If you’re starting a new business venture, you’ll want to make sure to take a few legal steps so your business is legally protected and set up for success from the very beginning.
You may have a great new business idea and you’re ready to launch, but you have to make sure you’ve covered all your legal bases first. Click here to download our full New Business Checklist so you don’t miss anything. To get you started, here are 10 legal tips for starting a business:
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Come up with a name for the business
Unless you’ll be operating as a sole proprietor under your own legal name, you will, of course, need to think of a name for your new business. Make a list of 4-5 of your top choices. But before you commit to a particular name, you should make sure the name is available for you to use and potentially get trademarked.
Make sure the name is available
Tip #2 of our legal tips for starting a business: Before you go committing to a name or registering a DBA or an LLC or getting your logo drawn up, let’s make sure this name is actually available for us to use and potentially register as a trademark, if that’s something you’re interested in. But more importantly, let’s make sure this name is actually available so that we can get the social media handles, the domain name, we can show up on search results, and more importantly, make sure we don’t get into legal hot water later on if somebody else turns out to already be using the name that we decided to use.
So we’ll want to do some searching.
- Do a name availability search with the Secretary of State’s office in the state where you plan to register the business.
- Go to Google or your favorite search engine, type in the name that you’re thinking about using and see what comes up. If another business pops up and that business is really similar to what you’re gonna be doing, then maybe that name’s not available.
- Make sure the domain name is available
- Search Instagram, Twitter, social media, see if there are other accounts already using a handle with your business name.
- Of course, searching the USPTO or the United States Patent and Trademark Office is gonna let us know if someone has already registered a trademark for this name or if there’s a pending application for the name.
We want to cover all of our bases. The best way to do this if you’ve got some money to put into it, is, of course, to hire an attorney to help you perform a clearance search. If you can’t afford to work with an attorney, an online course like BRANDISH: DIY Your Trademark Application is a great, affordable alternative that will teach you secret search techniques that only trademark lawyers know.
Register your business with the state
You’ll need to register your business with the Secretary of State’s office if you’re going to operate as an LLC, corporation, or sole proprietor using a DBA. Choose the state you want to register in (we usually recommend the state where you live), then file the appropriate paperwork to register your business.
You can have an attorney do this for you (click here if you’re registering in Colorado), you can use an online filing service such as ZenBusiness, Northwest Registered Agent, LegalInc, or IncFile, or you can do it yourself.
Apply for an EIN
After the business is registered, the next step for most is to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN) with the IRS. An EIN isn’t required for single-member LLCs or for sole proprietorships that do not have employees. Though most will still find it beneficial to obtain an EIN even if it is not required. It is free to apply for and get an EIN, and you can do so online through the IRS website.
Open a business bank account
You will need to open a business bank account if you’ve formed a business entity like an LLC or corporation. It is important to keep the LLC’s money separate from our own personal money; we don’t want to be depositing money from the business into our own personal checking account. That is a big-time no-no if you’re operating as an LLC, especially a single-member LLC.
When it comes to small business banking, we here at 180 Law Co. are BIG fans of Lili and Novo. Both off FREE business checking accounts that go above and beyond what you would excect from traditional banks.
Get started on the trademark process
Now is a good time to start thinking about registering your business’s trademarks. Trademark registration is the best way to protect your business’s name, logo, slogan, product/service names, and other important brand elements. You can get a head start on the trademark process by filing an application on a 1(b) intent to use basis.
Prepare your business’s formation docs
Now we want to take care of some of those legal formalities if we’re operating as an LLC or corporation. That means preparing an Operating Agreement for your LLC or By-Laws for a corporation. While some states require an LLC to have an Operating Agreement, it is optional in most states. But we know from case history, legal precedent, things that we’ve seen in the past, that it’s still a good idea to have an Operating Agreement for an LLC even if it’s not required by law. (You may need the Operating Agreement for other purposes, such as getting a loan or other funding.)
Apply for licenses/permits
Next, we want to think about any licenses or permits that may be required. These requirements will depend on your profession/industry and location. For example, professional licenses are required for lawyers and cosmetologists. You’ll likely need a sales tax permit if you’re selling taxable goods/services, or a tax withholding certificate if you’ll have employees.
There may be other license or permit requirements in your jurisdiction. Your city, county, or state may require a general business license just to operate a business within that location or a home business license if you’re operating out of your home. Contact an attorney in your area if you need assistance with this.
Before we start working with clients, hiring vendors, contractors, or employees, we want to have the proper contracts in place. Some contracts you may want:
- Independent Contractor Agreement
- Coaching Agreement
- Service Agreement
- Testimonial Release
- Website Terms and Conditions
- Legal Disclaimers and Disclosures
It is best to have a lawyer draft custom contracts for your business. For a more affordable option, you can get lawyer-drafted customizable contract templates from The CEO Legal Loft.
Tip #10 of our legal tips for starting a business: We’re almost ready to do this thing! Before fully launching your business, you’re going to want to look into insurance coverage. This is important for LLCs and corporations, and especially so for sole proprietors. Insurance is your (and your business’s) first line of defense against liability.
Your exact insurance needs will depend. But a few policies you may want:
- Professional liability/errors and omissions
- Workers compensation
- General liability
We are obsessed with Embroker. We here at 180 Law Co. have already saved close to $500/year by switching to Embroker for professional liability coverage! They offer quite literally every type of insurance you’d need, they find the lowest rates, you can apply and get covered online, and they have excellent customer support if you need help with the applications or determining the types of coverage you need.
Don’t miss any of these important legal tips for starting a business! Now that you’re ready to get out there and do business, make sure you have the support of a trusted lawyer by your side. Contact 180 Law Co. today.