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. Chatting about it won’t make you the life of the party even after multiple cocktails. However,  the upfront 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 get started, think about your industry and research the appropriate regulatory issues and register with the appropriate agencies. You’ll need to consider local regulatory issues based on where you live and also where your customers live. Whether it is finding out you can’t sell baked goods made in 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’ll need to take care of this.

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

Forming a legal entity can help shield you from liability and some of those regulatory issues even if it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. 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. It is possible and in many cases even advisable to do the actual filing with a low-costs ervice like Legal Zoom or Rocket Lawyer or even totally on your own. However, you aren’t sure which type of entity your business should be you might want to get an expert opinion.  Do some research on your own to make an educated decision and keep any legal fees down.

Here are a couple resources that can help get you started

LLC vs Corp.

Corp Entity Table Your Trademark/Service Mark

Trademark your business! When we started Project Eve, we came close to going through the trademark process without any assistance. Getting close allowed us to be more educated and informed when we eventually got professional help with the process. 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.

The same attorney or service you use to form a legal entity can also help with a trademark. We liked the straightforward and personalized service we got from The Trademark Company. 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 takedown 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.

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