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Small Business Law Made Easy: A Review of Small Business Bodyguard
Bottom-line Up Front: Small Business Bodyguard is an essential resource for entrepreneurs and small business owners with an online component to their business who want to both protect what they create and get the maximum value out of it.
If you're an entrepreneur or small business owner, I have good news and bad news for you. I'll start with the bad news that we both know you wish wasn't true: if you're in business to win, you have to play many games successfully, one of which is the legal game of business. The good news is that the legal game is actually set up to protect you and your well-earned money.
Yes, you read that correctly: rather than seeing the legal side of business as some kind of straightjacket, the truth of it is that the law protects you.
It protects you from people stealing from you.
It protects you from people not honoring their commitments to you.
It protects you from people who wake up on the crazy side of the bed and want to pull you into their Wonderland for the next few months.
The legal game of business is set up to promote business growth, but only for those people who play the game well. If you're in business, you're already playing the legal game - the question, then, is how well you're playing it.
In my experience, the single biggest reasons entrepreneurs and small business owners don't play the legal game well is because they're afraid. (Click to share this - thanks!) They're afraid it'll be expensive. They're afraid that Uncle Sam will start taking more of their money. They're afraid that presenting people with legal agreements and policies will make people uncomfortable. And the fact that legalese is so hard to read doesn't help things.
Playing the legal game right doesn't have to be expensive. Uncle Sam will take, but he also gives a lot of ways to keep him at bay. And there's finally a resource that can help you understand the game.
That resource is Small Business Bodyguard.
It's Not a Matter of If ... It's a Matter of When
At some point in time, you will lose or gain money due to stuff that falls within the legal side of business. It's not a matter of if - it's a matter of when.
I know this because it's happened to me and I work with clients every day and see it happen to them, too.
Some personal examples might be handy.
A few years ago I received an unreasonably high invoice from an independent contractor and spent a few weeks trying to come up with a compromise. The culprit was an unclear specification of payment terms. Even though I would have won in court, the fact of the matter is the problem started with an agreement that was unclear. Working through it and finding a resonate compromise cost at least $3,000 between time lost and the invoice.
I recently developed a new advising program that has a six-month duration. For different reasons, some clients didn't get a client service agreement or they got a service agreement that had what I hoped would be client-serving flexibility that instead created a lot of confusion about what the terms were. The lost time, money, and spirit that it took to work this out, renegotiate terms, or decide we weren't a fit would create an economic loss in the $8,000 - 10,000 price range. (Yes, every client gets a much clearer service agreement now.)
Every three months or so, one of the protectable bits of intellectual property that I create winds up in somebody else's product, service, event, or blog. I've never enforced my rights for several reasons and one of those reasons is that I haven't taken the time to file for trademark or copyright, so I don't have a legal leg to stand on. Most of it has to deal with trademarks as opposed to copyrights, so it's hard to assess the economic value and thus potential loss of my inaction, but it's likely in the tens of thousands. A brand is an intangible asset that's hard to quantify, but that doesn't mean it's not valuable - think about how hard we work to establish our brands.
One thing we have been doing a good job on is tax planning strategies. When I reviewed our financials and forecasted growth for 2012, I knew that it was time to switch our LLC to being taxed as an S-Corp and filed the necessary paperwork. Because we did that, I saved us around $8,500 in taxes last year and even more this year.
I'm thus an advocate for getting the legal side of your business buttoned up not because it sounds like a good idea in theory but because I'm winning some part of the legal game and losing at other parts. Like most of my work here, I want to make sure you don't fall in the holes I have and don't have to work as hard to accomplish things as I did. You're welcome.
What Small Business Bodyguard Is and What It Covers
Small Business Bodyguard is a 234 page digital ebook (the pretty PDF variety, not the kindlebook variety) that comes with 9 editable templates and 4 audio discussions. You buy it online and get emailed access to a membership site that houses the book, the templates, and audio files. Small Business Bodyguard is equal parts legal primer and workbook that helps you both understand the legal aspects of your business and get legal protections in place.
