Have you taken the appropriate steps to legally put your ducks in a row?

By Patrice Perkins (Principal Attorney & Legal Strategist, Creative Genius Law)

The “new year, new me” buzz is fading. Your resolutions are a distant memory. You are caught up, yet again, in the hustle and bustle of life and business. You’re moving and shaking, but there’s no rhythm. You’re getting things done, but your focus is divided amongst the gazillion to-do’s on your list. “Focus, what’s that?” Trust me. I know the feeling….

So, before you get too far gone in the shuffle of 2015, I’d like you to pause. Reboot. Realign. And, yes… reel it in. Let me ask you a serious question…

How much of your New Year’s business planning involved getting your legal ducks in a row? None of it? Well, I have good and bad news. The good news is that you needed to reboot anyways. The bad news is that… you need to reboot and realign your priorities.

Let’s talk about the top five things that you should do to legally protect your business in 2015. Because, without these things… that hot logo. The fancy business cards. The jaw-dropping website. None of it matters. At all (Read: I’m giving you a bit of old fashioned tough love and I’m okay with that).

1. Formally Register Your Business with the Secretary of State

Because, if you don’t have a legit business entity your personal assets are at stake. Your house, car, cash can be taken because of a business deal gone bad. You don’t want that.

2. Re-sign Any Contracts You Have Using Your Business Name

Because, signing a contract personally exposes you to personal liability, even if you have a business formally set up. Sign those contracts as “So and So on behalf of ABC Business” or “So and So, agent of ABC Business.”

3. Get An Assignment for Any and All Design Work

Right now, any designer contracted to provide design work for your business owns their designs unless the contract specified that the work was a work-for-hire or it was assigned to you. You want to own the copyright to all designs so that you can do whatever you want with them. Because, you’re a boss right? Go back to the designers and negotiate an assignment. You may have to pay more money (and that would be fair), but you need to own your sh#@.

4. Get a Professional Trademark

Search and register it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Because, setting up a business as Completely Hot Business doesn’t mean that you own that business name. The state simply gave you permission to operate under that name. You have a lease on it. Repeat after me… you need to own your sh#@. Ownership = Cash.

5. Don’t Let People Work for Free

Unless you’ve hired people through a formal intern program, don’t let people work for free. Guess what? Unless they meet the intern requirements established by the Department of Labor, then they are legally an employee. Even if you pay a little bit of cash (calling it a stipend doesn’t make you any more legit)… It doesn’t matter. They can sue you for back wages. It happens.
How’s that for tough love? Hate me now, love me later. But at the end of the day….your business will be legit, protected and ready to reel in cash the right way.

This post originally appeared on the Forth blog. Photo by Kelly Allison.