Is your business legal? I don’t mean to scare you here — my question is really have you thought about the legal considerations that come with starting a business? Permits and licenses, contracts and agreements, trademarks, copyrights, intellectual property, and beyond… It’s all part of the entrepreneurial journey, and if there’s any advice I want you to take, it’s this: Start your business on the right legal footing from day one.
Lauren Boyd is an entrepreneur, attorney, podcast host, speaker, and proud mother-to-be who is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs gain confidence in their legal foundation. Lauren empowers entrepreneurs to build a strong foundation for their businesses through relationship-focused legal advice, without relying on fear-based terms — instead, Lauren comes from a place of empowerment and education.
I’m excited to talk “legal” with Lauren today, from the legal considerations to consider when starting a business — especially an online business — as well as other things to explore like trademarking and owning your brand.
Where to Start with Legal
If you’re a side-hustler, or want to start a side hustle business, Lauren advises you to consider four steps to get started on the right legal foot. First things first, file an LLC — limited liability corporation. You want to establish a legal entity separate from yourself and an LLC allows you to do that.
Right after you submit your LLC filing (which you can do yourself through the Secretary of State’s office in your state or hire someone to do it for you), you’ll want to apply for a free EIN through the IRS. An EIN is an employer identification number and it will be required to open a business bank account. Please note here: This is FREE. Do not pay for a service to obtain an EIN. Do it through the IRS website during business hours. It’s relatively simple to apply.
Next, you may need to apply for a business license through your city or state. This varies depending on your type of business, so you might have to do some of your own due diligence here.
Finally, the fourth step to take when forming your business (either side hustle or full time endeavor) is to do a basic name search through the US Patent and Trademark office. This part is key because beyond wanting to own your business domain name for a website and secure the Instagram handle, the key to ownership down the road will be obtaining a trademark for your brand. You want to make sure someone else doesn’t already own it.
If you’ve already started your business without these things, the good news is that you can take these four steps at any time, but the sooner you do it, the better.
Do You Need a Trademark?
Once your business is rocking and rolling, a few more questions might pop up. Does your brand need a trademark? What does a trademark even protect?
“A trademark is going to protect anything that allows the outside world, customers to identify your brand,” Lauren explained. Your brand name, your tagline, colors — these are all things that can be trademarked. Copyright, on the other hand, protects the content and value you create.
Lauren walks through some things to consider when thinking about trademarking elements of your brand, and why you might think twice about trademarking your actual logo versus your word mark. Press play for the full trademark discussion — I learned a lot from her Trademark 101 lesson during our conversation!
One thing to note: You can file a trademark application yourself, but there’s value in hiring someone to do it for you because a trademark attorney will keep up on the application, perform the necessary searches before you submit, and ensure your best chance of success. You should expect to spend about $2000 to hire a trademark attorney, depending on where you live and the extent of your application. The process can take 6-12 months to complete and hear back from the USPTO.
Unfortunately, what we see a lot of in the online business world is copyright infringement. Someone copies your designs, content, or something else you created. When you create something, Lauren says, you automatically own the copyright to that content. If you notice someone has copied and infringed on your copyrighted material, you would have to prove that they knew it existed and then copied you to take any sort of action against them.
You can skip this step, however, if you register your copyrighted material with the US government. Registering your copyright, it is listed in a national directory and it’s called constructive notice.
Another thing to consider is when an employee creates something for you, depending on the terms of their contract, you also own what they create. This is called work made for hire. Please be sure to utilize contracts for employees and contractors that clearly indicate that you (your business) owns whatever they create, too.
Have you noticed someone infringing on your copyrighted work? Lauren walks through some steps to address the issue. Press play on the episode.
The Big Picture
Talking all things legal can be intimidating, but truly, Lauren Boyd made this the most chill, laid back conversation about legal considerations for entrepreneurs ever. If you’re in business already or getting ready to start, her advice will ensure you dive in on the right foot.