Brand or Bust? Why Branding Is Essential to the Longevity of Your Business

A strong, identifiable brand is an invaluable asset to any company. Many businesses can reap major rewards by building a brand image that accurately reflects the strength of the company. And in today’s business world, branding is necessary for businesses looking for longevity and growth.

So, what do small businesses need to know about branding in the business world? Branding might seem like just another marketing buzzword, but it is a simple, yet powerful tool. A brand is essentially an image that communicates important messages about the value of your company to the public. A logo can provide an easily recognizable image of your brand, but that logo—and everything you put it on—needs to send a consistent message. Consistency is the key to effective branding for longevity because it creates memories through repetition, and those memories can have a positive impact on the loyalty of your customer base.

Your brand should accurately reflect your business and the traits that set you apart. You need first to identify your message and develop a strategic plan for communicating it. Your logo is just a start. Develop your company’s “voice” and ensure it is used consistently in all written communications. This includes your website, any promotional materials, email marketing campaigns, ads, and social media posts. Just like your logo, all communications with prospective clients should be consistent across all channels. Consider taglines, tunes, and avatars. Your brand can communicate anything you want. But, by default, it can also communicate things you don’t want. A well planned brand strategy will ensure you are sending the right message across the right channels. A consistent and effective brand creates loyal followers, and those followers can help your business withstand the test of trends and time.

If you have a consistent message and express it effectively through a diverse marketing strategy, you’re off to a good start to building lasting brand equity. A strong brand image can add value to your business, your products, or services.

Brand equity has immense value, especially to your competitors. Thus, no brand strategy is worth the effort unless you take steps to protect it. Components of your brand—such as your logo and brand voice—need protection. As a piece of intellectual property, your brand is an asset that, if compromised, can negatively affect your business’s future.

To keep your brand is protected, you need to start by ensuring your brand does not violate any other company’s intellectual property protections. Run a trademark search and check state registration databases. Building a brand is an investment of both time and money, so you don’t want to have to start over and risk confusing or losing your followers. Part of this step is making sure your brand is clearly distinct from that of your competitors. The likelihood of confusion is the legal standard by which your brand will be held, so make sure your brand is clearly original.

Next, file for a copyright of your brand image. It’s easy and affordable to file a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, but specificity is the key here. A copyright prohibits copying a piece of writing, a software code, a design, or similar assets. Certain companies should consider patents too, so always consult with a lawyer for guidance on protecting your brand.

When it comes to branding, it is wise to protect the valuable image your business has created. Work with a lawyer to ensure your brand and all your intellectual property is protected. If you want to protect the brand you build, begin by sitting down with us. As your Creative Business Lawyer®, we can help you protect your brand and all your intellectual property. We can also help you put valuable legal and financial protections in place to ensure your company is protected, so you can focus on growth, potential, and all the reasons why you love doing business.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Creative Business Lawyer®. We offer a complete spectrum of legal services for businesses and can help you make the wisest choices on how to deal with your business throughout life and in the event of your death. We also offer a LIFT Start-Up Session™ or a LIFT Audit for an ongoing business, which includes a review of all the legal, insurance, financial, and tax systems you need for your business. Call us today to schedule.

10 Legal Tips for Starting Your Own Business

Whether the result of the recent recession or the desire by baby boomers to embark on a new professional path, new business startups are growing fast.  Here are 10 legal tips for entrepreneurs who are striking out on their own for the first time:

Choose the right entity.  Decide if you will be operating your business as a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, C Corp or S Corp.  Each has its own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to business structure and asset protection; consult with a Creative Business Lawyer™ to determine the best fit for you.

If you give advice, get insurance.  Many professional who leave the corporate world to start their own consulting business may want to look into liability insurance to protect themselves from lawsuits based on claims of faulty advice.

Create good contracts.  Getting paid is often a problem for new startups; be sure to get agreements in writing and enforcements for failure to pay.

If you have a partner, get a buy-sell agreement.  A buy-sell agreement will spell out what happens in case a partner wants to exit or dies unexpectedly.

Know employment laws.  Many startups hire contractors to get up and running quickly; however, you need to be aware of legal definition of a contractor versus an employee so you don’t run afoul of the IRS.

Get the right documentation.  Legal documentation for startups is important to have in place as the company grows, and includes customer contracts, confidentiality agreements, offer letters and more.

Be aware of trademark issues.  You don’t want to be in business for a few years and find out the name of your company or your best product is already trademarked by someone else.  If a name is important to your company or product, protect it.

Put legal disclaimers on your website.  Make sure your business website has Privacy Policy and Terms of Use pages that detail the rights and responsibilities of each party.

