Over the past year, becoming an influencer and entrepreneur has opened my eyes to many things I wish I knew when I first began. Unfortunately, trial and error has resulted in me losing money, a lot of time and few really great ideas. Thanks to women like Krsytal Johnson, an attorney who specializes in helping people just like me, I’ve learned some valuable information that helps me protect my brand and avoid legal mistakes. I reached out to Krystal to ask a few questions that I felt would help you all from making the same mistakes that I did. Read below for some useful tips any business owner or influencer could use moving forward.
Introducing, Krystal C. Johnson –
I’m an Intellectual Property & Entertainment Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Krystal C. Johnson. My office is based in New York City and I work with creatives, small business owners, and influencers from across the country to develop and protect their brands and intellectual property (intellectual property includes trademarks and copyrights). Whether it’s drafting and negotiating contracts, registering trademarks/copyrights, or forming an LLC, I enjoy assisting my clients with any legal needs or challenges they may face.
From the first day of law school I knew I wasn’t going to be the traditional courtroom attorney. I’ve always felt drawn to providing counsel and support to those individuals with creativity and passion for their businesses and brands. Through my practice, it’s been most rewarding to aid my clients in achieving their goals and excelling in their businesses.
For business owners and influencers in the early stages of start-up, what would your first piece of advice be?
Starting a business and/or launching a brand can be a very exciting and stressful time. It’s vital to identify a clear vision of what your business/brand represents, who it serves, and what message you want to translate to the world. Identifying these three items will create a foundation for you to build upon. Of course, the business and answers may evolve over time (or completely change along the way) however, this framework will support your growth in the early stages and aid others to properly serve your vision and needs.
Also, don’t be afraid of writing it down – that goes for your vision and for agreements. If you have an LLC, an operating agreement needs to be in place to regulate how your business operates. If you are in a partnership an agreement is imperative to ensure that the parties are aware of their duties, responsibilities, and rights. While there are some States where oral agreements may be honored, it’s not worth the risk. Written agreements reinforce the vision and provide a standard to operate by. Save yourself the headache, frustration, and potential confusion by putting your contracts and agreements in writing.
What is the most common mistake you see new entrepreneurs and business owners make and how can they avoid that in the future?
Too often new business owners think that they can just “figure it out as they go,” and neglect to handle simple task. Be proactive, instead of reactive. Protect your ideas with the proper registrations. Ensure you are legally compliant with your state and local laws, as well as any other regulations that may apply to your business. Keep a good record of your contracts/agreements and other important correspondence. Don’t allow your excitement over an amazing idea overrule your preparation.
Another common mistake occurs when new business owners and influencers are in such a rush to close a deal that they don’t thoroughly read or understand the agreements they enter into. Do your due diligence. If an agreement seems too complex, invest in an attorney review. Some attorneys may review a contract for a lower fee than their typical rate, simply to translate the agreement and review it for any red flags or issues. Remember, rushed and right don’t always match.
Many business owners and bloggers offer courses, workbooks, spreadsheets and other forms of educational information that they’ve created. In order to fully own those products, should they be following a particular legal route?
All of these products are considered a form of intellectual property and can be fully protected through the copyright registration process with the United States Copyright Office. By protecting your coursework with a copyright, not only are you securing legal evidence of ownership, you can also maximize the damages you may receive if someone unlawfully uses your work. Bloggers and business owners often undervalue their intellectual property until it’s infringed upon by another party.
“If you believe it’s a good idea, someone else will too.”
Is securing a domain name enough to have legal ownership of your brand name?
Unfortunately, it is not. Legal ownership of a brand name is secured by the registration of the name as a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Along with the brand name, you can also register and protect your logo. The primary benefit of trademarking your brand name is that you prevent anyone else from using that same name for the same purposes that you’ve registered it for. Many business owners overlook the value of intellectual property ownership and as a result lose out on the benefits.
On the State level, you can also file a trademark application, but the USPTO registration is supreme. Also, it’s important to remember that while registering your business with the State does protect the name within that state, it doesn’t prevent the use of the same name in other parts of the country.
At what stage in business should business owners or influencers consult with a legal expert?
I recommend starting with an introductory consultation to run your plans and ideas past a legal expert familiar with the early stages of starting a business or influencer marketing. Every attorney is not qualified or experienced to answer your questions, so make sure that you identify an individual with experience in the area of your need. I actually offer assessments and legal compliance roadmaps to clients who schedule consultsultations with me. While it’s impossible to know everything, you should know all that you possibly can to get started.
Having someone like Krystal in your corner to consult with is so valuable! Connect with Krystal on Instagram or Facebook for more useful information on better practices for protecting your brand and covering your legal bases.