Regulations and Your New Business! Is it Cocktail Hour Yet?

The legal and regulatory aspects of starting a new business easily rank as some of the least glamorous parts of the process and chatting about it won't make you the life of the party even after multiple cocktails but the up front pain of dealing with this stuff can save you anguish later.  (And no, by “anguish,” I'm not talking about the hangover you'll have after all those cocktails.) To start, think about your industry and research the appropriate regulatory issues and register with the appropriate agencies. Whether it is finding out you can’t sell baked goods from a home kitchen in California (really, you'll have to rent space in a commercial kitchen) or discovering what privacy laws affect you if you have European customers you interact with online you’ll need to take care of this.

S-Corp.? C-Corp.? LLC?

Protect yourself from personal liability with your new venture and find out what form of legal entity you want to take. There are whole books written on this topic but for a little primer we like the two charts below. While it possible and in many cases even advisable to do the actual filing with a low cost service like Legal Zoom or Rocket Lawyer or even totally on your own however, if it isn’t immediately obvious what form your business should take you might want to get an expert opinion. Either way do some research on your own to make an educated decision and keep any legal fees down. http://www.limitedliabilitycompanycenter.com/llc_vs_corp.html

http://www.themoneyalert.com/Corp-Entity-Table.html

Your Trademark/Service Mark

We at Project Eve came very close to going through the trademark process without any assistance. Having gotten close allowed us to be more educated about what we wanted when choosing a vendor and the kind of services we needed. Ultimately the search The Trademark Company did on the Project Eve name was much more in-depth and complete than what we could have conducted ourselves. It had the added benefit of giving us some insight as we looked to acquire the projecteve.com URL too!

If you want to go it alone you’ll need to spend a fair amount of time on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website: http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/basics/

Alternately, if you want some low cost assistance Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer appear to have a good service.  We liked the straightforward and personalized service we got from The Trademark Company. http://www.thetrademarkcompany.com/ Even our attorney noted that finding an alternative to having him help us trademark would save us a lot of money. FYI -Technically, for our business, it's called a service mark. -See how this factoid will just dazzle your friends at a cocktail party!?

It should be obvious but I'll say it anyway if you have some amazing new technology or invention in the works a good patent attorney is essential. Ask around, ask Eves, you can also ask me –my, husband has experience with a couple good patent attorneys over the past several years.

Disclaimers, Copyrights, and Privacy Policies

Tricia Clarke, one of our featured bloggers, recently posted in the forum a service that helps bloggers generate a disclaimer.  We think this is fantastic: http://disclosurepolicy.org/ We wish all regulatory items were this easy, and free!

Everyone should respect copyright laws and take steps to properly site and reference other authors and sources. For websites that allow for user comments and other posted materials having a copyright policy and take down notice process in place is also something smart to consider in light of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). You can learn more about it at the U.S. Copyright Office website and can even become your firm's own agent after filling out a simple form and sending in a small fee so you can receive complaints appropriately if someone wants you to remove some material from your site. http://www.copyright.gov/onlinesp/ That said, this did involve a pretty steep learning curve for us.  Perhaps this might be one of those things were your attorney or LegalZoom or RocketLawyer helps out. You'll feel quite accomplished once this is out of the way, I promise.  Sadly however, announcing to new friends and acquaintances that you just became your firm's Copyright Agent might bring on sudden attacks of narcolepsy. Look to your business partner for a nice pat on the back.

Advice from an attorney about a privacy policy and how that relates to Safe Harbor regulations if you have customers residing in Europe is a very good idea. We did a fair amount of legwork on this ourselves to understand the requirements and cut down on legal fees but ultimately we needed a lawyer to help us make sure we were dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s. If you want to take a similar approach or even try to do it yourself the government does provide a decent document spelling out what you have to do here: http://trade.gov/publications/pdfs/safeharbor-selfcert2009.pdf And to learn more and apply you’ll need to go here: http://export.gov/safeharbor/index.asp I won't lie the EU-US Safe Harbor regs were vaguely nauseating to learn about. It did feel good to understand and it get behind us but was so ugly I rarely wanted to discuss it even over a strong drink or two.

More Help

There are certainly regulations to fit all manner of businesses which is were the SBA might come in handy. The Small Business Administration is about more than just loans they offer a wealth of educational tools, mentorship programs, and free counseling sessions.

http://www.sba.gov/

The SBA has several programs specifically targeted at helping women:

  • SBA’s Women’s Business Centers
SBA’s Women’s Business Centers represent a national network of over 100 educational centers designed to assist women in starting and growing small businesses
  • SBA’s Women-Owned Federal Contracting Program
The Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract Program provides a level playing field on which WOSBs can compete for federal contracting opportunities.

More? Or is it time for that cocktail yet? 

What else am I missing? Please chime in with your thoughts and resources and I’ll compile them on additional pages to the resources section.