There is much you need to know as you start and grow your new business. To help determine the priorities and avoid getting overwhelmed, here is a checklist for essential start-up issues we use with new clients.
1. Business Model
Is your idea viable as a business? Do you have a business model /blueprint written out? A marketing-savvy business attorney should start helping you on that as step 1.
2. Business entity
Are you going to be a C corp, a sub-S, an LLC or a sole proprietorship? There are liability and tax issues that can dramatically affect how your business prospers. Selecting the proper entity is a critical first step. Our firm includes obtaining an EIN for clients for free when we form their entity.
3. Client Agreement
One common mistake clients make is to use their proposal as their client agreement. To be truly protected, you need a separate agreement that says exactly what your business is doing for clients, what you’re selling, what you aren’t, insurance, warranties, etc. You want to ensure you aren’t liable for things that may bring down your entire business if you overlook them.
Do you have a brand name that is free from conflict? Can you register your trademark in all 50 states and not be sued from infringing on another business’s trademark rights? Trademarks can be worth millions of dollars for a business even in it’s first 5 years of operation!
Your Terms of Service is your contract with your site visitors and is a key item for any website. A little work here brings big dividends in the future. The absence of an attorney-drafted “Terms of Service” can expose your business and possibly you to both criminal and civil liability. This is one of those items you definitely don’t want to try to Do-It-Yourself from copying and pasting from a competitor’s website.
6. Domain Name
Is your business or brand name available? Can you register it as a Trademark? Domain names, trademarks and service marks can become valuable assets but the failure to properly protect them may deprive you of much of their value.
7. FTC Guidelines
All FTC advertising guidelines apply to e-commerce sites. The FTC negotiates with established e-commerce businesses but new ones are frequently sanctioned with fines, etc. and don’t forget about SPAM issues with your email account.
If it is on the web, it already belongs to somebody. Did you buy a license for the images you are using? Using copyrighted materials without proper licensing is not only expensive but under some conditions criminal.
9. Employees or independent contractors working for you?
If so you need written policies for them. This can be part of your employee or vendor manual.
10. Are you abiding by the Child’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) rules?
There are serious repercussions if you don’t comply with COPPA.
How to Handle These By Getting the Right Person on Your Team
You should start to build a relationship with a business lawyer as early on as possible in your business, even if you’re just choosing your business name and haven’t done anything else. A lawyer’s advice can save you a substantial amount of money, especially if they are creative, business savvy and connected to the right people!