Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

December 2012 Archives

Top 5 Small Business Lessons of 2012

Like every year, 2012 has been a busy year for small business owners. And like every year, the end of the year is a good time to reflect on small business lessons learned.

You may have had a relatively smooth year and avoided legal troubles. But the same can't be said for all your business owning cohorts.

Here are five of the most popular legal lessons that we covered in this blog in 2012, which every small business owner can benefit from:

Top 5 Year-End Legal Tasks for Biz Owners

It's almost the end of the calendar year, which is a great time to assess your business and take care of legal matters for the next year.

Hopefully, you had a successful holiday sales period. But with 2013 just around the corner, you can't rest on your laurels.

With a hat tip to Inc. magazine, which recently suggested a handful of year-end preparations for entrepreneurs, here are five year-end legal tasks you may want to address as you prepare for an even better next year:

5 Tips to Keep Gift Returns Simple, Legal

Perhaps the only busier time of year than the holiday shopping season is the post-holiday gift-returning season. Small business retailers must be prepared.

First, there may be feelings of rejection when customers try to return their purchases. But it's probably not about you or the quality of your goods. Instead, it's usually a combination of the holiday shopping frenzy and deep discounts that lead many shoppers to buy stuff they don't need, don't want, and don't have room for.

Here are five tips to avoid chaos during the post-holiday gift return period:

3 Considerations When Your Biz Goes Global

With the domestic economy still a bit sluggish, you may be wondering whether it may be time to take your small business global.

After all, going global may seem like a good idea as you have the chance to reach a whole new customer base and can tell people that you are the owner of a global company.

Still, going global may not be for everyone. A panel of entrepreneurs recently addressed this issue for The Washington Post. Here are three considerations they gave for business owners to think about before going global:

Divorced Business Partners? How to Make It Work

Many small businesses are called "mom and pop" stores for a reason, as they're often run by married couples. But what happens when the marriage ends, making them newly divorced business partners?

Marriage is stressful, and so is running a business; the combined stress can sometimes be too much to handle. But just because a marriage ends does not necessarily mean that you have to end a successful business too.

Here are some tips to keep your business running smoothly post-divorce, as recently discussed in the The New York Times:

3 Instant Lessons From the Instagram Uproar

Your company might not be acquired by Facebook anytime soon, but that doesn't mean you can't learn some lessons from Instagram and their terms of service nightmare.

If your company has an online presence, then you have (or certainly should have) a privacy policy. If you also do business on your website, you should have terms of service as well. Those are legal documents and need attention regardless of your business' size.

A lawyer can help you figure out the legal language that you need for your TOS and privacy policy, but to avoid customer panic there are other things to consider as well. Here are the Top 3 lessons to learn from the uproar over Instagram:

Land a Small Business Loan With These 5 Tips

Getting a small business loan can be extremely difficult in these tough economic times. Banks and other lenders are hesitant to loan to businesses that do not have a real track record of profits.

So if you are just starting your business or looking to expand, your requests for financing may fall on deaf ears. Still, just because it is difficult to get a small business loan doesn't mean it's impossible.

To put yourself in a better position to get a loan, here are five tips you may want to consider:

Can Your Business Get Sued for Nepotism?

If you think employers only get sued for nepotism if they’re hiring a lot of family members, think again. It can also include behavior towards friends as well.

Favoritism at work in general is a bad idea. But if you are giving preferential treatment to people based on your personal relationships, you could be heading for potential lawsuits from your other employees.

There are few laws specifically against nepotism. But the effects of nepotism may violate other laws that protect your employees.

Zappos Lawsuit: Website Terms Go Step Too Far

The ruling in the Zappos lawsuit is a point for consumers upset over the online terms of service many Internet merchants use.

Almost all retailers have their terms of use printed somewhere on their website, but this case makes the "where" more important. It drew a distinction between so-called "browsewrap" and "click-through" agreements.

For small Internet retailers, that's a huge deal. If you don't straighten out which one your company uses, you could be headed for a legal problem.

Age Discrimination: An Age-Old Problem

Forgive the pun, but age discrimination is an age-old problem that employers often ignore.

Almost everyone knows that you can't put up an ad looking only for employees of a specific race or religion. But how many employers know that you can't discriminate against older workers either?

