10 Legal Considerations for Entrepreneurs – Part 4



In Part 3, we covered business licenses and permits, working with employees and contractors, and the importance of written agreements. In this last part of the series, we’ll discuss other issues you should consider to help your business grow

9. Develop a System and Stay Organized.

Although this isn’t technically a legal tip, being organized and having a system in place to handle the operational aspects of your business can save you time, money, headaches and legal issues down the road. Ideally, your business affairs will always be in order so that someone could step in to run if for you if necessary. (Additionally, the more organized you are, the less time your professional team will have to spend sifting through shoeboxes to find crucial information.)      

Have a method to process orders, pay bills, pay employees, pay taxes, maintain your licenses, etc. Set up an accounting and record-keeping system so you can properly account for all business disbursements, payments received, invoices, accounts receivable/payable. Speak with an accountant about the taxes your new company is responsible for paying, and get copies of the IRS’s Tax Calendar for Small Businesses and Publications 334, Tax Guide for Small Business, and 583, Starting a Business and Keeping Records.  Keep important company documents in a safe place and have backup systems in place should anything happen to your physical work space or your electronic record systems.

10. Other Issues to Consider.

Business Plan. A business plan is not only a good idea to help you clearly outline your goals and ferret out potential opportunities, costs and obstacles, but it may be required if your business intends to seek a loan or venture capital funding.  The SBA and organizations specific to your profession/industry can provide helpful planning resources.

Insurance. As an entrepreneur, you should expect the unexpected.  You’ll want (and may be required) to obtain certain types of insurance for your business.  General business policies can cover everything from product liability to company vehicles.  You may want to obtain health and disability insurance for yourself and your employees.  You might also consider a personal umbrella policy.  You and the entity should both be named as insureds on any general liability insurance for the business, and the entity should also be the named insured on all property insurance covering any property owned or leased.  Contact an insurance agent or broker to answer questions and give you policy quotes.

Intellectual Property. Intellectual property — copyrights, trademarks, domain names, patents, trade secrets — can be some of the most valuable assets a company has.  Make sure that any intellectual property you create (or hire someone to create for you) or utilize in your business is properly protected.  You also want to make sure that you’re not infringing on a third party’s intellectual property rights. Consult with an intellectual property attorney to learn more.

Marketing. Getting your business legally sound is very important, but unless you get the word out about your new venture, customers won’t know what you offer or be able to find you. The more professional you look, the more likely customers are to feel comfortable working with you and your new business. All stationary, bills, invoices, etc. should be in the name of the entity rather than in your personal name. You should not use the stationary of the company for personal needs. You may want to have a logo created for your business, and you’ll want to make sure it’s not confusingly similar to anyone else’s logo and that you own the logo if someone else creates it for you. You’ll likely also want to have a website for your company. You should have an agreement with the web designer to ensure that you own the site and content (and domain name). You may also need to include Terms of Use, a Privacy Policy, and/or a Disclaimer on your site. If you are creating promotional materials, you’ll want to be sure you have the right to use images and other content you may want to include. You may want to create a marketing plan to help you develop business and perfect your image.

Support Team. Your new venture will be much more successful if you have a great support team around you. From family, friends and business partners to mentors, advisors and professional service providers, your team can make or break your endeavor.  These people will be your sounding board, your cheerleaders, and remind you that you’re not alone.

Starting a business is a thrilling and slightly overwhelming undertaking, but with a bit of planning (and some key professionals to help advise you), you could be up and running and playing by the rules in no time.

Controlling Your Domain (Name) to Avoid a Domain Name Fumble

Next week’s NFL Draft brings to mind a cautionary tale…

It could happen to any of us, and it almost happened to the Dallas Cowboys at a crucial time.  In the middle of the 2010 NFL season, buzz surrounding whether Cowboys’ head coach Wade Phillips was going to be fired (which was ultimately the case) was at an all-time high.  No doubt, fans, rivals and press were all scouring the internet for updates on the situation, and the Cowboys’ website was probably the prime online destination of the day. Unfortunately, the team forgot to renew the dallascowboys.com domain, and many would-be site visitors got error screens instead of highlights and instant replays. Talk about a game-changing fumble! See related article here.Blue Url Words Shows Org Biz Com Edu

It’s worth noting that the dallascowboys.com domain name was originally purchased in 1995 and probably was reserved for the longest possible time allowed.  Although most domain name registrars timely send email renewal reminders to domain name owners, it’s likely that whomever was initially responsible for the domain name was long gone and the renewal information didn’t get forwarded to the proper person (and, although auto-renew is available, the credit card info on file with the domain name registrar was probably no longer valid as well). It’s lucky that the ‘Boys became aware of the problem (which you might call an incomplete pass) and quickly renewed the domain before someone else (perhaps a disgruntled, recently fired coach) grabbed it and tried to hold it hostage.

At least Dallas Cowboys Football Club, Ltd. was listed as the domain name owner.  Many times, the person who originally registers the domain name (whether an employee of the organization or someone with the company hired to design the website) is listed as the owner of the domain name and the domain name is never officially transferred to the organization and/or the information doesn’t get updated…which can cause a host of problems for the organization utilizing the domain name (especially if the employee is terminated or if the development company relationship dissolves).

Although the Cowboys had a close call and almost wound up on the disabled list, this is a great example of how easy it can be for an organization to neglect (and almost lose) one of its most important intellectual property assets. We all know how valuable your website is to your business, so here’s what you should do to prepare your domain name offensive strategy…

If you have a website: 

(1)   Determine who is listed as the owner of your domain name.

To find out who owns your domain name and when the registration expires, type in the domain name (e.g., dallascowboys.com) in a WHOIS search database, such as InterNIC, Network Solutions, or GoDaddy.

(2)   Check to ensure that this information is correct. 

If the Administrative and/or Technical Contact information is not in your company’s name, you’ll want to update this information as quickly as possible.

You may need a Domain Name Transfer Agreement to perfect the chain of title for the domain name ownership.  (While you’re at it, you may also want to make sure you have a Website Development Agreement in place with any third-party web developer for the website associated with the domain name so you own/have rights to your web content and design.)

If the domain name is registered to one of your company’s employees or officers, add this to your employee exit checklist to ensure that this information is updated should the employee/officer leave the company.

A disgruntled/terminated employee or website developer with sole control of a company domain name can easily redirect internet, e-mail and intranet traffic within a matter of moments and bring business to a standstill.

(3)   Calendar a reminder for the domain name renewal date.  

The expiration date for the domain name registration is listed in the WHOIS information (see #1 above).