The 7 Legal Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs

Set yourself up for success by following a few simple legal procedures when running your business.

 1.    Maintain Your Licenses – Most businesses need a license of one type or another, if not multiple state and federal licenses. Whether it’s a professional license, a tax license, or a license specific to your industry, it’s of utmost importance that you are in compliance with the law. Even home-based sole proprietorships often need a license. The Small Business Administration offers a tool for finding the federal and state permits and licenses for your business.

 2.    Keep Ironclad Contracts – Every client, contractor, vendor, employee, and partner needs to have signed a contract before any work is exchanged between the two of you. It should specify that, in the event they violate your contract, they would pay your legal fees and lost revenue. Review your contracts every six months to make sure everything is current.

By preparing your contracts with foreseeable issues with contractors and clients in mind, you are less likely to actually have any major troubles arise.

3.    Read Everything You Sign – As an entrepreneur, you’re likely signing a new terms of agreement or terms of service nearly each week! How many  are you actually reading and aware of what you’re signing? By taking a few minutes to read what you are agreeing to, you could be preventing problems months or years in down the road.

 4.    Keep an Eye on Trademarks – If you already have trademarks, establish a system or action plan for regularly checking for violators. This may be as simple as a Google Alert for your trademarked term.

If you don’t have a trademark for your business brand or sub-brands yet, do a search immediately. You could be violating someone else’s trademark, which could mean huge repercussions down the road. Trademark violation has been known to shutter many a small business.

Read more on the steps to trademark your business brands.

5.    Copyright Your Work – Obtaining a copyright registration is not as simple as putting the © (copyright symbol) and year on anything you produce. Registering your copyright affords many real benefits in the event of infringement, including much greater likelihood of recovering damages and attorney fees. 

Your books, e-books, products, informational programs, photos, art and articles can all be protected by registering copyrights. Read more about copyrighting your work.

 6.    Share Photos You Own Rights To Use - The other side of copyright infringement is that it’s easy to violate if you aren’t careful, and this is particularly true with photos. Without express, written authorization from the copyright owner, using a photo that you don’t own, even for non-commercial or private purposes, is a violation of the copyright and can lead to legal action against you. Unless you have taken the photo yourself or purchased image rights, such as through a stock photo site, don’t use the photo. Even fair use or creative commons photos can be difficult to use in adherence with the law.

 7.    Tell the Truth in Advertising and MarketingYour emails, especially, but also other forms of advertising and marketing, including your blog, social media, and ads can be subjected to scrutiny. Don’t set yourself up for trouble by misrepresenting your work or products.


The other habit successful entrepreneurs keep is seeking advice from an attorney when they aren’t sure about the legality of their actions or the best way to proceed. Contact me with questions here.


Source: The Small Business Administration

Are Your Email Newsletters Legally Compliant?

If you use email for your business, you are subject to the CAN-SPAM Act, a federal law that sets standards for all business emails for commercial purposes, not just spam. As each separate non-complying email may be subject to penalties of up to $16,000, your business cannot afford to risk being non-compliant.


Let’s walk through the 7 requirements for each commercial email you send:


1.    Don’t use misleading 'To' and 'From' names. This also applies to the email’s routing information, which is the originating domain name and email address. It all must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message. 

2.    Subject lines must accurately reflect the content of the message. Fairly straightforward.

3.    Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly that your message is an advertisement. This can be done in the fine print at the bottom or top of the email or within the subject line or content of the message.

4.    Tell recipients your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address or a post office box, which many privacy experts recommend, particularly if you work at home. I observe this violation of the Act most frequently. Displaying your city and state without a street name, number and internal address (apt, suite, etc) is a violation of the Act punishable by fine. 

5.    Provide an option to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and easy way to prevent receiving future emails from your company. 

6.    Honor opt-out requests quickly. You must comply with a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. Once a subscriber has informed you they no longer want to receive your messages, you cannot sell or transfer their email address, even in the form of a mailing list. Best business practice is to avoid the sale/transfer of your list in general UNLESS you have made the 

7.    Make sure your independent contractors and employees comply too. Hiring a third-party to manage your email marketing/engagement does not absolve you of your legal responsibility to comply with the Act. Where the law has been violated, both the party sending the message and the party whose product/services are being promoted are liable.


