11 Ultimate Legal Tips for Small Business Owners

By DIY Law | 3 min read
22nd September 2017
11 Ultimate Legal Tips for Small Business Owners

In the startup world, it's usually full speed ahead. Momentum is everything. A lot of things will call for your limited attention, and some details, particularly those of legal nature, can slip through the cracks.

You've got funding issues, finding and hiring the right staff, securing a suitable office space, and many other relevant things that are essentially the livewire of your business.

Nevertheless, one of the most important aspects of starting out is attending to legal matters that may or may not arise as a result of your actions. Your products, your industry, your competition, all these are factors you need to consider in order to cover all your bases.

Here are 11 Legal Tips to keep in mind when running your Startup

1. Choose your Business Structure

One of the most important decisions you'll make regarding your startup is your business structure. Are you going to be a limited company or a business name? This choice will have major legal ramifications on many things. Most businesses start out as a sole proprietorship (business name) but in the case of a Startup, this just isn't the ideal option. Registering your company as a Limited Company gives you protection over your personal assets and increases your chances of accessing funding. 

2. Get Contracts Written

Contracts are "non-negotiable" parts of your dealings involving your business. Contracts need to be written up for your employees, outside contractors, investors, and everything else in between. Don't make the mistake of thinking you don't need contracts. There are too many problems that can occur without them like customers or clients that won't pay for your product or service. If you have a contract written up, you can take legal action against them. Most times, the knowledge of an existing contract helps all involved stakeholders to keep up their end of a bargain.

 3. You should Consider Vesting your Equity over Time

Finding the right co-founders for your business can be likened to finding a single needle in a stack of needles. Difficult right? You have to worry about similar work ethic, investment timeline and believe it or not chemistry between or among you matters a lot! A lot of these factors are important because you have to make sound decisions for your company. So to protect your company, you should consider vesting your equity over time so you have a way out if some of the above factors do not meet up to expectations, which is often the case. 

4. You should Take notice of Trademarks

It is going to leave a sour taste in your mouth if you are two years into your business and then find out you have to change your name because of an existing trademark (Most times, the owners of the trademark want to sue you). It would hurt so bad especially if you have started building traction! Take some time to do your homework, be original with your name and avoid names similar to existing businesses whether locally or globally.

5. A Founder's Agreement might be a good Idea

Sometimes, to establish the relationship between founders of a startup, it is better in black and white. This agreement should state clearly the roles and responsibilities of the founders. That's not all, it should include clauses detailing your company's decision-making structure. 

6. Understanding Tax Obligations

Got your tax in order? No? Now is a good time to start. Paying your tax is definitely not something you want to take any chances on so make sure you are duly registered to pay your taxes and you pay them frequently.

7. Protect Your Intellectual Property

We can't stress this enough. Protection of your intellectual property is non-negotiable! As a startup, when starting out, one of the key things you should have to do is register to protect your IP. You also need to have your service providers and employees sign an IP Assignment Agreement. Without protection, you could have your ideas and products stolen, Find out what kind of protection you need – patents, trademarks, and/or copyrights.

8. Use Legal Disclaimers

You'll need legal disclaimers on your products and services. This protects you and makes sure that your consumers understand exactly what you are offering and that anything outside of that is not your responsibility. Essentially, it spells out the responsibilities of both parties once money has been exchanged. You should also make sure to Also, make to include disclaimers and TOS on your website.

This disclaimer from DIYLaw's email signature is a classic example of a disclaimer.

 

9. Make Sure You're Operating Legally

Whatever you do, keep it legal.

Know the rules guiding your industry. Do you need a permit, license, a particular certificate? The last thing you need is a hefty fine that would set your startup back lots of money.

 

10. Understand state laws

There's a reason businesses tend to start out local and then go national – selling in multiple states is complicated.

Depending on the business, there are different laws and agencies in charge of each industry. For example, in Lagos State, the Lagos State Signage and Advertising Agency governs outdoor advertising.

 

11. Consult a lawyer

Regardless of the business you do, you will need a lawyer to guide you to make sure you are operating within legal boundaries. If your business is one that is likely to push boundaries, and may ruffle a few feathers, or be sure to consult with a lawyer to cover all your legal bases. If you need a lawyer, have a chat with these lawyers who are willing to talk to help.

 

A bonus tip:

Get Insurance

Your business is going to need insurance. You want to make sure you're protected against all outcomes no matter what they may be. The most effective way to do this is with insurance.

Ask around and so some research to find the best insurance providers for you.


This article was written by DIYlaw

DIY Law
Legal, Simplified. | Winners of Innovating Justice Awards 2015. | Creating access to legal for African entrepreneurs. Posts are not legal advice.
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