all taxes due, especially sales and payroll taxes. Failure to pay payroll taxes can result in a 100% penalty and you can be personally liable.

Another important task once you’ve decided to close down is to aggressively attempt to collect any outstanding amounts owed to your company. The more dollars you have to satisfy creditors (to whom you now owe a fiduciary duty), the easier the process will typically be.

Contact Neuner & Ventura, LLP

We understand the stress, anxiety and confusion that can be associated with a potential bankruptcy filing. We offer a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment, call Neuner & Ventura at 856-596-2828 or send us an e-mail. We do, however, reserve the right to charge a fee to review any work done by another attorney. Evening and weekend appointments are available upon request.

Representing Clients across South Jersey

Closing a Business and Immediately Starting a New One

Closeup of a thoughtful business owner with colleagues in the background

We all want a “do over” at some point in our lives. That applies when you own a business. Sometimes, you can’t really learn exactly what you need to be successful until you’ve failed. The best approach may often seem to be a “do over”—close down the business, take what you’ve learned and start over again. That’s possible, but there are some caveats that you must be aware of if you want to avoid legal problems. Here are some recommendations to minimize your risks when you want a second bite at the apple.

Keep the Businesses Completely Separate

You want to avoid carrying anything over from the first business to the second, other that the knowledge you gained from the first business. Don’t set up operations in the same location, unless it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t use equipment or assets from the first business in the second one unless you pay for them (and pay fair market value). Be careful that the contacts and customers established through the first business are not the principal or primary customers and contacts in the second business. The more you have in common between the businesses—product, customers, assets and location—the more likely creditors will argue that it’s essentially the same business (even if you set up a completely new legal entity).

Work for Someone Else for a While

This may be the best advice you can get. If there’s sufficient time between the operation of your businesses and if you’re working for someone else during that time, you have time for the dust to settle from the closing of the first business.

Contact Neuner & Ventura, LLP

At Neuner & Ventura, LLP, we know that the bankruptcy process can be intimidating and confusing. We offer a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment, call our office at 856-596-2828 or send us an e-mail. We do, however, reserve the right to charge a fee to review any work done by another attorney. Evening and weekend appointments are available upon request.

Representing Clients across South Jersey

Recognized Quality & Experience