Building your legacy: lessons on business planning from attorney Mariah Street
ResilNC promotes the idea of “trusted advisors” as an alternative to the commonly used economic development concept of “technical assistance.” We believe that Black business owners will benefit most from targeted, strategic support from experienced professionals when seeking capital and growing their businesses. In this blog post, Executive Director, Brittany Bennett Weston, interviews Raleigh-based attorney, Mariah Street of Legacy Street Law for insights into the importance of business planning for entrepreneurs.
BW: Hey Mariah! Will you introduce yourself to our readers please?
MS: I’m Mariah Street, and I grew up in Shelby, North Carolina. I’m a licensed attorney in North Carolina with almost 10 years of legal training and experience, and I’m also the CEO & Founder of Legacy Street Law - a modern, legacy-focused, NC-based law firm, with a primary focus on providing culturally relevant education and customized legal business planning and legacy & wealth planning for legacy-minded corporations, business owners, and their families.
For legacy-minded corporations, business owners, and their families, my firm is the leading law firm that provides legal business planning/general counsel services, comprehensive legacy & estate planning, and business succession planning. We're also particularly passionate about serving legacy-minded CEOs of color. We combine customized planning strategies, culturally relevant education, and the legacy/business goals and values of our clients to create the ultimate plan(s) and strategies for their business and/or life that actually work and create generational & legacy impact.
I started my law firm because my mother died suddenly at a very young age with no type of planning in place (which resulted in me not seeing a penny from her estate), and so I wanted to ensure that families properly protect and pass down their businesses, their legacy, wealth in order to adequately provide for their family. I’m also a business owner who is passionate about making sure young business owners protect what they’re building so they leave an impactful legacy via their business.
I have helped hundreds of clients build and protect their business, family and legacy, and have served as legal counsel and a legacy-driven strategist for many notable government agencies, consulting companies, and non-profits.
I’m also a transformational speaker who helps people who are clueless about how to build tangible and intangible wealth get clear on the legacy they want to leave. I provide trainings, keynotes, and workshops on wealth & legacy mindset, legacy building and planning, legal business planning, as well as leadership and resilience. As a speaker, I’ve been featured on numerous podcasts and have spoken at various colleges, conferences and organizations, including UNC Chapel Hill, the NC Women’s Business Center, and the WNC Minority Business Association.
BW: When you talk about business planning as an attorney, what does that entail? At what stage should an entrepreneur or business owner come to you?
MS: For me and my firm specifically, when we do business planning for clients, we help them legally structure (or re-structure) their company or organization (i.e. choosing the best business entity for them and their goals and setting everything up properly according to the entity chosen); put in place the right legal documents and contracts to protect them, their business/organization, and business/organization relationships; negotiate contracts; provide general counsel services for companies and organizations that need or desire ongoing legal support; and strategically help them build their intellectual property portfolio (specifically with trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets) so that they can earn more and serve more.
A business should come to me for legal support when they’ve decided that they want to build and grow a real, sustainable company or organization - one that they desire to last and make a massive impact. I’m not for those who are just starting out and trying to figure out what they do and who they want to serve, and I’m probably not for those who wish to just keep their business a side hustle. There is absolutely nothing wrong with those things, but every attorney and law firm is different and serves different audiences, so it’s definitely important to align yourself with the one you feel is best for you and your goals.
BW: What are some practices that you notice in your work that entrepreneurs should avoid? Why?
MS: One major thing that I see entrepreneurs doing that they should avoid from a legal perspective is not at least consulting with an attorney and investing in their legal from the get-go. Now hear me out. I totally understand that as a business owner there are a lot of things vying for your attention and quite frankly, there’s a lot that is on your radar to financially invest in for your business - from marketing to sales to branding to finances to legal. It’s a lot and I get it. And I do think that the stage of your business directly correlates to how much you should be investing in legal. But you should be investing at every level - that’s the responsibility of a business owner and comes with the territory.
