You know working with an attorney isn’t cheap. And trying to figure out exactly what your business’ legal needs are on your own is scary. These two facts are the reason why many online entrepreneurs ignore their business’ legal needs altogether.
Avoiding your legal needs can lead to a variety of problems, including paying too much in taxes, missing out on revenue-generating opportunities, loss of intellectual property, and other business and personal assets. And probably the worst of all – wasting your precious and limited time.
Here is how not taking care of your legal needs results in a loss of productivity:
- Fretting over getting paid instead of having a system in place to keep clients highly motivated to pay you on time.
- Having long drawn out email tennis to discuss terms of an agreement instead of having a standard service contract in place for both clients and vendors.
- Working longer hours to pay a larger tax bill because you didn’t take the time to figure out the right business entity for your business.
- Working longer hours to make more money because you’re not putting your intellectual property to work for you.
- Losing weeks to getting audited and losing your liability protection because you’re not keeping proper business records.
- I could go on …
When a budding online entrepreneur starts out with a domain name and a dream, he or she may not have much to lose. It’s understandable that some entrepreneurs focus solely on bringing in revenue during those first few months and maybe even first year.
But once you’ve got an all-grown-up business generating revenue, supporting you (and your family) and you are seeing the fruits of your very hard labor and creativity, you and your business deserve to be protected. Don’t risk losing all or even some of your invaluable time, hard work, creativity and money because you don’t feel like dealing with the complicated legal stuff. Your business deserves better than that.
When you manage the legal aspects of your business, you:
- Get paid on time.
- Get taken seriously by clients and partners.
- Get more opportunities, from kickass joint ventures to venture capital.
- Can deal with pain in the ass problems that arise, such as audits and business disputes, and can manage them efficiently (PLUS having your legal needs handled makes these less likely to occur).
- Put your intellectual property to work for you.
It’s one thing to know that your business has a better chance of thriving if you handle your legal needs – it’s another to actually figure out how to manage these needs once and for all. A google search and random contract template from a questionable website will only get you and your business so far.
Conduct Your Own Legal Audit
Conduct a legal audit for your business by reviewing the 4 Key Areas of Business Law for Online Entrepreneurs and asking yourself a few questions:
1. Consider your business structure.
Are you still operating as a sole proprietor with no liability protection and no business insurance? What are the risks of continuing to conduct business this way? For example, do you have personal assets (such as a home, financial accounts, etc. that need protecting? Did you form a formal business entity such as an LLC or S-Corp? If so, are you keeping good corporate records and filing the annual or bi-annual statements correctly and on time? How much did you pay in business taxes this year? Could a different structure lower your tax bill?
2. Consider your legal agreements.
For example, do you have the two business agreements every online entrepreneur needs in place? What other legal agreements does your business need to have in place to streamline operations and protect your relationships with partners and clients? What could go wrong or has gone wrong that could have been avoided with a clear agreement in writing up front?
3. Consider your intellectual property (IP).
Take a look at your body of work. What IP assets (such as information products, brand names, etc.) have you created and made money from that you could protect with copyright registration (protects creative work you’ve authored) and/or trademark registration (protects your brand)? Could you license (essentially, selling other people the right to use) your creative work to expand your reach and bring in more revenue?
4. Consider your online presence.
Once you have reviewed the status of your business (and all the paperwork related to it), you will know a lot more about where you stand. You will feel empowered to have a productive conversation with a lawyer you trust and can afford about what needs to be done to protect your business and revenue streams.
Does Finding a Lawyer You Can Trust and Afford Sound Impossible?
Don’t worry – it’s not.
There are many inventive lawyers using creative methods to provide accessible legal counsel for businesses from monthly payment plans for a package of services to assisted DIY. Purchase just an hour of legal advice or just a contract review or get full service if you prefer. (Note: the most valuable aspect of working with an attorney is in the legal advice, not the documents produced).
How do you find such a lawyer? Here’s a tip: Google the name of your state + ”˜virtual law office’ to find attorneys who offer unbundled legal services online in your state. Or, ask me! I know plenty of kickass lawyers nationwide who can take good care of you.
Now you, jedi-business warrior, have no excuse for not protecting your business. You know the questions you need to be asking, and you know how to find trusted affordable legal counsel. Don’t sell yourself or your business short. Once your business is generating revenue, supporting you, your family and your community at large, you and your business deserve to be protected so you can keep rockin’ it for years to come.
Rachel Rodgers is a business lawyer for women entrepreneurs. Wife, mama, novice baker, and a semi-nomad, she finds creative ways to take care of the legal needs of her entrepreneurial clients, such as her upcoming workshop, The Online Entrepreneurs Non-Confusing Guide to Business Law. See what she can do for you by starting with a free copy of The Online Entrepreneur’s Legal Checklist.