This month at Aisle Planner, we’re focusing on all-things legal—and today we’re so excited to announce we’ve teamed up with attorney extraordinaire, creative business owner, and lawyer for entrepreneurs Annette Stepanian to bring you some worth-its-weight-in-gold advice about laying the foundation for your business with the right legal documents and contracts.
But first: a little bit about Annette Stepanian...
As a litigator-turned-jewelry-maker (not your everyday story, but Annette isn’t your everyday lawyer), Annette saw how many entrepreneurs around her struggled to understand the law and the basics of starting a business (it’s complicated stuff, after all, and it isn’t exactly the most thrilling). She realized there was a serious need for approachable, digestible, easy-to-understand and—dare we say—fun legal advice for small business owners. Being the problem-solver she is, Annette immediately got to work filling that void—empowering entrepreneurs and small business owners with easy-to-understand legal advice and information through online workshops, one-on-one consulting, and clear-and-concise guides and templates (oh, and don’t even get us started on her amazing Office Talk podcast). As business owners, her contract templates are among our all-time favorite things (ever), as they’re super simple to use, customizable and reusable, can be downloaded in an instant (oh hey, time saver), and include future updates (any future revisions made on her contract templates are yours for the taking).
Let’s dig into the legal stuff…
Oftentimes entrepreneurs (especially those in creative industries) are so hyper-focused on their killer idea or insanely inventive product that they neglect to pay attention to something even more important than that idea or product: protecting what it is they’ve worked so hard to build. You’re a florist or a photographer or a wedding planner—you’re not an attorney, after all. And, let’s face it—legal documents aren’t quite as exciting as, say, embarking on that beautiful logo design...but, when it comes to building a successful business, they are just as (if not more) important. Below, then, Annette’s rounded up a tip-to-tail guide of all the legal documents an entrepreneur needs when starting her business. Because even the bossiest of bosses are vulnerable-as-ever when they don’t have a solid legal foundation for that crazy-colorful, oh-so-creative business.
The legal documents you need to start your business (straight from a lawyer's mouth)…
- Setting up your business organization: Depending on the form of your business entity (LLC, sole prop, etc.), you may be required to file various business organization documents. It’s important to know your individual state laws (most states will even have an online portal for small business owners) and to understand what you must file, when. Be sure to keep receipts for anything you pay to file (your annual business license registration fee, for example)—you can typically write these costs off when tax time comes around.
- Partnership Agreements: If you’re not going it alone, you’ll need a partnership agreement when starting your business. This agreement is between two or more business partners and addresses the responsibilities, financial distribution, rules of operation, and others terms of a partnership.
- Operating Agreements: Typically used by LLCs and corporations, this agreement outlines the responsibilities of the owners, financial terms, and other terms related to the formation and operation of an LLC or corporation.
- Client Service Agreement: Always protect yourself with a client service agreement! This contract governs the sale of services to a client. It’s important to have these contract templates in place and ready to go before you ever sign your first client.
- Independent Contractor Agreement: This contract governs the services of an independent contractor hired to help with your business. Think you’ll never need to hire an independent contractor? Not so fast. Everything from web design to copywriting is often contracted out.
- Internship Agreement: This contract governs the terms and conditions for the hiring of an intern to work in your business. Even if you’re not at a place where you’re ready to hire an intern right off the bat, it’s always a good idea to have this contract on hand for when you’ve grown a bit and are ready to bring on some summer help.
- Employee Agreements: Just as with the internship agreement, it’s helpful to have an employee agreement on hand—even if you’re not quite ready to grow your team just yet. This contract governs the terms and conditions of employment of an employee hired to work in your business.
- Photo, Audio, Video Release: This is one entrepreneurs don’t often think about, but you’ll need it if you plan on featuring people in any of your marketing efforts. This document is usually signed by the subject of a photo, audio, and/or video granting permission to publish such photo, audio, or video.
- Website Terms of Service: It’s always a good idea to include terms of service on your website. This document governs the terms under which visitors to your website must comply with in order to use your website.
Overall, protecting the business you’re building is just as important as building the business the itself. We love that Annette combines her love of law and small business to equip entrepreneurs with easy-to-use contracts and approachable, practical business advice. Suddenly thinking you need to protect that brand you’re building? Check out Annette’s complete line of small business contract templates here!