If you’re just starting out, it’s okay to simply purchase some attorney-drafted contracts & legal documents to get you started and make sure you’re legally protected initially. Also, it’s more affordable than you might think to meet with an attorney annually to get a pulse on the legal health of your business or organization. Start saving the money and make legal a line item in your budget. Most attorneys charge a few hundred dollars for a consultation, and for those in the start-up phase, it can be very beneficial to get some targeted legal advice for your specific situations to make sure you’re on the right track. For example, you can meet with me for 30 minutes for just $375 and I can give you some targeted strategy for whatever it is you need assistance with. Not to mention that legal services are tax deductible (of course consult with your CPA on the specifics of this). You do HAVE to change your mindset that legal services are an investment in your company/organization and not an expense. Legal helps you not only protect your business assets and profits so that you don’t bankrupt your business from legal issues that could have been avoided, but can also help you leverage those assets for growth and scaling.
Whatever you do, just don’t try to DIY your legal completely - at least get some assistance like I mentioned before. Whether it’s purchasing some things from an experienced attorney who knows what they’re doing, or just consulting with an attorney to answer your burning questions. It can really go a long way and save you time and money.
BW: How does good business planning help businesses access the right capital for them?
MS: This is such a great question. For one, having the right legal and practical foundations set up properly is pretty much a requirement for your business or organization to even be eligible for those types of opportunities. Lenders and investors are going to ask if you have your business legally structured properly. They’re going to notice whether you’re clear on what your business or organization does and its vision or whether you’re all over the place. Think about it like this: if you were the company giving out business grants or a decision-maker for a bank evaluating loan applications, would you feel comfortable awarding those funds to your own business or non-profit? If you wouldn’t feel comfortable awarding those resources to your own organization, then don’t worry, you can definitely get there. You just have some work to do and that’s okay. The key is to just do it!
Also, a good tip is to see about structuring your organization or company correctly for capital opportunities that are specifically for minorities or traditionally overlooked demographics. This will come with some really good legal planning and strategy, and you’ll definitely want to consult with a good attorney to help you do that. But it can set your organization up to get access to even more capital resources and opportunities.
BW: What does it mean to you to be a “trusted advisor” to businesses? Does that title resonate with you?
MS: YES! This is actually what I tell my clients that I and my firm desire to be for them. I do not believe in just doing a single service for businesses and non-profits - I want my firm to be the team that you reach out to for all of your legal strategy needs because you know that we will advocate for you, recommend paths forward, correct you if needed, partner with you, and all of that.
In my opinion, it’s better to have someone that you know and trust in your corner because they understand your company or organization from the inside out. That way, they are able to give you the best advice possible. I don’t think we think about that enough. It can actually do your organization or company a disservice by not having a team of trusted advisors that actually know your organization - how it operates, your goals, the changes it has experienced over the years, etc. It’s like having a doctor that you’ve been going to for years. You know you’re going to get the best medical advice because they know your medical history better than anyone else. And this is our promise to our business clients - to be your trusted legal advisors…if you let us.
BW: Could you share a little about your own entrepreneurial journey? What resources or tools do you wish you had? What advice would you give to others?
MS: I started my firm with absolutely no prior business knowledge and frankly, I almost let imposter syndrome get the best of me. I saw everyone else who was light-years ahead of me and was overwhelmed with the thought of: “Can I REALLY do this and be successful at it?”
I had zero education in business, very little business experience, and most people around me were not business owners. I had to really be intentional about seeking a lot of the information and support I needed. But I’m so glad that I didn’t give up (and I definitely tried a few times), because now I understand that my “yes” to starting this firm is what is transforming so many people’s lives, businesses, organizations, and families. And not just them but generations of people that they (or I) will never meet.
I don't really wish I had anything at the start of my entrepreneurial journey. Being a business owner has taught me that a lot of this is going to be trial and error. No amount of resources or tools could have adequately prepared me because there are always going to be things I need to learn at each level. You're never going to stop learning. And that's probably my best advice to business owners - don't stop learning. I'm a firm believer in having no regrets and starting with what you have in your hands first (or what you're currently exposed to), but also continuing to seek out opportunities to grow and expand your knowledge, skills, and experience.
For more information and to set up an appointment, you can find Mariah via her website or on social.
Firm Website: www.legacystreetlaw.com
Legal Library Shop (for the beginning entrepreneur/side hustlers): www.legacylabeledlibrary.shop)