12.5 minute read
Any seasoned or serial entrepreneur is familiar with the many things there are to watch out for in launching and operating your business startup. As for the rest of us, entrepreneurship can be a new adventure of seemingly uncharted territory. Yes, many lessons are best learned through experience and a few slip ups. The good thing is, if you keep reading, you can uncover some common mistakes that can easily be avoided in your entrepreneurial journey. Go ahead, read on!
1) Not being consistent online
So many brands live and exist only online. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this strategy, unless your brand lacks consistency across the world wide web. Consistency is key when it comes to your business & brand’s development and building a relationship with your audience based on credibility, trust, & recognition.
What exactly do I mean by consistency? Many times, I see brands with a clear (or maybe not so clear…) brand identity and design. The logo is strong, the color scheme is apparent, there is a particular font style used, and the brand personality is well-defined. But then you dig deeper, and you check out their social media profiles, website, etc. On their social media, you may find that it lacks a consistent tone of voice or fails to reflect the brand’s personality in the written copy. Perhaps the social media handles are not easily identifiable and miss the mark. Maybe the logo is there, but different versions of the logo bearing different fonts are scattered throughout different channels. Speaking of different fonts, the website may look completely different than the social media profile, with totally different font choice, or perhaps the font usage is not uniform throughout the website itself. Or worse, there is a wrong shade(s) of the main color in the brand’s color scheme. *cringe*
This is something I see all the time. For example, the brand’s color scheme includes white, emerald green, and gold. In their social media graphics, different shades of the color green are used, and not in a complementary way. There may even be some random posts that are completely off brand, using a color scheme far off from our green & gold.
By far one of the worst brand consistency mistakes I see is a lack of consistency in the brand name usage. Let’s say the brand name is ONPOINT CO. Sometimes it’s written as ON POINT CO., ON-POINT CO., ONPOINTCO, and other times it’s just ON POINT.
The problem? A lack of uniformity. Uniformity and consistency translate to credibility and professionalism and allow for your consumers to recognize your brand even among all the other online noise.
When your business lives solely online, your social media profile is likely one of the first interactions your audience members (and potential customers) have with you. Conduct an audit of your social media and online presence yourself or with a professional, or maybe start off by asking a friend to give their honest thoughts on the uniformity of your online presence. (Warning: Be sure to NOT take it personally!)
2) Committing trademark infringement (yes, even if it wasn’t intentional.)
If you are doing business in the U.S., it is important, to say the least, for you to conduct a thorough clearance search of the trademark you plan to use or have already begun using. (If you’re wondering what in the world a trademark is, click here, then come back) The purpose of a trademark clearance search is to make sure that 1) you aren’t infringing on the intellectual property (IP) of another business, and 2) that you will be able to secure the exclusive ownership of the IP you’re planning to develop. If the results are promising, work with your attorney either before or after your launch to apply for and secure the federal registration to your trademark, which is the key to your brand protection and enforcement of your IP rights.
3) Entering into a business relationship “on a handshake”
The biggest rookie mistake to be made in business is to enter into a business relationship “on a handshake” or without a written agreement that clearly defines the terms of the relationship that the two parties have agreed to.
Some may say that a written agreement is not necessary if the terms are “really simple” or “standard.” Some may even say, “Oh, I’ve done business with this person for the last decade. We don’t need a written agreement.” But those that think this way are mistaken and fail to understand that a written contract actually serves to benefit both parties and promotes a much better and much more productive relationship. In a written agreement you include all of the terms that you agree to and then also may choose to include how the relationship will be carried out, how it may be terminated by either party, what happens upon termination of the relationship, how communication will take place, what happens if one side does not uphold their end of the agreement, and how to resolve disputes should they arise. When these terms are not written out clearly, disputes can easily destroy a relationship or create an obstacle within your business, if you are reliant on said relationship. A well-written contract can help to create a clear understanding of what each party’s obligations, responsibilities, and expectations are so that there is little to no room for dispute or disappointment.
4) Leaving your personal assets vulnerable
It certainly may appear that there is a grey area when it comes to the timing of forming your business entity. As a general rule of thumb, forming your entity before beginning business operations can help to shield you from personal asset liability. If you do not have a business entity in place then you are operating your business as an individual. This essentially means that if there is any dispute that arises or a lawsuit that is brought against the business, it is being brought against you, because you and your business are one. If it’s brought against you as an individual, then your personal assets could be accessed by the other party in collecting damages.