My description of the table of contents for Small Business Bodyguard is different than its creators', Rachel Rodgers and Ash Ambirge, so I don't want you to be confused by that if you check it out.
Small Business Bodyguard covers
Figuring out the right type of business entity for you. (Chapter 1)
How to make record-keeping a snap (Ch 2)
A Primer on Legal Agreements (Ch 3)
How to create contracts that work (Ch 4)
Leveraging Your Intellectual Property with Copyrights, Trademarks, and Patents (Ch 5 & 6)
Online Privacy Policies and Terms & Conditions (Ch 7)
Securing Social Media, Decamping Cybersquatters, and Staying Legal with your Marketing and Advertising (Ch 8)
Templates, Worksheets, and Aids, Oh My! (Ch 9)
Audio Discussions (Ch 10)
They don't list it as a major section, but the Modern Law Directory is particularly handy if you're wanting to work with a lawyer from your state who gets online business. Because online businesses are so new, you want someone who's been keeping up with the unique situations that running an online business presents.
You'll notice that Small Business Bodyguard has a very strong bias towards businesses that have an online component. You don't need to be an information marketer, blogger, or author to benefit from this - if your business has a website or social media presence, there are special considerations that apply to you as much as anyone else that has an online business.
I want to pause on this note because this slant towards covering online business considerations is one of Small Business Bodyguard's chief virtues. I know of no other resource that so thoroughly tells you what you need to know, why you need to know it, and what to do about it as well as Small Business Bodyguard and I've read lots of legal books written for small business owners and entrepreneurs. (I'm looking at 13 that live on my physical shelf alone.) Much of what Rachel and Ash say applies to all business, but these two get online business - which means they get you.
What's Great About Small Business Bodyguard
I've already mentioned that one of the chief virtues of Small Business Bodyguard is its focus on business with an online component. Here are some other major highlights:
Understandable Discussions of the Legal Side of Business.
Rachel and Ash kept true to their ideal reader for Small Business Bodyguard, which makes it the most understandable and accessible primers on the legal side of business I've seen. It's not that they dumbed it down, but rather made it both relevant and entertaining.
In particular, Small Business Bodyguard provides the clearest discussion of the differences between copyrights, trademarks, and patents I have seen to date. Sure, few people wake up in the morning flummoxed by those terms most of the time, but it's incredibly helpful to know when you're protected and how.
Worksheets, Checklists, and Templates, Oh My!
You might guess that a guy who creates and sells planners, worksheets, and checklists is a sucker for them and you'd be right. Guilty.
At the same time, though, these worksheets save a lot of the time and head-scratching you'd otherwise go through without them. As I mentioned above, I've read and own quite a few books on the legal side of business and I have to do a lot of flipping and re-research to find the particular bits I need. And then I have to modify the templates to be more in style and flavor to my business.
Not so with Small Business Bodyguard. For instance, you get access to 9 different Word templates to modify for your own use. They didn't hold back here and instead gave you exactly the things you'd hire a lawyer for. Here are the templates:
Actions by Written Consent of Sole Shareholder
Actions by Written Consent of Members
Actions by Written Consent of Sole Director
Independent Contractor Agreement
Client Service Agreement
Sample DMCA Takedown Notice
Terms and Conditions
All are incredibly useful, but the ones I'd encourage you to start with are the Independent Contractor Agreement and the Client Service Agreement. Rachel and Ash themselves say that these are the most common of the agreements and, in my experience, they're the ones that will cause the most headaches if you don't have them.
That just covers the templates, but it also has some incredibly useful tables and checklists. For instance, the Business Entity Selection Worksheet on page 36 is a fantastic guide for determining which type of business entity you choose. (Don't know what "business entity" means? I would be daft and tell you that you definitely need to buy this book, but that's just unhelpful. "Business entity" denotes the legal structure of your business, meaning whether it's a sole proprietorship, Limited Liability Company, S-Corporation, or C-Corporation. Yes, the choices you make in the way you form your business makes a huge difference legally and financially, and, no, you're not stuck with your original choice. Now, go buy the book.)
