Today’s interview is with Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation Business Services, Inc. (MyCorporation.com) on how she built a business as an employee and then bought out that same business.
Tell us about yourself, how did you get started as an entrepreneur? And, what made you get started as an entrepreneur?
I am a law school and business graduate from Pepperdine Law & Business School. I always thought I would be a lawyer focused on providing legal services to small and growing businesses. That was my practice area, with a special focus on intellectual property. I enjoyed every moment of working with entrepreneurs and realized this was an area of passion for me. When I was asked by one of my clients, MyCorporation, to become in-house counsel, it was perfect.
I could fulfill both my business and legal aspirations. Soon thereafter, I was involved with the negotiations of the sale of MyCorporation to Intuit for $20mm for the then-owners of the company. After acquisition, I was appointed as the general manager of the business and 5 years later, the opportunity to purchase the business arose. I jumped all over it. I was ready and excited to not only run the business, but truly “own” it in every sense of the word. What a great experience – the acquisition and 100% ownership of a business that was formerly owned by Intuit. We remain great partners, which is the best of both worlds.
Tell us about your company. What does it do and what problem does it solve for your target market?
MyCorporation is an online legal filing service that offers a “business in a box.” We solve for entrepreneurs who know their business, but not necessarily the legal nuances of running it. We also work to provide a comprehensive, cost-sensitive solution to incorporating or forming an LLC, including services like Quickbooks and domain names in our bundle so that the entrepreneur can focus on what they do best.
Our focus is on customer service. We do everything we can to do the best that we can for our customer. We work hard to leave our customers feeling that this was the easiest part of getting their business started.
What was your startup capital?
My husband, also a law school and business graduate, runs his own business and is an entrepreneur in his own right. With savings from the last few years, we were able to purchase the business from Intuit and really hit the ground running. We also took out a line of credit on our house for the “just in case” matters that might come up. We wanted to be ready. We haven’t needed the additional funds and have been able to continue to grow the business based upon our long-time customers and reputation in the market.
What systems do you need to put in place for you to achieve robust growth?
We are continuing to work to refine our annuity services and systems. We grew extensively within Intuit, and the systems to manage the increase in volume and customer data have been in the process of growing ever since. We continue to focus on improving customer support, including the ability for customers to manage their own information and to retain copies of documents in our repositories. These are huge opportunities for us. We continue to work on improving those capabilities within our system.
How often do you prepare or update a business plan?
We think through our business strategy and document in a plan for the upcoming year, but we tend to review and revise every 6 months. We want to stick with our plan, but make changes as new opportunities present themselves. We want to make sure that we don’t get stuck on a plan that needs to change – either because of opportunities, market pressure or the economy.
What do you include in your business plan?
We include our business goals as the primary focus in our business plan. Then we go about finding a balance between strategy and the tactical approach to get there. We found that at Intuit it was a bit more about strategy and the actual implementation so complicated that the business goals were not reached. As such, we want to make sure that our strategies are within reach and can be produced.
We regularly work on improving our organizational structure. We seek to continually evolve our team to make sure that the core competencies of our team members fit our business needs. Our team members also like to diversify their experience, so we focus on giving opportunities to team members who seek them out. This can include rotations in different divisions or changing of day-to-day responsibilities.
We also stay apprised of the market and competition by performing a bi-annual review of the market, our competitors, products and services. We evaluate new business opportunities and evaluate them against our then-current priorities and identify ways to integrate new opportunities into our service offering.
Do you have a formal board of directors in your company?
We do not have a formal board of directors. Our advisory team consists of our Director of Finance, Director of Sales, Director of Operations & Director of Technology. We also work with and meet frequently with partners for strategy sessions.
What advice would you give a young entrepreneur who is just starting out in business?
It’s not easy to be an entrepreneur. Not only are you getting your business up and running, your operations solidified and your marketing strategy off the ground but you are also trying to make sure you’re managing your business properly and minimizing liability. The following are some tips to young entrepreneurs who are just getting started out in business:
1. Incorporate before doing business: For liability reasons, it’s wise to make sure you incorporate or form an LLC before the business takes off. Incorporating or forming an LLC can help protect personal assets by separating the business from your personal affairs. If anything were to go wrong with the business, it’s wise to make sure your house, car and personal assets are properly protected.
2. Consult a tax professional: If the type of business entity you should form is not clear to you, it’s wise to speak with a CPA. CPAs can help you understand tax implications and how the different structures can help you protect your assets as well as save money on taxes.
3. Learn your market: It’s wise to know your market. Understand who your customers are and target them. One of the best ways to do that is to emulate a business in your industry that you believe is doing a good job. Take the items that are successful and combine them with something that makes your business unique. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel entirely. If your business idea is novel, leverage the expertise of other entrepreneurs and business owners within the same genre as your offering. Getting out there and talking with people can be one of your greatest assets early on. Plus, you may generate customers in the process.
4. Be creative: No matter what industry you’re in, don’t be stagnant. Stay ahead of the curve and constantly be on the cutting edge. Communicate with the youth to see what’s up and coming in terms of marketing and social networking. Don’t rest on your laurels, make sure you’re on top of the next steps for your business.
5. Spend your funds wisely: Many small businesses make the mistake of spending too quickly. Either they spend what others have invested in their business, or they spend everything that comes in the door. That can be helpful in the initial growth stages, but it may not be the recipe for long-term success. Make sure to invest more heavily in areas in which you get a higher return and take smart risks otherwise.
6. Enjoy your business. A strong, positive business leader can take the business to new heights. Stay optimistic and focused. Your team is looking to you for answers. Provide them but don’t be so stubborn that you are unwilling to make changes to your plans when necessary. Take time to step back and evaluate where you are and where you could be. Don’t get so caught up in the details that you can’t get perspective. With that said, it can’t just be about making money. You have to be enjoying what you do. With that, the success will come!
What books or training programs would you recommend for entrepreneurs?
I believe that growing networks of contacts and experts are a great avenue for entrepreneurs. Talking with real people who have already been there are the best conversations that a new entrepreneur can have. Groups like EO (Entrepreneur Organization) or Business school alumni groups can be the starting point for these experiences. I’m on a few boards of directors, so networking with others in similar positions and with similar circumstances are invaluable experiences.
About Deborah Sweeney
Deborah Sweeney is CEO of MyCorporation Business Services, Inc. (“MyCorporation.com”), Deborah Sweeney is an advocate for protecting personal and business assets for all consumers. With her experience in the field of corporate and intellectual property law, Deborah can provide insightful commentary on the benefits, barriers and who should consider incorporation and trademark registration. She also has extensive experience in the start-up and entrepreneurial industry as she has been involved in the formation of hundreds of thousands of MyCorporation.com’s customers.
Ms. Sweeney joined MyCorporation in 2003 after serving as outside general counsel for 5 years. She received her Juris Doctor and Masters in Business Administration degrees from Pepperdine University and is a member of the American Bar Association.
Deborah has served as an adjunct professor at the University of West Los Angeles and San Fernando School of Law in the area of corporate and intellectual property law. Because of her extensive knowledge, Sweeney has long served as a speaker and panelist on legal issues affecting the world and growing businesses.