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What to Know About Starting a Business If You Have a Criminal Record

Can I start a business when I have a criminal record and how

If you have a criminal record, you are not alone and you can still start a successful business. An estimated 70 million to 100 million people in the United States possess a criminal record–that’s as many as 1 in 3 Americans. Those with misdemeanors or low-level felonies may be able to have their record expunged. According to the Law Offices of J.B. Katz, P.C., “it is incredibly beneficial to have your record sealed or expunged so that it no longer shows up to potential employers.” Those with higher-level felonies, on the other hand, might have difficulty removing their conviction. While it may feel discouraging to apply to jobs when they mention a background check, know there are many employment options, including starting your own business. 

Criminal records haven’t stopped other entrepreneurs from pursuing their dreams. There are great success stories of ex-convicts starting companies, such as Dave Dahl of Dave’s Killer Bread. While not every business will be a raging success, understand that as an ex-convict, you are perfectly capable of becoming an entrepreneur.

What Are the Benefits Of Starting Your Own Business?

There are many benefits to starting your own business. Not only will you not have to worry about hiring issues, but you can enjoy the independence and freedom of being your own boss. You can set your schedule and control who works for you and takes on what responsibilities. You get to create something for yourself and make your own decisions–a welcome experience after having your rights taken away from you. 

That’s not to say you’re without limitations if you have a criminal record. It’s important to know what you cannot do, so you can focus on what you can.

Limitations of Having a Criminal Record

Certain industries might bar you from starting your own business if you have a criminal record–such as medicine, finance, or law–however, this will depend on your state. The first step would be checking the licensing requirements for professions within your state. Whether you were convicted of a misdemeanor or felony might impact your ability to obtain your license.

You might run into difficulty getting approved for loans for your business. A criminal record could also impact your ability to travel. If you have been convicted of a felony, it might complicate the opportunity to get a Visa. You might need to hire another person if your business requires international travel, for instance. Additionally, if you want to find angel investors, your past could complicate that, but not necessarily. 

It’s important to be upfront and not hide your history. Being transparent and discussing how you have changed your life shows that you learned from the challenges and mistakes of your past. There will be potential business partners or investors who want to give you a chance. It’s not a bad idea to start a business with a partner–you won’t have to build your business alone, and you’ll have more capital in the beginning.

Play to Your Strengths and Know How to Sell Yourself

People with criminal records are generally seen as disadvantaged in terms of employment. However, what you learn in prison can make you an effective leader. Some say that ex-convicts make better entrepreneurs because of the grit and tenacity they might earn while behind bars. If you have served your time for a mistake you made in the past, you can positively frame your experience. Meaning, you shouldn’t let having a criminal record scuttle your quest to start your own business.

Focus on the insight and wisdom you learned from being incarcerated–especially adapting to new situations and overcoming challenges–things that any successful entrepreneur must do. You can craft an elevator pitch that encompasses all your experiences and strengths.


Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start Your Business

You’ll want to start a business in an industry you’re passionate about, but one that will also set you up for success. It’s helpful to ask yourself many personal and research-based questions, such as:

  • What excites you?
  • What impact do you want your business to have?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What makes your business different?
  • Who is your target customer?
  • How will I fund my business?
  • How will I market my business?

Conducting market research is a great place to get started. You can use this guide here to help you.

How to Start Your Business

Finally, after doing market research, you are ready to take steps to start your business. You’ll want to devise a business plan, figure out how to fund it, and choose a name. You’ll also need to pick the location, register your business, and file the appropriate paperwork. 

To register your business, you’ll need to file a document with the state agency that handles business filings in your state. Hiring an attorney can make preparing your business paperwork easier. Next, obtain all appropriate licenses and permits to ensure your business is legal.

There are many different avenues of employment for those with a criminal record any time they want to start a business.  Entrepreneurship is an excellent option because of the freedom found in being your own boss and the skills you learn while serving your sentence.

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Emenike Emmanuel is a multiple award-winning blogger, CEO of Entrepreneur Business Blog, Chief Evangelist of Ebusinessroom Ventures, and the Lead Coach of an online community of over 12,000 business owners called, The Excellent Entrepreneurs' Network. He’s here to help you start, manage and grow a profitable and sustainable business using digital marketing strategies. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn & Pinterest with this handle, @emenikeng. Telegram group - t.me/yourfirst1000 | Email: [email protected]


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