Employment agreements.  Not every employee you hire will necessarily be with you for the long run.  Protect your business with employment or independent contractor agreements that include non-competes and other stipulations that govern the relationship.

Hire a good Creative Business Lawyer™.  At some point in your new business life, you will need good legal advice.  Because we stay proactive in your business (not just reacting to problems when they come up, but helping you to structure your business smart right from the beginning),   a Creative Business Lawyer™ can be the most important advisor you have on your team.

Whether you’re starting or already running a business, the best time to hire a lawyer is before you need one. Having a business attorney that understands the individual needs and unique circumstances of your company is key to helping your business thrive and prosper. If you are interested in learning more about legal protection strategies for your business and how we work with you as a partner in protecting your company, call us today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit.

 

How to Leverage Company Culture to Build a Successful Brand

Building a brand can transform your business into an enduring household name. But how do you build a brand when you are starting from scratch?

One good place to start is developing a consistent company culture. Company culture can be leveraged to create a unique and memorable company identity. More than just a corporate buzzword, culture can do the work for you, if you know how to leverage it.

You can leverage a well-developed company culture with clearly defined values to build the public persona of your business and your brand. Culture is the set of values, morals, hierarchies, beliefs, and way of life of a group of people.

For your business, what you believe in, what you strive to offer your customers, what sets you apart from your competitors, how you treat your employees and the operational ethos of your organization determine your company culture. Clearly define these components, and you have a solid blueprint for a business brand.

Companies with identifiable corporate cultures tend to be more successful. There is more integrity between company values and what employees actually do, and productivity and profitability reflect that. A strong company culture helps employees invest in the business and work together more effectively.

Once you have a clearly defined business culture, make sure those values are reflected in everything you do. Your business will attract like-minded employees, be approached by dedicated investors, and be more flexible in the face of change. And a robust company culture will eventually speak to the public in an authentic way.

A company that creates a unique company culture that is respected and believed in by everyone who comes in contact with the company, displays integrity and develops, defines, maintains and cultivates values has one major advantage over the competition: its employees genuinely want the company to succeed.

When your employees feel like they are a part of something bigger, they will do their best and strive to better both themselves and the company at the same time – this not only saves you big money on team turnover, but will also ultimately result in a powerful company brand.

Building a strong company culture to leverage into a successful brand won’t happen overnight. If you’re looking for a place to start, you could consult with us as your Creative Business Lawyer® before you begin. We are experienced in helping business owners identify the values and attributes that make them unique and ensuring each step their business takes contributes to the company culture and their brand.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Creative Business Lawyer®. We offer a complete spectrum of legal services for businesses and can help you make the wisest choices on how to deal with your business throughout life and in the event of your death. We also offer a LIFT Start-Up Session™ or a LIFT Audit for an ongoing business, which includes a review of all the legal, financial, and tax systems you need for your business. Call us today to schedule.

Trade Secret Law Reform: The Basics

Many businesses maintain an industry advantage through control and utilization of trade secrets. Be it a formula, a design, or a process, trade secrets can provide advantages over the competition. Not surprisingly, trade secret misappropriation is a serious concern for many businesses. Until recently, it’s been state law at the forefront of regulating and protecting these highly sensitive forms of intellectual property. Trade secret law has been recently reformed, however, to help combat increased instances of trade secret misappropriation. If you have a trade secret, here is some information on how the reforms could affect you.

The Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA), passed in April 2016, allows victims of trade secret misappropriation to file civil lawsuits under federal law. What does this mean for the average business? For many, their trade secret is akin to a secret weapon. It is a piece of intellectual property and it is particularly vulnerable to misappropriation. The DTSA gives businesses a chance to seek compensation for losses sustained because of misappropriation. Businesses could do this previously, but only under state law. With  the addition of the federal protections, businesses now have broader power to legally enforce their rights.

Unfortunately, being given the federal forum to file suit over trade secret misappropriation doesn’t necessarily help businesses prevent misappropriation in the first place. In fact, trade secret misappropriation was already criminalized under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. But that too, only provided another way to enforce trade secret rights and seek recovery.

Because there are both state and federal laws governing trade secret misappropriation, businesses need to be able to navigate both sets of laws if they are to file suit. They must also conform their security practices to laws to preserve anya legal claims. So, while they have more protection and flexibility in under what jurisdiction they file suit, businesses must know how to leverage that protection to get compensation for their losses.

