Run This - Question #2
Our second questions for our entrepreneurs:
I've found the hardest part of starting a business is learning the legal side of things. What have you learned that you can share? How do you find a lawyer, do you even need a lawyer? Do you have any specific examples of what to look out for, how to protect yourself, what to do if someone tries to steal your work, etc.?
I'm still learning... what can and can't be copyrighted? Is it a copyright or a trademark? It's all very confusing when you start. My best advice to learn what's what is to listen to a podcast called Legal Road Map™ with Autumn Witt Boyd. She does a great job going over what's what and you'll learn things you didn't even know you needed to know.
And I recommend reaching out to people/friends and ask if they have a lawyer they can recommend. Like most things, references are a great way to find someone to work with. Getting the legal side of things taken care of is super important to protect yourself and your brand before you get too far into everything.
Learning about the legal side of things is helpful for two reasons, to protect what is yours and to know if you're overstepping boundaries as well. I had someone once claim I was violating their intellectual property. I was not, this was back when I was selling on Etsy (and one of the reasons I stopped). They issued a bogus claim and Etsy kept removing my work. The person had a trademark on something, which my work was neither the same text nor the same design. But based on the fact that he had filed a trademark, etsy just pulled my items without looking into the issue. This was a great learning lesson for me. First, I researched what could and couldn't be trademarked, copyrighted, etc. What were the ramifications if something like this happens and how to prevent it from occurring.
On the flip side, I've seen a lot of people now copying my designs. Which, as infuriating as it is, a lot of the time I can't do anything about it. I've seen a couple shops that look like they've basically gone through my store and picked out their favorite designs, changed one or two things (if that) and then reposted. Again, this is the kind of thing you can contact a lawyer about to see if you can send a cease and desist letter or what steps can be taken.
Yeah I've had to get a trademark lawyer and contract lawyer and I've still had a few incidents that you wouldn't believe and could do nothing about.
It's an investment to have lawyers work on your stuff, but you've got to zoom out and think it's worthwhile in the big picture and ideally your business will be making enough to withstand those costs.
I'd ask around for specific lawyers that you might need. Ask at your local Small Business Bureau or enterprise center. They are usually good places to start and find out about the type of contracts and legal documents that you might need. Definitely use your own personal network for advice too! It helps if you've some sort of connection.
Yes, the legal side of things can be frustrating and confusing!! Lucky for us, we have the best answer possible. Jill is actually a practicing attorney (yes, she still works full-time as in-house counsel for a medical management company in Santa Barbara, while also working full-time on rabbit). So, we kind of had a leg up here. Jill handles all of rabbit’s legal work, and that has helped us save costs, time, and resources.
We highly recommend hiring or at least talking to an attorney before starting a business. From selecting the proper legal entity, to filing the correct paperwork with the secretary of state, to getting a business license, an attorney can save you lots of headaches now and, more importantly, in the future. Additionally, an attorney can help you protect your business ideas, whatever those ideas may be. And equally as important, an attorney can help make sure that your idea isn’t accidentally infringing on someone else’s idea, which can get you into a string of legal problems. Intellectual property rights, including both trademark and copyright, are confusing, even for a seasoned attorney, so we recommend talking to someone with experience in the area. No matter how small your business, this will come into play at some point in time. So, we recommend doing it right the first time around!
Oh man, this is such a loaded question/answer and truly such a learning process. In terms of the legality of actually starting a company/business, I’d recommend starting an LLC. In short, being an LLC protects you. If something were to happen and you found yourself in the middle of a lawsuit, they can’t come after YOU as an individual. So, the only assets they could target are your company assets, not your personal ones. Make sense?
I always check and double check before making any big decisions because you really, really would rather be overly cautious than run into legal trouble. When it comes to my run coaching/strength coaching, this appears in the form of waivers, liability insurance, and keeping updated CPR certifications. Make sure you do your due diligence to keep yourself and your clients safe.
It gets a little trickier when it comes to designing shirts, etc. When I made the “Run Like You” shirt, I was sure to check in with every athlete on the shirt to be certain they approved of the design before I moved forward with it. DEFINITELY clear it with the person if you plan to use someones name in a design. It covers you legally and it’s just the respectful thing to do.
Absolutely work with a lawyer. Sarah’s advice of getting references through trusted friends is sound advice. You’ll feel so much better knowing you aren’t doing anything to infringe on people’s ideas/work/designs and you’ll also find ways to protect yourself and your work. While you can copyright and trademark (and often should!) you can only do so with so many things. Beyond trademarks and copyrights, you gotta keep your fingers crossed that people won’t copy your designs and that if they do, customers will decide they like your work better — ha ha. But, seriously, don’t steal designs. I come from a family full of artists –– writers, filmmakers and a choreographer –– and there is something to be said for intellectual property. People work so hard and I can speak from experience when I say putting your original work out there is a lot more gratifying.
I think it's so important to understand which parts of your business can be protected by law, and which cannot. Does your business rely on slogans or mantras? And if so, can they be trademarked? Do you design and sell a product and if so, is it something that's already copyrighted? Do you have the rights to it? If you're going to invest your time, talent, mind and money into something as important was your own company, know your legal responsibilities and rights. You can do the research yourself but I do think bringing a lawyer on board is a smart way to go about this. Luckily, I already knew of a trademark attorney who I trusted so I approached his firm to trademark my name, logo and certain collections. A good lawyer will ask you questions and help you determine what legal protection your company might need.
I've never really hard someone try to steal my work. I did once see that a really large company copied a collection name that I had created and confirmed that I had used it first, but since I hadn't trademarked it, I didn't see the point of going after them. Plus, I didn't feel that they were taking business away from me by doing so. As a small business and full time mom, I pick my battles and didn't think this was one worth fighting. In general, I think it's hard to protect ideas these days because everything is so out there on social media but I do my best. I've learned not to post teasers of what's to come in case someone takes my idea and launches it before I have a chance to.
Hope you enjoyed reading question #2! Stay tuned for question three:
As an entrepreneur, I find half the fun of this is learning as I go. But that also means I have to spend A LOT of time learning. I'm always researching, trying to read and learn what others are doing, searching for ideas and recommendations. What's your favorite ways to learn, places to go to learn, recommendations and hacks?
And after our five pre-determined questions, we are opening it up to a couple questions from you guys, so post in comments any that you may have!