Entrepreneurs may have to wear many hats, but there's one area that can be particularly daunting to the inexperienced—the law. Even those who feel comfortable playing the role of newbie manager and DIY PR person may feel more than a little overwhelmed when it comes time to enter the jargon-filled, formal, and outsider-unfriendly realm of legal matters.
But lawyer Charley Moore, founder of online legal services provider Rocket Lawyer, has a message for dithering legal newbs who are using their lack of knowledge or time as an excuse to put off getting their company's legal situation sorted—get over it! Moore explained in an interview that his company, which sorts out routine legal paperwork for business owners (and is beloved by VCs), was founded with entrepreneurs who have more interest in, say, their outstanding cupcake recipe than the fine print of their contracts. Moore offered a word of warning for this sort of legal knowledge-limited business owner:
The genius of our American system is the protections that we afford to people who start businesses, everything from limited liability if you incorporate to bankruptcy if you fail so you can dust yourself off and start over again. That is really core to what has driven growth in the American economy, and you're nuts as a person going into business to operate outside of that amazing legal system that, with a little bit of work, you can put on your side and make a competitive advantage.
Just sticking with the easy route of operating as a sole proprietor and relying on agreements you've rigged up with a bit of glue may sound tempting, especially when your business is small and your schedule is insane, but Moore feels this is one of entrepreneurs' most common mistakes.
"The thing that folks mess up the most on is operating as a sole proprietorship," he says. "When you're a sole proprietor, in terms of your business, you're outside of the legal system, so you're not taking advantage of those wonderful rights and American corporate law." Instead, Moore urges owners of new ventures to take a careful look at their businesses and make a thoughtful legal plan, offering his company's free legal check up as a good place to get started.
"There's no set of things that's 'one size fits all' in the law," Moore says, "so it's really identifying what kind of business you are and then starting to put a legal plan together. For example, are you a services business? In that case, what sort of services are you going to perform and what are the risks? Am I selling products, in which case I may have product liability issues? Am I a reseller? What sort of resale agreements should I have?"
Breaking your inertia and getting started may be the most pressing challenge, but Moore stresses that tending to legal matters as your business grows and changes is also essential, offering seven rules to "bulletproof" your business:
- Build on the Right Foundation
- Comply with the Law
- Protect What’s Yours
- Be a Smart Employer
- Maintain Enough Insurance
- Record Everything in Writing
- Keep Good Counsel
If you're unsure what these rules mean for you or would just like more info, free registration at SCORE will give you access to a one-hour webinar where Moore lays out in detail what he means by each.