We’ve explored ways to prevent your business from experiencing operational problems recently, and we should review one very basic and important method for today.
Asking questions. Legal questions, in particular. I’ve always advocated for planning and that starts with considering the good and bad possibilities for your business.
Here are some questions I’m rightfully and often asked:
How can I protect my business from intellectual property theft?
One of the first things you should do when opening shop is copyright the company’s name and logo. Whether you used custom artwork or the most cliched graphics — like a lightning bolt or a dog — it’s a must.
Think of the title of your company, the fonts used, and any logos/graphics/design as tattoos — they are identifiable marks. You want people to notice them but not to use them against you or steal them. Protect them from anyone looking to capitalize on or exploit all the hard work you’ve put in to your brand.
What if my company name exactly matches another’s?
Depending on the nature and structure of your business, you may be in the clear. John Smith & Son may be a private contractor in Ohio and have no relation to John Smith & Son Catering in New York. However, if two Jane Smiths practice in New York, one may have to rename to “The Jane Smith Law Firm” just to differentiate.
Also, do a little bit of research and be sure you’re not knowingly stealing someone else’s branding. Don’t be like fast food restaurateur Cleo McDowell from “Coming To America” and too closely reflect a competitor’s image. He was being harassed by a major fast food chain known for their “golden arches” because, in addition to having a similar name and product, his branding included “golden arcs.”
Competitors and consumers will know exactly what you’re doing and you’ll garner a shady and unoriginal reputation.
Must I really keep every receipt?
Oh hell yes. You know that I am a tax attorney by training, right?
Make yourself a record-keeping machine and then buy one, as well. There are apps for photographing receipts and all sorts of software to help you track your expenses. This process has been streamlined quite well — there’s no excuse not to do it.
In the same way that people who log their calories stick to their health plans, this will keep your business lean and efficient. Plus, you will have all your paperwork ready, come tax times.
How can I prepare for growth?
This is a slightly trickier question that has no single defining answer. The time to address this is when you are selecting the type of business structure that would suit you best, because you should plan for the good times and the bad.
The good news is that you do not need to forever commit to one type of business. If things are going really well and you want to hire more employees, or change the status to either bring in partners, shareholders or eliminate them, you can change the business type to reflect that.
When is the best time to ask my small business lawyer a bunch of questions?
The best advice I can offer here is to do it at the outset. Lawyers are a very busy breed so when you have our attention, particularly in person, that’s the optimal time to flood us with your best- and worst-case scenarios. But of course, your advisor works for you and you might be able to just send an email with a bunch of questions or periodically schedule a phone call.
There are other important legal questions we’ll cover on Thursday.