Business name? Check. Website? Check. LLC set up? Trademark? Hmmm. Understanding the legal responsibilities and ramifications of having your own PR business should be a priority for every independent PR professional. Making the move from working in an office to being your own boss can be an exciting and overwhelming time.
It’s easy to use the skills and experience you learned in-house to create a business plan and market yourself. However, learning about LLCs, S-Corps, trademarks, and business insurance – well, that can be unchartered territory for a lot of us “indies.” It’s great to have someone like Rebecca Geller of The Geller Law Group as a navigator. She offered great advice and her top four legal tips for attendees at a recent Independent Public Relations Alliance (IPRA) luncheon program:
- When you launch your business, consider forming as a LLC. If you’re set up as a sole proprietor, there’s no difference between who you are as an individual and who you are as a business. Rebecca says that can be a huge problem if you get sued – basically, everything you own as an individual (house, cars, savings, retirement) can be obtained through the lawsuit. Ouch.
- Keep your business insurance separate from your homeowners insurance. Since many of us indies work from home, you might think your business is covered under your homeowners policy, but it’s not. Rebecca advises that indies get professional liability insurance.
- Trademark your business name and logo. Did you know that a company in another state could use your business name if it’s not trademarked? Rebecca has a local client who had been in business for more than 25 years and he had to change his company’s name — after receiving a cease and desist order from another company with a similar name. The entire trademark process takes about nine months, but will help ensure you never have to change your brand and business name and not get sued.
- Put everything in writing – and make sure an attorney has reviewed your standard contracts. It’s tempting to customize sample contracts we find online or through other indies. But, legal documents will vary from state to state and online legal tools are generally not recognized by courts as valid legal documents. It’s best to have a business attorney in your state review (and strengthen) your legal documents to ensure your protection. Rebecca advises that standard client contracts should always include a scope of work, limits of liability, and restrictions if you bring in a subcontractor. Other documents you should have on hand include subcontractor and employee agreements, letter to fire a client (heaven forbid), and an operating agreement that covers what happens if you can’t operate your business.
Everything from naming your new business to drawing up contracts can have a big impact on the future of your business. Make sure you understand the legal aspects of starting and running a business – and have an attorney on your team.