This can be avoided through the formation of a business entity, operating one’s business under that entity, and complying with the requirements of your type of business entity in order to maintain that limited liability and personal liability protection.
5) Leaving your intellectual property assets open to infringement
After you’ve cleared your trademark and you’ve made sure that you aren’t infringing on somebody else’s intellectual property and that you have a likelihood of securing the exclusive ownership of the trademark on the federal level, the next step is to actually secure that federal trademark registration.
Some choose to not apply at all, thinking that it will not benefit them when, in fact, a trademark registration benefits a business and a brand in more ways than one. Again, trademark ownership is the key to your brand protection and to enforcing your intellectual property rights. It also enables you to exclude others from using anything confusingly similar to your trademark in connection with similar or related goods and services.
Let’s say somebody else in your same space or industry decides to use a name similar to yours and you never secured ownership of your trademark. Maybe they saw your brand already or maybe they didn’t… it doesn’t really matter. This person goes to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office database (USPTO.gov) and looks up this brand or product name. If you aren’t registered, your trademark is not going to show up in the federal database. This sends a message to others that the name is available for use and is not exclusively owned by anyone. They believe they can begin using it and do so. In order for you to establish an infringement case against them it is much more difficult, time consuming, and expensive than if you had that registration in hand and possessed a presumption of exclusive ownership.
The issue with having unauthorized individuals use your brand name or your trademark in connection with similar or related goods and services is that your audience, who you have been building (and investing heavily in) a relationship with, could become confused and mistake this other company for yours or vice versa. And that is not something that is even worth risking in the online business world.
Not securing exclusive ownership and federal registration over the use of your trademark leaves your business open to the possibility of infringement and legal disputes. In the event of a trademark infringement you may find yourself in a poor position when it comes to enforcing your rights and excluding others from the use of your trademark. #protectyourbrand
6) Thinking you have to do it all
As a new business owner and through the development of your master plan, I’m sure you realized pretty quickly that there are a lot of hats that must be worn as the BOSS. A mistake that many new business owners make is thinking that they have to do it all. From the web development and web design, to setting up your e-commerce shop, developing your marketing strategy, designing your logo, or taking care of legal matters (do yourself a favor and refrain from DIY legal.. Seriously.). There’s bookkeeping, client communications, social media management… The list goes on. These are all different areas that must be taken care of and managed within your business. The mistake you’re making is thinking that you personally need to complete and manage each and every task. Well, I’m pleased to inform you that you are wrong. Outsourcing can change your life and will transform your business if you allow others that specialize in those areas to support you. Doing so enables you to grow your business, focus your energy, and continue to operate within your zone of genius— in other words, on matters that you truly enjoy, whether that be product design, client communications, community outreach/business development, or improving your customer service process. Whatever it might be, your time is limited and by outsourcing or delegating tasks you are freeing up your time so that you are able to focus on areas you actually want to focus it on.
Side note: Outsourcing my bookkeeping + financial management was the BEST thing I ever did for my business.
7) Committing copyright infringement
If you operate your business online, you may find yourself making this mistake already (and if you’re not operating your business or engaging with customers online in 2018, what are you even doing?). One of the most common ways that people commit copyright infringement is by using photographs that they find online in their marketing materials, website, or social media. Remember: If an image is online that does not mean it is a free-for-all and that you are able to use it commercially. Unknowingly or unintentionally infringing on another person’s copyright is still infringement. The owner of that copyright could come after you in court and would be entitled to damages due to your infringement.
There are some websites like Pixabay and Pexels that have stock photography available for commercial use without a license. But aside from that, if you aren’t sure and if it does not expressly state that you can use it without a license, assume that somebody owns the copyright to that image and that if you use it commercially without obtaining a license you could be committing copyright infringement.
It’s easy to see how an inexperienced business owner could slip up and commit any one (or more) of the mistakes outlined above. Hopefully this article provides some guidance and clarity on navigating the world of entrepreneurship for new business owners out there. It is important to be proactive in your business & brand protection, as opposed to being reactive, which is always more time-consuming and expensive overall.
Another good way is to subscribe to YSH Law’s Brand Builder Newsletter, which graces your inbox everything month! If you aren’t on the list yet, click here to subscribe. You’ll also receive a free e-gift for email with your subscription.
To the success of your business,
Keep up with Yasmine on social media! @startuplawyerlady
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice or if you would like to schedule a call with our office in order to best protect yourself & your business, you can reach Yasmine directly at (512) 925-7882 or book a meeting by clicking here.
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