This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.
So you want to start your own business? Hopefully, you have already determined what it is you’re selling, and you know whether or not you are going to have one or more partners in the business.
Ideally, you have some manner of business plan in place – whether formal or informal, written or merely in your mind – meaning you have a pretty good idea of to whom you are selling, and how you are going to sell it.
And you perhaps already have the capital you will need to start, run and grow your business, or else you have at least some idea of how you intend to go about getting it. Once these important business issues are settled, it’s time to consider the legal issues.
Whether you are working with partners or going solo, consider forming a business entity. In Ohio, most likely, you will want to register with the secretary of state as a corporation, a limited liability company, a professional association, or a partnership.
Obviously, no one wants to think about being sued, but the sad truth is that it is a possibility, and by operating as an entity rather than as an individual, you will have some protection for your personal assets. While you are at it, you should also consider what type of insurance might be appropriate for your business, potentially including liability, malpractice, or workers’ compensation.
If you are going into business with anyone else, you will want to put in writing how your business will be run. Even if it seems like everyone is in agreement now, the best protection is a well-drafted partnership agreement that outlines important information such as how business decisions will be made, how everyone gets paid, where any capital contributions will come from and how they will get reimbursed, and what happens if someone wants to leave the business.
Intellectual property concerns also must be considered. If you have invented something, it will be important to be certain your invention does not infringe on an already patented idea, and you will likely want to seek patent protection. Copyright issues could come to the fore, particularly if you are in software, music or the arts. And, trademark protection could be useful if you have a clever name or tagline.
Finally, you must be aware of laws that affect your business. If you have employees, you will want to make sure you are paying appropriate wages, practicing fair and legal hiring practices, allowing at least the minimum required number of breaks, etc. If your business model will require your customers to sign a contract, you must check the consumer protection laws for any mandatory consumer rights that you may need to provide, as well as any specific contractual language that might be required by law. And, if you are going to provide a service, you will want to make sure the outstanding marketing campaign you are planning is allowed by law.
When in doubt, the expertise of a professional is invaluable. You should not hesitate to seek out advice from an attorney, an accountant, or another trained professional when establishing your business. After all, the last thing you want to do is risk the integrity of your business and your own success by making easily preventable mistakes.
*Andrew Zashin writes about law for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is a co-managing partner with Zashin & Rich, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.