Protection and peace of mind. That’s really what this all boils down to.
If you’re a creative small business owner, you’ve got a to-do list that never ends. The legal side of your business can be particularly complicated, stressful, and exhausting.
At Indie Law, we provide creatives with a foundational layer of legal protection. We give you peace of mind by focusing on the main legal areas affecting your business.
Here are the five pillars of a legally strong business. These are listed in priority, generally speaking.
The 5 pillars of a strong legal foundation
1. Customer contracts
You might think you don’t need a written contract for your customers. Hey, I’ve been there. But if you haven’t been burned by a client yet, it’s only a matter of time. It should protect you, be customized to your industry, and be in plain English.
How much will you be paid for this work? Even if you’ll be bartering services for this client, set out details about what those services will be.
How can payments be made? Will there be separate payment installments or one up-front fee? Is any of it refundable? Will there be a cancellation period?
What exactly are you providing? Make sure you both have the same expectations.
How quickly will your turnaround be? When are payments due?
2. Business formation
Adopt the LLC mindset.
What business entity should you choose? For most small businesses, the choice is either a limited liability company (LLC) or a sole proprietorship. An LLC protects your personal assets, while a sole proprietorship leaves your personal assets exposed. This limitation of liability is a huge reason why businesses choose to become an LLC.
But it’s not the only reason.
When you become an LLC, you build a sense of legitimacy around your business. Your customers and peers will notice. And so will you. The mindset of a business owner matters. You owe it to yourself and your business to act like it’s legit and plan accordingly. Form the LLC ASAP.
For creatives who are in it the for the long haul, it’s time to set up a limited liability company (an “LLC”). ASAP. Lots of businesses get it wrong and leave out important steps (like having a special document called an “operating agreement” for your new LLC). You owe it to your business to make sure you do this the right way.
“What do I need to form an LLC?”
Three things. First, file the Articles of Organization with your state. Then, apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Finally, have an attorney draft an Operating Agreement for your business.
What about a corporation?
Do you plan on having investors or love corporate paperwork? If so, form a corporation, and form it in Delaware. Otherwise, form an LLC in your state. You can always convert later.
What’s an S Corp?
It’s actually a tax status, not a business entity. If you want to know if your LLC should be taxed as an S Corp, that’s a question to ask a tax professional. We have some experts we’d be happy to connect you with.
3. Website agreements
4. Copyrights & trademarks
If you’re a creative, then that creativity is one of your business’s greatest assets. Copyrights and trademarks are two major ways to protect that creativity. And, man, they are complicated. Maybe it’s time to register a copyright or trademark. But maybe it’s not—efforts to seek trademark and copyright protection might cause more harm than good.
Intellectual property (IP) is a legal term that’s all about your creative side. It’s the intangible stuff—ideas and concepts.
There’s a lot of categories that fall under the umbrella of IP law, including copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets. Copyrights and trademarks are the main ones.
Copyrights protect original artistic or literary expressions. As soon as you create something that can be copyrighted, you automatically get copyright protections. You can start using that © symbol to show that you are claiming copyright protections. But you can’t enforce automatic copyright protections. Unless you have registered your copyrighted works, you can’t file a lawsuit against an infringer.
A trademark is a brand—it identifies the source (the business) behind a good or service. A trademark is a tool that businesses use to prevent confusion in the marketplace. You create a trademark when you use branding in commerce. But just because you own a trademark doesn’t mean you have the ability to protect it. Registering your trademark gives you strong protections.
5. Basic legal documents
If you’re a business owner, you’re kinda like Batman. You should have your own “utility belt” filled with basic legal documents that will come in handy when you need them. Sure, you might not need these documents right this second. But when you do need them, you’ll want to have easy access to them. Avoid last-minute scrambling. Trust me, I have clients who’ve learned this the hard way. Here are the main ones you should think about.
Keep things confidential when you share business details with others.
Independent contractor & employee documents
Build your squad the right way. Whether you’re bringing on independent contractors or employees,
Cease and desist letters
Let people know when they’re infringing on your copyrights or trademarks.
Did someone take photos or videos for your business? Sweet. Just make sure you have permission to use them.
We can help with all this stuff.
For when you want a lawyer in your back pocket to fix the big legal holes in your business.
For when you know what you want and you’re ready and able to pay for it up front.
For when you’re looking for guidance or needing answers to specific legal questions.