And if they do know, how come we still see so many job advertisements looking for "recent college grads" and so many older applicants being passed over for promotions in favor of less experienced, younger, candidates?

Trademark or Copyright? You May Need Both

Protecting your intellectual property with a trademark or copyright is key to protecting your business. Intellectual property represents the unique aspects of your business and is often tied to profits.

Sure, protecting your copyrights and trademarks can be a confusing process. But once you know the rules, it's easy to figure out how to protect yourself.

Basically, you just need to understand what protections apply to which creations.

5 Tips to Keep Employee Reference Checks Legal

Employee reference checks are invaluable to employers, as you get to learn something about potential candidates from the people who've actually worked with them.

However, as many employers have already discovered, employee reference checks can also be a source of liability. So even though online information has become more accessible than ever, it pays to be careful about where you look for information and which questions you ask.

Here are five tips for conducting employee reference checks and keeping them legal:

Do You Need a Lawyer to Incorporate?

There are so many do-it-yourself kits and guides for how to incorporate that a lot of small business owners assume that they don't need a lawyer to do it.

Unfortunately, this is one of those times when assuming makes an... well, it makes you look bad.

It's true that some people will be able to navigate the incorporation process without a lawyer, but most of those DIY kits make the process look like an easy cut-and-paste job. If you fall into that mindset, you may just be begging for problems in managing your business down the road.

Here's why:

Office Holiday Parties Shouldn't Get You Sued

Throwing an office holiday party is a great way to show your employees how much you appreciate them, but don't forget that you're still the boss.

That doesn't mean you can't relax and have a good time with your workers. But it does mean that if anything goes wrong, it's on your head. So some pre-holiday party preparation is necessary.

There are several things that can ruin your company holiday party. But below you'll find ways to avoid the more common problems:

Yelp Lawsuits Getting Mixed Reviews in Court

As a business owner, you know it can take years to develop your reputation and to grow your business. And as a business owner, you may also be aware that all of your hard work may be destroyed in a single keystroke when an unhappy customer writes a disparaging review on a website like Yelp or Angie's List. That's why more and more businesses are taking their reviewers to court by bringing Yelp lawsuits.

For example, a Chicago plastic surgeon sued his Yelp reviewer after the reviewer claimed to have received a "Frankenstein breast," reports Business Insider. And another reviewer was sued by her contractor when she accused the contractor of stealing her jewelry and billing her for work that was never performed.

But even with the most damning reviews, courts are not automatically siding with businesses.

5 Thrifty Ways to Prevent Shoplifting

'Tis the season for holiday shopping, merriment, and crime.

If you've gone through a holiday shopping season before, you may know that this is the peak season for shoplifting and theft. But while most small business owners can't afford high-tech security surveillance systems, you should know that some of the most effective ways to prevent shoplifting are free.

Here are the five best ways to stop shoplifting without spending an extra dime:

Which Religious Holidays Must Be Recognized?

Which religious holidays do you have to recognize as a private employer? At the risk of sounding too much like a grinch, the simple answer is none.

That's right: You don't have to recognize Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, any of the feasts for Santeria, or any other holiday, according to the law. So as a private employer, you can generally force your employees to come in early Christmas morning and stay late on New Year's Eve.

But just because you can do it doesn't mean that you should. In fact, if an employee requests time off for a religious holiday, you may be legally required to do so.

5 Legal Mistakes That Entrepreneurs Make

No one is immune from mishaps, and entrepreneurs -- especially those just starting a business -- have their fair share of oversights, including legal mistakes.

Unfortunately, those kinds of mistakes can have a big impact on your company down the line, as one young entrepreneur recently described on his blog. Businesses are heavily regulated by a variety of laws, and failing to keep your company in line can have long-term consequences.

But you don't have to make these mistakes to learn from them. Here are some of the most common legal mistakes that entrepreneurs make so you can avoid making the same ones:

Is Your Business ADA Compliant?

The Americans with Disabilities Act covers all manner of legal issues faced by people with disabilities. As a business owner, it's your responsibility to make sure you are ADA compliant.

The ADA covers two things that affect small businesses: employment and public accommodations. Both of them are important, and have their own requirements for what a business must do.

Many of the legal requirements are just good business -- things like not discriminating and making sure all customers can get in the door. But just because you get the general idea doesn't mean you can ignore the details. That's where most of the trouble is anyway.