On that same note, there's the Annual Reports Cheat Sheet that shows you when annual reports are due for your state. To be honest, I've been completely overlooking filing my annual reports and was relieved to a) have this sheet to save me some time and b) have the templates that'll keep me from having to recreate the wheel.
The Intellectual Property Cheat Sheet is another one of those handy tables. It'll be indispensable both as a business advisor and a business owner, as it shows which types of intellectual property are covered by which type of protection and what the terms of the protection are. Reviewing this cheat sheet is going into my pre-launch check list just to remind me that protection is cheaper and easier than neglect and loss.
These templates, checklists, and worksheets by themselves are worth the cost of Small Business Bodyguard. Had I used just two of them I would've saved between $11,000 and $13,000 in the past three years. Remember, it's not a matter of if you'll need them, it's a matter of when.
High Production Value
Production value is one of those funny things in that you don't notice it unless you're either looking or unless it's terrible. Small Business Bodyguard is beautifully designed, with a typeface that made it readable on the iPad. There weren't a lot of noticeable typos and the writing had a consistent voice, which isn't easy to do with a two-author product.
Additionally, they have individual chapters, the templates, and audio discussions all logically separated on the membership you get access to post-purchase. I particularly appreciated this, as I was itching to get my hands on the templates and was considering printing out the chapter with all of the templates, cheatsheets, and worksheets.
They took their time and paid as much attention to the aesthetic and packaging details as they did the legal counsel. As much as we might wish this was standard, it's not, so it deserved a mention.
What Would Make Small Business Bodyguard Better
Rachel and Ash did most things right with Small Business Bodyguard. That said, there are a few things that would either improve the product or that you'd want to know before buying it.
A hyperlinked Table of Contents for easy navigation. I read Small Business Bodyguard on both my iPad and computer and noticed the lack of a hyperlinked ToC even more on iPad than I did on my computer. It's 234 pages long with a lot of stuff you'll want to come back through.
A print-friendly version of Chapter 9 would be fantastic. This is the chapter you're likely going to want to print and put in your business reference book, so having a print-friendly version of this one would make that fantastic.
A Zipped File with All Templates. Again, this on the user-friendly side of things; while it's not too much of a chore to download all of the files and put them into a folder, it would be more user-friendly to include a zipped file with all of them in there so we can get to work immediately.
The membership site was noticeably busier than the rest of the product. Different-sized graphics that didn't seem to have much rhyme or reason caused me to wonder if I was missing something. This was only noticeable because nothing else about Small Business Bodyguard had this effect on me. You can find everything you need and it's clear how to get what you need, though.
While it's not something that needs to be changed or improved, I would be remiss not to warn you that Small Business Bodyguard isn't the product for you if four-letter words give you the vapors or make you question the credibility of what you're reading. This is the shadow side of the virtue of Small Business Bodyguard: it has a Gen Y voice and is clearly talking to Gen Y (by heart or age) entrepreneurs and business owners. They match their substance with a style that makes reading it both entertaining and accessible, but that style won't be for everyone.
Additionally, Small Business Bodyguard is aimed primarily at US law and regulations. I can't attest to the applicability of the material for non-US businesses, but keep in mind that if you do business with US businesses or with US customers, some of those laws and regulations are still applicable to you. Furthermore, there's a lot in common in the "common laws" around the world, so you'll at least be more armed to ask the right questions. I'd love to see Rachel and Ash provide more people in the Modern Law Directory who can serve the needs of non-US business owners. (There are a few.)
Buying Advice: Buy It
As I said above, Small Business Bodyguard is an essential resource for entrepreneurs and small business owners with an online component to their business who want to both protect what they create and get the maximum value out of it. It's accessible, packed with usable resources, and well thought out.
Affiliate disclaimer: The links to Small Business Bodyguard in this piece are referral links and, as such, I will receive a commission if you choose to buy it. I only recommend products and people I use or trust, and if I wouldn't recommend it without a commission, I wouldn't recommend it just because it has a commission. I hope this review has helped you make an informed purchase decision.