By Serenity Gibbons, local unit lead for NAACP

As a startup, the day-to-day creation and execution of your dream consumes the vast majority of your time. There often isn't much thought given to formalizing structure and policies because your business is still in its early stages. However, as soon as you make a hire or start marketing your company to your target audience, you need to formalize policies designed to protect you, your team and your customers. Here are some of the policies to put into writing sooner than later:

Social Media Policy

One of the first places where you are going to spread the word about your business is through social media platforms, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Creating a social media policy helps mitigate the risk that someone will tarnish your startup by what they say or how they say it on your business pages.

Your social media policy should provide guidance on not discussing sensitive topics like politics or religion, as well as outline what types of photos and videos to post. Besides just sharing what shouldn't be done or said, your social media policy can provide examples of how to promote your company's brand and values through social media.

Privacy Policy

With so much sharing of information today, including sensitive data from customers and employees, it's more important than ever to immediately develop a privacy policy that explains how you manage, store and protect this information. Your website should have a privacy policy that defines how you use any data you collect. This can be reiterated in other places and channels like FAQs, email campaigns and social media profiles.

Beyond your website, think about any tools that collect information on your behalf. This includes chatbots, online forms and web analytics tools. Disclose how you use these data collection tools and platforms as part of your business and share this with your customers on your website and at any point in time when you accept data from them.

Equality Policy

An equality policy should include today's laws regarding anti-discrimination and affirmative action, as well as address how to consider the race, gender, sexual orientation or religious and cultural beliefs of another person in terms of hiring, training, overall treatment and promotion practices. It's good to share this policy regularly through your internal and external communication to illustrate how you are making this mindset part of your company culture.

Employee Policy

Your employee policy provides direction on what types of behaviors are rewarded and what constitutes disciplinary action. This policy outlines the expectations about behavior, substance abuse, dress code, honesty and ethics, treatment of fellow employees and what is considered grounds for termination.

With so much ground to cover, this policy can also incorporate policies related to sexual harassment, device and social media usage during work hours, and expectations about productivity, deadlines and telecommuting/flextime. A good way to share these details is through an employee handbook. Employees, outsourced workers and remote teams can refer to it whenever they have a question.

Leave of Absence Policy

In recent years, leave policy has been expanded to provide a more generous allotment of time for life events. Although you may not be doling out benefits immediately in your startup, you will need to eventually create a leave policy. Think about how you want to account for events like time to grieve and the amount of pregnancy and parental leave that you will provide. Defining this upfront will also provide a way to attract or retain talent because you can highlight this on job postings.

Payment and Refund Policy

Whether you are a new or established business, you want to get paid for your products or services. Therefore, it's important to have a payment policy in place, including adding this to your invoices. It should state what types of payments you accept and what happens with late payments or if a refund is required. That way, your customers know payment terms, penalties and how to execute on exchanges, returns and refunds.

As an entrepreneur and business person, my suggestions are based on my own experience. Remember, with all policies that involve laws and regulations, it is important to seek professional legal advice to shape the development of these policies.

The information provided here is not legal advice and does not purport to be a substitute for advice of counsel on any specific matter. For legal advice, you should consult with an attorney concerning your specific situation.

Serenity Gibbons is the local unit lead for NAACP in Northern CA. She is a former assistant editor of the Wall Street Journal.

Published on: Sep 26, 2018