By Rieva Lesonsky
Want to make 2013 a year of unprecedented growth for your business? I asked the experts at online legal service RocketLawyer for their best tips.
1 Properly incorporate. The No. 1 legal mistake made by small businesses is the failure to incorporate. When you incorporate your business, you create a legal entity separate from yourself that conducts business, generates income, and assumes tax and legal liabilities. By creating a “corporate veil,” incorporation legally shields your personal assets in the event that your business faces a lawsuit. Online legal services offer free incorporations (you pay only the state fees!) and cost-effective monthly legal plans for small businesses. Plus, you can get legal advice from real attorneys and documents ranging from hiring agreements to contracts.
2 Start the New Year on the “write” foot. According to a recent Rocket Lawyer survey, one in four businesses have had trouble collecting payments from their customers; and of those businesses, 60 percent have written off bad debt. To ensure payment, always create a contract that clarifies what work will be done, for what pay, and the billing procedure before beginning the work. Creating a contract is essential to ensure on-time payment and puts you and your client on the same page.
3 Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow. Expand your presence online by monitoring information on business-focused websites such as Google +, Yelp and Manta. If your online presence on such sites is not maintained internally, your company may be buzzing in places whether you’ve created a profile or not. Claim your company profile and help it attract more traffic by adding your logo, product and service offerings, social feeds and more.
4 Cultivate peace of mind. Create a Buy-Sell Agreement, commonly referred to as a “Business Will.” This document details what happens should one party leave the business, either through active means (alive) or circumstance (death).
5 Protect what’s earned and what’s given. Intellectual property is a legal fortress that protects your valuable assets and defends against your competitors. Do yourself a favor and know the advantages of, and the differences between, trade secrets, trademarks, copyrights and patents.
- Trade secrets are the most common form of intellectual property, offer a perpetual monopoly, will not expire like a patent and can be protected through simple non-compete and non-disclosure contracts with your employees.
- Trademarks protect your logo, brand and business name from unfair use.
- Copyrights protect other original content.
- Patents, give you the rights to your invention: a useful and actual process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.
Since you’ve already done all the hard work, make it count!
6 Always keep good counsel. Good legal advice is a competitive advantage and can be the difference between success and failure, so it’s really important to have an attorney to keep you on the right path. There are a lot of things you can do yourself, but an attorney can help you strategize, plan for growth and answer the questions you didn’t even know to ask. In the event of an unfortunate or unforeseen incident, your attorney will be there to help protect you and your business. Remember, it’s better to pay a little up front than a lot down the road.
Image by Flickr user Steve Snodgrass (Creative Commons)Google+