As your Family and Business Lawyer, we can help protect your trade secrets and use the trade secret law reforms to the advantage of your business. That’s because we focus on helping businesses work through the maze of state and federal laws so they can focus on profitability.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Family and Business Lawyer. We offer a complete spectrum of legal services for businesses and can help you make the wisest choices on how to deal with your business throughout life and in the event of your death. We also offer a LIFT Start-Up Session™ or a LIFT Audit for an ongoing business, which includes a review of all the legal, financial, and tax systems you need for your business. Call us today to schedule.

Asset Protection for the Small Business Owner

According to the U.S. Small Business Association, small businesses create almost two of every three jobs in the U.S. every year, and half of working Americans are either owners or employees of a small business.

The SBA advises entrepreneurs to seek counsel while in the initial phases of getting a business off the ground. As a small business owner, you are subject to the same laws and regulation as a large corporation, so it helps to have a Creative Business Lawyer® by your side as you begin your new venture to provide experienced legal advice on:

  • Operating agreement
  • Legal partnership agreement
  • Articles of Incorporation
  • Bylaws
  • Operations Manual
  • Funding your business
  • Insurance for yourself and your business
  • Tax strategies for your business (and your family)
  • How to set up your employee/independent contractor relationships
  • The best ways to protect and capitalize on your intellectual property

Failure to plan—especially for small business owners—can have disastrous consequences for both your family and your business. If you have chosen to combat economic conditions by creating your own small business, remember that going from being an employee to being “The Owner” brings with it many changes, not the least of which are changes in your estate plan.

Small business owners tend to be less liquid than traditional employees, putting much of their earnings back into the business for growth, which means estate planning for business owners requires a different strategy than for other families. A Creative Business Lawyer™ can help you develop strategies for protecting your business and your family for the long-term.

If you’re a small or mid-size business owner, call us today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit.

 

Starting a New Business? Consider These Legal Tips and Tricks for Rapid Success!

Most entrepreneurs feel overwhelmed by all of the decisions that must be made when they are first starting a business. Many of the initial decisions you make can have long-lasting consequences and impact on your ability to grow, so you want to get it right! Below are a few tips to consider when launching your business that will help ensure it has a successful start:

Legal Structure

How you legally structure your business is of utmost importance. There are different types of ways to incorporate your entity and each has its pros and cons from a tax and liability perspective. Having a knowledgeable business lawyer assist you with deciding which type of legal structure is the most advantageous for your company is critical or you could end up paying way more than is necessary in legal fees and taxes down the road.

Contracts

It is a common mistake for new business owners to rely on verbal promises that later get broken. There will be people that act excited about your new venture and make statements that they intend to do business with you, but without a written contract in place, do not rely on these promises. To protect your interests, get it in writing!

This includes establishing written agreements between the founders of the business that establishes each party’s ownership interest and how the daily operating decisions will be made.  Remember, two well-meaning, big-hearted people could both say the same thing but mean entirely different things. Writing it down will clarify and protect the relationship, so don’t be afraid to ask for the agreement in writing.

Protect your Intellectual Property

Your entity’s name, logo, or the type of product you sell can be intellectual property that should be protected. Confer with your attorney to determine what types of intellectual property you have that can be legally protected. Failing to obtain the appropriate patent, trademark or copyright could result in you having no legal recourse if a competitor infringes on your rights.  If you have a term or logo you want to protect, consider using the ™ symbol immediately (after you’ve searched to ensure it’s available and not trademarked by someone else) and then working with us to file for formal ® of your trademark.

Employment law

If your business has employees, it is necessary that you understand the various laws governing the employer-employee relationship, as well as the rules and regulations that apply to your specific industry.  You may want to categorize specific team members as independent contractors to avoid paying payroll taxes. In that case, you must have specific agreements in place or take advantage of safe harbors of protection. This is your biggest area of risk when setting up your business.

Let us help

Don’t be fooled into thinking you will save money by handling everything on your own. The money you spend working with us from the start will likely save you significant amounts of money in the future. Many startup companies fail or get caught up with very expensive mistakes by trying to save money. . Call today to get the professional advice and guidance you need.

One of our primary services is a LIFT Start-Up Session, in which we guide you through the right choice of business entity, location of business entity, start up agreements, intellectual property protection, employment structuring, insurance, financial and tax systems you need to start your next business and succeed right out of the gate.  Contact us today to learn more about our LIFT Start-Up process for your business.

These 3 Legal Risks Can Bust Your Business

While there is no such thing as a business with no risk, most savvy business owners look for ways to mitigate risk as much as possible. Being aware of these three legal risks will create an understanding for the future of your business.

