Is it time for a legal tune-up? If you’re having trouble remembering the last time you touched this side of your business, all signs point to it! While most entrepreneurs don’t need a reminder to update their website with new photos, contact information and other details, few take the time to keep the more official aspects of their business up to date. Vital elements like intellectual property and customer agreements are not meant to gather dust in the proverbial corner.
If you don’t have a legal background, don’t worry. There are lots of things you can do to protect your hard work and avoid costly accidents! Follow these techniques to get a legal tune-up and start making it a recurring habit to keep your business in good standing.
Update your contracts as needed.
Many business owners create a contract as soon as they open their business – never to see the terms again. But forgetting to update your contracts can leave you in legal hot water, especially as your business grows and changes. Reviewing your documents regularly ensures that nothing slips through the cracks, keeping your bases covered.
Try to check your service agreements at least twice a year to confirm that they are still fully protecting you and your interests. Businesses change and so do the products and services offered, so you need to update your contracts to align with these changes.
Beyond these regular audits, it’s a good idea to update your contracts as new situations or events arise. For example, if something doesn’t go as planned at an event, you can add a clause to your contract to protect your business if such a problem occurs in the future.
Use renewals as a chance to revisit.
For recurring contracts, renewals are a great time to review the terms of an agreement before signing on for another year. Whether it’s an advertising, PR, freelancer, or other service provider contract, review it every year to see if anything needs updating or changing.
For example, do you need to change the expectations of your freelance writer? Are there any new guidelines to add to a contract with your marketing agency? By using renewals as a chance to check in, you can make the necessary changes while already preparing the document.
Pay attention to changes in your team.
Keep your employees and contractors in mind when reviewing your business. From 1099s to W-9s, always have the right documents on hand. Otherwise, you risk being penalized at tax time, which most entrepreneurs cannot afford.
Every business owner should familiarize themselves with their state’s guidelines regarding what constitutes an employee and an independent contractor. Then, use this information to review each team member’s responsibilities to make sure they are categorized correctly. Your lawyer or accountant can also help you with this review.
As people’s roles change over time, you may find that someone who started out as an independent contractor has taken on the role of an employee. If so, deal with the situation immediately to avoid a legal headache!
Consider the impact of COVID-19 on your business.
The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly transformed the event industry forever. And with all these changes, it is essential that industry professionals update their standards accordingly. If you haven’t already, hire a lawyer to review and strengthen your contract to protect your company’s interests in the new industry landscape.
Throughout the pandemic, many event professionals have been forced to make changes to their deposits and cancellation policies on the fly. But now that you have more space to think, be careful about the boundaries you set with customers. Use what you’ve learned to tighten up the language you use about force majeure, refunds, indemnities, and other essential details.
Ask yourself the right questions.
If you’re not sure where to start updating your contracts, here are some questions to help you identify areas that need adjusting:
- What are the most frequent comments I receive from customers about my contract?
- What negative experiences have I had recently with customers that I would like to prevent and be proactive with my contract?
- What are my current pain points?
- Is there anything changed in the market that requires an update (e.g. COVID, inflation, etc.)?
Once you identify these answers, you’ll know which sections of your agreements need immediate attention to minimize confusion and optimize the customer experience.
Protect your promising projects.
If you’re considering changing your branding or launching a new product, keep these updates in mind when doing your legal tune-up. The last thing you want is for an exciting business to turn into a legal nightmare!
You can protect new intellectual property (IP) by filing a new name or logo, registering a book copyright, or patenting a product. Your IP address should be yours alone, so it’s worth investing your time and energy in these extra steps.
Maintain good policies on your website.
Although requirements vary by state, you will need to update your website policies if you send out regular emails or offer a product to your audience. Be sure to include terms of service and privacy policies to cover your bases. Like other business documents, these policies should be reviewed once or twice a year to determine if updates are needed based on changes in the market and your business model.
While legal tune-ups may not be the most exciting thing on your calendar, identifying the gaps and making the right changes will allow you to rest easy knowing your business is protected!
Léa Weinberg is a lawyer and the owner and creative director of Color Pop Events–a New York-based wedding planning company that lives in logistics, providing unparalleled attention to event detail for clients.
Please note that although Leah is a lawyer, she is not YOUR lawyer. All information in this article is intended for mass consumption and a wide variety of different businesses and should not be construed as legal advice or counsel. Leah is only your attorney if/when you hire her, and you sign an engagement letter for her to work specifically on your legal issues. Feel free to seek out another attorney in your state or jurisdiction if you need specific legal advice or contact Leah for more information.