Hey friends! This is a guest post from the internet legal guru, Rachel Rodgers. She created the Small Business Bodyguard which is our go-to source for legal help and templates. It’s seriously amazing.
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Well would ya look at that? You’ve built a food blog you love.
You have amazing recipes,
Accompanied by amazing photos,
You’ve got quite the following,
And you have a vision for your food blog that’s actually unique.
In a nutshell: you’re killin’ it.
This is great news but there is something missing. There’s an important step (or several, actually) that you’ve skipped. And now your killer food blog has a weak foundation.
What’s missing, you ask? To put it eloquently…the legal stuff.
Creating a proper legal foundation may not be fun, but it’s what smart food bloggers do to make sure they don’t have to worry about, oh I dunno…
- Allowing a good handshake to take the place of a great contract and then suddenly having no ground to stand on when things go wrong;
- Hoping for the best when it comes to protecting your recipes and photos (i.e., your intellectual property) and then finding out that someone else has dibs on the profit you deserve;
- Finding out your tax bill from dear old Uncle Sam has five-figures (yes, five!) and now you’re up a stinky creek with no paddle;
- Getting the opportunity of a lifetime that you’ve been dreaming about since day one but you won’t be able to close the deal because your corporate paperwork is a mess, your IP isn’t registered, and you’ve got liability coming out your ears.
I know the legal stuff seems hard. But you know what’s really hard? Never building the kind of food blog (and business) you’re dreaming of because you didn’t want to deal with the hard stuff.
So instead of acting like a rookie when it comes to building your food blogging empire, let’s go pro. With that in mind, I present the 7 Rookie Legal Mistakes Food Bloggers Make so you can avoid these mistakes, get your legal sh*t together and make it rain, baby.
1. Not protecting your most important content…your recipes
Failing to register the copyright for your recipes is a big mistake, one that will cost you thousands if you don’t stand up for what’s yours and protect your assets. But, don’t I automatically have common law copyright to anything that I create? While that’s true, if you don’t register the copyright for your recipes, you end up without much recourse if someone steals them. The benefits of registering the copyright in your recipes far exceed the benefits obtained via common law copyright.
Here’s how to avoid it: Register the copyright for all of your prized recipes. Registration is fairly easy and inexpensive. You don’t need an attorney to do it. You can register online by submitting some basic information and uploading a copy of the content to the US Copyright Office website. The fee is pretty reasonable, either $35 or $55, depending on what you are registering.
2. Not protecting your second most important content…your photos
Hey, your photos are awesome, right? You spend a lot of time, effort, and energy to showcase your recipe results. People want them, and if you throw ‘em up on a website, people are going to take them. Some people don’t know any better, and some people know better but will steal anyway.
Here’s how to avoid it: Start out by registering the copyright for your photos (see mistake #1 for details) and then make it harder for people to steal your images. There are a few things you can do to deter casual poachers.
- Use a hidden (ie, not visible), digital watermark to embed your information in the image,
- Use an inobtrusive but visible watermark, and
- Prevent right-clicking on your photos.
These practices are fairly simple to do, and while they won’t stop determined thieves, they will prevent theft by people who don’t know any better or aren’t that invested in stealing. And for the professional thieves, be comforted by knowing that placing copyright protections on your work increases the amount of money you can win in a lawsuit or settlement against an infringer.
3. Not posting terms and conditions on your website
As a food blogger, you are sharing your most valuable content with the world every time you post a new recipe. This means you are constantly giving away a tremendous amount of value and that’s why you have a following, but if you are going to put your precious content online you’ve got to set the terms for how your work can be used. You can’t expect people to just know the rules. Most don’t, but many will follow them if you take the time to educate them.
4. Not protecting your funky food blog brand
When you choose the name of your food blog or your cool new recipe ebook, you’re choosing a brand that you will invest time and money in. The goal is, of course, to make your brand recognizable and profitable as it grows. Trademark law gives you legal rights to the unique words, names, symbols, and sounds used to identify and distinguish the goods and services associated with your business in the marketplace. Failing to take the steps to protect your trademark rights, means other bloggers and businesses can use your product name, create a similar logo and otherwise rip off the brand recognition you’ve built up.
Here’s how to avoid it: The process of registering your trademark is a lot more complicated than copyright registration. Therefore, you need to get some professional help with it. The trademark application looks fairly straightforward, but it isn’t. So you avoid this mistake by hiring a trademark lawyer to register your brand with the US Patent and Trademark Office.
5. Not having a valid business entity
Selecting a business entity can be a very daunting task so many food bloggers simply ignore the whole process. But, whether or not you’ve formally formed a business entity, you do have one. Sole proprietorships start, without filing any legal documents, the moment you are selling something. All without you formally deciding anything. It’s automatic.
There are a variety of pluses and minuses attached to each business entity which may include: increased or lowered taxes, shielding of your personal assets from creditors, and even your partner’s ability to acquire debt in your name. So, simply ignoring the whole business entity question can cost you in a whole lotta ways.
How to avoid it: Learn about the various business entities to determine which one is right for you, and talk to a lawyer and accountant to be sure. Then take the steps to officially register your business in your state as an LLC, S-Corp or other entity.
6. Not having contracts with everyone you work with
This is an epidemic. A lot of business owners, not just food bloggers, do business without any contracts at all, which is a really bad idea because the whole purpose of a contract is not just in case there is a lawsuit. Contracts prevent disputes by making sure that everyone is on the same page about the terms of your arrangement.
How to avoid it: Have proper contracts in place between your food blog and your partners, customers and contractors with terms covering things like:
- what rights to the content the customer is purchasing,
- the terms of the partner’s license to use your work,
- who owns the lovely design that your contractor is creating for you,
- cancellation clauses,
- payment terms, and
- all that beautiful boilerplate that is sure to save your ass one day.
7. Thinking you don’t have the time, money, energy, [insert your favorite excuse] to handle the legal stuff
Having a solid legal foundation is directly related to your profits. Business owners often see legal as a line item on the budget, an expense that doesn’t have ROI like marketing, for example. I want to make sure you understand that that is simply not true. Handling the legal stuff means:
- You can take advantage of lucrative opportunities to work with others while minimizing your risk,
- You can position your company to obtain financing to fund your company’s growth or sell your food blogging empire, and
- You don’t waste time and money doing the wrong things that can lead to disastrous results if you don’t have trusted guidance.
So that’s how the legal stuff relates to your cash money. But, honestly, the real ‘why’ is that most of us have goals and dreams for our businesses — whether you want to be the next Ina Garten or you just want to replace your salary at your current job so you can go full-time with food blogging, spend more time with your children or spend time traveling — having the legal foundation in place is essential to both protect the assets that you are building up and to put you in a position to profit from your grand recipes, ideas and brand.
Ready to get your legal foundation in order? Well, I just happen to have the perfect solution for you. It’s called Small Business Bodyguard+ and it’s your new guardian angel (or bodyguard, you know whichever!) that will give you all the tools, templates, legal know-how and checklists you need to handle your legal needs correctly (and on the cheap!). It’ll even entertain you while doing it (yes, its hysterical!). And for the next three days only, we’re giving you $150 off SBB+ AND $6,000 in ass-covering bonuses. You can learn more about SBB+ and the Cyber Monday Swag Bag right here.