As always, I’m here if you have questions and want to be sure your emails are in compliance. Leave a comment using the link below.




Are Electronic Signatures Legally Enforceable?

Are you still printing, signing, scanning, saving and sending to execute a contract?

Stop the madness! The amount of time, energy and resources wasted in this process is entirely unnecessary.

Pursuant to the Electronic Signatures Global and National Commerce Act of 2000, electronic signatures are valid in almost all types of commercial agreements. In fact, I execute the vast majority of my contracts by means of electronic signature. From a business perspective, requesting electronic signatures from your clients/vendors significantly increases the likelihood of a timely turnaround (allowing you to get to work - and get paid!! - more quickly and efficiently). Also, most electronic signature platforms track which documents have been sent and are awaiting signature. Adobe's Echosign platform happens to be my favorite - very efficient and user-friendly.

While contracts that arise in the general course of business may be electronically signed, it's important to note that electronic signatures cannot be used for everything. Certain documents (wills, trusts, health care powers of attorney) must be physically signed and executed to be valid. 



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The 2 Most Important Factors In Selecting A Name For Your Business, Products & Services

Are you preparing to launch a new business, product line or program? Before selecting a name for your brand, two important factors should be carefully considered: availability and registrability.


The first question to ask is whether the name you are considering is in fact available for you to use. Is there a mark already in existence that you might be infringing upon? While some businesses conduct no search at all, many (mistakenly) believe that their investigation is complete upon conducting a Google search and/or a search of the USPTO trademark database. These basic searches are useful in immediately eliminating potential conflicts; however, there are many other factors that must be taken into consideration. Because trademark infringement may occur where marks are phonetically similar, a basic search of the exact spelling would not accurately heed all results. Furthermore, it is entirely possible obtain superior "Common Law" rights to a mark without ever having established an Internet presence at all!


After determining availability, the next consideration is strength in registrability. Does the mark have a strong likelihood of registration? There is a spectrum of strength ranging from the weakest (those that are descriptive and generic) to the strongest (fanciful misspellings and coined words). 

A recent example of a United States Patent & Trade Office (USPTO) denial for descriptiveness involves Google's application for the mark "Glass" relating to their Google Glass optical head mounted display product (how Google describes this product without actually using the word glass or glasses). The examining attorney deemed the mark merely descriptive of the product, which is primarily composed of glass. The strongest marks are those that are fancifully misspelled or coined words, such as: Kinkos and Xerox.

This post is a very brief introduction to the concepts of Availability & Registrability. It's important to bear in mind that the trademarking process is tedious and nuanced. If you'd like to learn more, my Trademarks 101 Teleseminar details my own search method, the TM registration process and a more thorough discussion of the topics discussed in this article.


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Copyright vs Trademark: What's The Difference?

Does Intellectual Property make your head spin?

Clients often ask me about the difference between copyrights and trademarks. It's a great question and an important distinction to be made in protecting your business and brand. 

Trademarks identify the source of goods and services. In fact, the stated purpose of trademark law is to prevent a likelihood of confusion among consumers.

When I travel, I love knowing that I can find a Bikram yoga studio in any city/town and expect the same, or very similar, experience to that of my local Bikram studio. Similarly, when I purchase a Nikon accessory for my camera, I feel assured as to the quality and integrity of the product. Consumer confidence! Of course, trademarks also protect businesses from brand dilution.

Trademarks include names of the business/product/service, logos, colors, sounds and even smells. Famous marks include the red sole of Louboutin shoe, McDonald's golden arches and the NBC three-note chime sound. The United States Patent and Trade Office issues trademark protection which may be indefinite, provided the owner of the mark properly renews registration every 10 years.

I like to explain copyright to my clients as the actual substance of the work that they create. This would include books, photographs, paintings, blogs and even choreographed dance. Copyright law protects work that is both published and unpublished. In fact, your original work is copyright protected from the very moment it was created. Copyright registration is, however, necessary to enforce your rights in a federal court. The United States Copyright Office issues copyright protection which lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. 


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