  1. Trusting a verbal or handshake agreement. This is more common early in the life of a new business, and generally involves someone the business owner already knows and trusts. New business owners tend to reach out for some help but don’t have the cash to pay for it, so they make a deal for a piece of the business or the deal at hand. “No problem, you think, we trust each other.”  That thinking has landed many an entrepreneur in court, or without a company.  These cases turn into your word against theirs, which usually will not turn out so well for you, especially if your business is successful.  Always, always put agreements in writing.
  1. Unintentionally using someone else’s intellectual property. You have an idea you think is going to revolutionize a market.  You Google it and nothing turns up, so you throw everything you have into the development of this idea. Just as you are beginning to get some traction in the market, you receive a Cease and Desist letter telling you that your company has infringed on an existing patent, trademark or copyright.  If you don’t comply, you’re going to court.  But even if you do comply, you have lost a big chunk of your investment in a company that can go nowhere.  Before you name your company or try to capitalize on an idea, you need to have a Creative Business Lawyer® perform a detailed search so you will know if your name or idea may potentially infringe on an existing trademark or patent.
  1. Engaging in unfair competition. Every state has unfair competition laws, and one of the most common violations is when companies hire a superstar from a competitor and that new hire then brings business from their old company to yours.  This will most certainly land you in the middle of a lawsuit. You can still hire that superstar, but you must make sure that he or she does not use confidential information from their previous company to profit your company.

One of our primary services is a LIFT Start-Up Session, in which we guide you through the right choice of business entity, location of business entity, start-up agreements, intellectual property protection, employment structuring, insurance, financial and tax systems you need to start your next business and succeed right out of the gate. Contact us today to learn more about our LIFT Start-Up process for your business.

 

 

5 Situations Where You Definitely Need A Creative Business Lawyer®

Every business owner at one time or another needs legal advice.  While it may be tempting to turn to the Internet for your legal needs, there are three important instances when you will want to consult with a real live Creative Business Lawyer®:

  1. Entity Formation

When you are ready to start your business, you will need the advice of an experienced business attorney to assist you with entity selection.  While the easiest way to launch a business is as a sole proprietorship, it is not always the best way.  An attorney can help you consider the long-term implications of your entity selection decision — sole proprietorship, limited liability company (LLC), S-Corp, C-Corp or partnership — by laying out the legal and tax advantages and disadvantages of each.  By considering your long-term vision for your company, you can save money upfront by choosing the proper business entity.

  1. Intellectual Property Protection

Just about every business has some form of intellectual property to protect, and doing so from the outset with copyrights or trademarks will ensure that you reap the benefits of your IP for years to come.  Engaging an attorney early in the process can save you from costly litigation down the road.  If your brand becomes successful, there will undoubtedly be attempts by others to infringe upon your trademarks or copyrights.  This can usually be avoided by having an attorney who can send cease-and-desist letters to potential infringers, warning them they face potential litigation.  If you don’t take the necessary steps to protect your IP, you risk not only brand erosion but also a loss of legal protection for your brands.

  1. Creation of Legal Agreements

Every business uses contracts and agreements as a normal course of business to protect and enhance their relationships.  But if these contracts and agreements are not drafted properly and reviewed by an attorney, you may not only be jeopardizing your rights, but putting your relationships at risk and creating a lot more cost and heartache than is necessary.  While generic contracts can be downloaded from the Internet for a nominal fee, many do not do a good job of providing the protection or relationship enhancement your business needs — and could end up costing you more in unwinding an ill-conceived contract or agreement. One of the things we do is set up your contracts to ensure you get paid by your clients quickly and easily — this alone is worth the investment in working with a Creative Business Lawyer, rather than trying to do it yourself.

  1. Structure of Employee/Independent Contractor Relationships

The way you engage with your team members is one of your greatest areas of business risk. You may want to structure team members as Independent Contractors to save money on payroll taxes and to employ people with entrepreneurial mindsets, but if you do this in the wrong way, you could end up at risk of lawsuit or get in big trouble with our State Labor Board.  We can help you navigate this risk in a healthy manner and even safe harbor this area completely.

  1. Partnership Navigation

If you are going it alone, maybe you can consider doing some of the things discussed above without a lawyer, but if you are setting up your business with one or more partners, doing so would be absolute peril.  There are simply too many considerations that you cannot and should not navigate without the support of trusted counsel when it comes to ensuring your partnership relationship is properly documented for maximum success.

One of our primary services for new, emerging and just forming companies is a LIFT Start-Up Session, in which we guide you through the right choice of business entity, location of business entity, start up agreements, intellectual property protection, employment structuring, insurance, financial and tax systems you need to start your next business and succeed right out of the gate.  Contact us today to learn more about our LIFT Start-Up process for your business.

