It wasn't so long ago that starting a small business was attempted by only the most stalwart of entrepreneurs. It took stamina to brave the reams of paper and hordes of attorneys, real estate agents, and CPAs that were a necessary part of the start-up process. It didn't matter how passionate you were about your idea. If you stopped to think for a moment about the obstacles facing you, you were certain to turn tail and head back to your fluorescent-lit life in a cube.
That's one of the things that thrills me about our new tech-world: Now, many of the mystery hurdles that took more time, money and energy than the idea itself have been replaced with user-friendly options available online.
Almost any aspect of your business can now be brought down to a far less daunting size with a simple click of the mouse. Just as TurboTax simplified much of the tax process, so has the colossally scary legal process been reduced to a kinder, gentler series of mouse clicks and "Continue" buttons by LegalZoom, the online leader that has become so prominent in its market that it's practically a generic.
Here's the gist: LegalZoom takes commonly requested legal documents and boils them down into an easy-to-follow, step-by-step questionnaire. If you need help at any point in the process, simply click on a link that shows frequently asked questions from past users, or call a toll-free number for live assistance. Although the phone representatives aren't lawyers, the questionnaires were created by a highly reputable legal team, meaning customers are getting top quality without paying top dollar. And LegalZoom doesn't just cater to businesses. The site boasts a wide array of consumer services as well, including wills, small claims, real estate deeds and even divorces -- all available from the comfort of your home. And they do the filing for you.
These were the main points that impressed me most when I interviewed Chairman and Co-Founder Brian Liu. He and his co-founders' enthusiasm for providing convenient, affordable legal services was evident, even contagious, as he described how, right after his law school graduation, friends and family poured out of the woodwork seeking the same legal advice, namely starting a business and creating a will. Although it took a while for the seed to germinate, the idea for LegalZoom soon began to grow, and the various components took shape. Theirs would be a site that would not only make certain legal processes both affordable and convenient, but downright simple. Customers' fears were tossed in the paper shredder like a frivolous lawsuit.
But what excited me was what this means for small businesses. By stripping away the most intimidating aspects of the legal process - time, money, and visiting a real-life lawyer face to face - the company has lowered the barrier to entry to a point where any eager entrepreneur could saunter right over it. This is the beauty of their business plan, the gift they are giving to small businesses right at a time when our economy needs it most.
The jargon, the overinflated bills, even the chilly reception of a legal office all disappear when a customer opts for LegalZoom over an in-person lawyer. Business owners may not be familiar with navigating the white waters of the legal world, but they are familiar with navigating a website, which makes LegalZoom far less formidable than the thought of filling out stacks of old-school-style paperwork and waiting in interminable lines in court houses.
While LegalZoom isn't a panacea for all of a business' legal problems (I don't think the Detroit companies will find a legal document to suit their current needs), the brand's sheer array of services is more than sufficient for most small companies to open its doors and get moving without having a pricey lawyer on retainer. Much like Get Satisfaction does for customer service, LegalZoom eliminates the need for a small business to maintain a full-time stable of high-priced legal eagles, meaning more small businesses can open their doors or stay afloat. If the Great Recession has gotten you, LegalZoom can help you file for bankruptcy and even change your name, if you want to start over.
Some naysayers are calling this financial debacle the worst economic crisis the country has faced in 80 years. And while I'll admit I can't wait for it to be over, I'm excited about the opportunity that it creates for new players to get into the game, now that the playing field is leveled. If more entrepreneurs knew about tools like LegalZoom or Get Satisfaction, I'm sure there'd be a lot more stability in the marketplace, if only because a once intimidating process has been simplified.
And who couldn't use a little simplification in their lives these days?
Do you know of a business that is thriving during the recession, or a great tool that small businesses should be using? Have a business question you need answered? If so, contact Lynda.