Is it time for a legal tune-up? If you’re having trouble remembering the last time you touched that side of your business, all signs point to yes! While most entrepreneurs don’t need a reminder to update their website with new photos, contact info, 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 client agreements aren’t meant to collect dust in the proverbial corner.
If you don’t have a legal background, don’t worry. There are plenty of things you can do to protect your hard work and avoid costly mishaps! Follow these techniques to conduct 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 – only to never revisit the terms. 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 nothing slips through the cracks, keeping your bases covered.
Aim to audit your service agreements at least twice a year to confirm they are still fully protecting you and your interests. Businesses evolve, as do the products and services offered, so you must update your contracts to align with these changes.
Beyond these regular audits, it’s wise to update your contracts on an as-needed basis as new situations or events arise. For instance, if something doesn’t go as planned at an event, you may want to add a clause to your contract to protect your business if such an issue happens 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 a contract for advertising, PR, freelancers, or another service provider, review annually to see if anything needs to be updated or modified.
For example, do you need to tweak the expectations for your freelance copywriter? Are there 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.
Be mindful of changes to your team.
Keep your employees and contractors in mind as you look at your business. From 1099s to W-9s, always have the correct paperwork on hand. Otherwise, you risk getting penalized come tax time–something most entrepreneurs can’t afford to endure.
Every business owner should familiarize themselves with their state’s guidelines regarding what constitutes an employee and an independent contractor. Then, use that information to review each team member’s responsibilities to ensure they are appropriately classified. Your attorney or accountant can assist you with this review, as well.
As people’s roles change over time, you may find that someone who started as an independent contractor has taken on the part of an employee. If that’s the case, address the situation immediately to avoid a legal headache!
Consider how COVID-19 impacted your business.
The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly transformed the event industry forever. And with all of the changes, it’s critical for industry professionals to update their standards accordingly. If you haven’t already, hire an attorney to review and strengthen your contract to protect your business’s interests in the new industry landscape.
Throughout the pandemic, many event pros were forced to make changes to their retainers and cancellation policies on the fly. But now that you have more space to reflect, be careful about the boundaries you set with clients. Use what you learned to tighten up the language you use about force majeure, refunds, compensation, and other essential details.
Ask yourself the right questions.
If you’re not sure where to begin when it comes to updating your contracts, here are a few questions to help you pinpoint areas that need adjusting:
- What are the comments I most often receive from clients about my contract?
- What negative experiences have I had with clients recently that I would like to prevent and be proactive about with my contract?
- What are my current pain points?
- Has anything changed in the market that necessitates an update (e.g., COVID, inflation, etc.)?
Once you’ve nailed down these answers, you’ll know which sections of your agreements need immediate attention to minimize confusion and optimize the client experience.
Protect your up-and-coming ventures.
If you plan on changing your branding or launching a new product, keep these updates in mind as you conduct your legal tune-up. The last thing you want is an exciting endeavor turning into a legal nightmare!
You can safeguard new intellectual property (IP) by trademarking a new name or logo, registering the copyright for a book, or patenting a product. Your IP should belong solely to you, so it’s worth investing your time and energy in these extra steps.
Maintain the right policies on your website.
While legal tune-ups may not be the most exciting thing on your calendar, identifying gaps and making the right changes will let you rest easy, knowing your business is protected!
Leah Weinberg is an attorney and the Owner & Creative Director of Color Pop Events–a New York City-based wedding planning company that lives in the logistics, providing an unmatched focus on event details for clients.
Please note that while Leah is an attorney, she is not not YOUR attorney. All information in this article is intended for mass consumption and a large variety of different businesses and shall not be construed as legal opinion or legal advice. Leah is only your attorney if/when you hire her, and you sign an engagement letter for her to specifically work on your legal issues. Please feel free to seek out another attorney in your state or jurisdiction if you need specific legal advice or contact Leah for more information.