What Happens When a Goliath Takes Your Trademark

Terri Kelly, a mother of six who started her “second life” as an entrepreneur designing comfortable flip-flops, did everything right when she launched her company.  First, she designed a great product that addressed a market need.  She worked tirelessly to get her product into shops, boutiques and local stores.  And she trademarked her unique branding statement:  “Yoga Pants for Your Feet®”.

So imagine her dismay when she learned that billion-dollar shoemaker Skechers was using her trademarked term to market their Stretch Fit sneakers nationally.

Terri’s story, which appeared recently on Savor Magazine’s Savor the Success blog, is an entrepreneur’s nightmare, a real David vs. Goliath conundrum.  Billion-dollar companies have lots of financial resources to wage a legal battle, while entrepreneurs like Terri do not.  Still, Terri knew in her gut that the right thing to do was fight back.

She started by having her attorney draft a cease-and-desist letter.  Unfortunately, it was ignored and Skechers continues to use her trademark, according to the blog.

Terri then turned to her mentor, Savor Magazine editor-in-chief Angela Jia Kim, for advice and this is what Kim told her:

“Terri, what would you advise your daughter? What would you tell her to do if a billion-dollar company used her trademark that she fought for? This is bigger than you, Terri. You will be fighting for so much more than you. This may be your life’s calling. How many of us entrepreneurs back down from bigger companies, more powerful businesses because we don’t have the resources, the energy, or the money to fight them? I’ve been there. So many entrepreneurs have been there. And now you are HERE. You are leading the torch for small companies to stand up for themselves, because having someone else use your Trademark is not fair.”

On May 13, 2015, Terri filed suit against Skechers to protect her trademark.  According to the blog, Skechers said,

“While we ordinarily do not comment on pending litigation, this warrants a response. Skechers categorically denies the allegations, and believes this case is nothing more than an attempt to trade on Skechers’ long track record of success. We look forward to vindicating our position in court.”

Terri Kelly did many things right to protect her intellectual property.  First, she protected her brand by registering for a trademark.  When she learned of the infringement, she took immediate action with a cease-and-desist request.  When that didn’t work, she mustered up her courage and filed a lawsuit to protect her fledgling company.

Terri is also harnessing the power of social media for her cause.  On her blog, she wrote:

“My wallet is very small. But my will is very large. That is my trademark and I am going to fight for it. Please support me by using the hashtags #defendourtrademarks #skechers and send a message to Skecher’s that just because they are big does not mean they have the right to grow their company by using someone else’s idea, which happens to be protected.”

As a result, people have begun boycotting Skechers and even returning products they bought there.  We’ll keep you posted on what happens with this case. In the meantime …

Your business ideas and brand are important property worth protecting.  If you are interested in learning more about intellectual property protection strategies, call us today to schedule your comprehensive LIFT™ (legal, insurance, financial and tax) Foundation Audit.

 

 

6 Legal Snares That Can Sink Your Startup

Entrepreneurs often make up in enthusiasm what they lack in business experience, but passion alone is not enough to ensure the success of a startup.  If you’re starting a new business, you need to watch for the following six legal snares that could potentially sink your startup:

  1. Lease agreements. A commercial lease is much different than a residential lease, and unlike renting an apartment, renting office space is something that should be negotiated.  There are clauses in commercial leases that could make you responsible for a share of the building’s operating expenses, or use restrictions that may limit how your business can grow.
  1. Entity selection. Choosing how you will structure your business legally and financially should not be done without the help of a Creative Business Lawyer™, who can help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of operating as a sole proprietorship, limited liability company (LLC) , S-corporation, C-corporation or partnership.  Putting the wrong structure in place could cost you plenty to unwind it if it doesn’t support the growth of your business.
  1. Partnership agreement. If you have a partner in your new venture, you will need a partnership agreement that spells out how profits and losses are allocated and other important issues to create a viable framework for operating the business.
  1. Intellectual property. Every business will have some type of intellectual property to protect via a patent, trademark or copyright.  However, before you throw money at IP protection, consult with an attorney to determine the right IP strategy considering what needs to be protected and the financial resources you have available.
  1. Insurance. Typically, you will likely need general liability insurance as well as property insurance for your new business.  Depending on the nature of your business, the officers and directors of your company may also need insurance to protect them from business liability (D&O insurance).  You will need to check your lease agreement for any insurance requirements as well.
  1. Employment Matters. Your biggest risk in business often comes from working with your own team.   You will need to be familiar with both state and federal employment laws that will govern your relationship with employees and independent contractors.

One of our primary services is a LIFT Start-Up Session, in which we guide you through the right choice of business entity, location of business entity, start up agreements, intellectual property protection, employment structuring, insurance, financial and tax systems you need to start your next business and succeed right out of the gate.