This is the third in a series of expert interviews. Don’t miss the first, A Taxes & Accounting with Amy Northard, the CPA for Creatives, and second, Facebook Groups with Emylee Williams of Think Creative Collective.
Running a business is about a lot more than providing the service or making the product you love. There are all sorts of legal issues involved, from filing your LLC paperwork to creating or signing contracts with clients or vendors.
Most of us are solopreneurs because we want to be our own bosses, not because we want to deal with legalese. That’s why I turned to Joey Vitale of Indie Creative Law for this Q&A on some of the common legal issues facing small business owners. He works exclusively with creatives, so he knows exactly the struggles we all face.
Q: Why do you work with creatives?
A: I realized creative entrepreneurs, like photographers, handmade sellers, and wedding coordinators weren’t being targeted. Those types of entrepreneurs love what they’re doing. While tech companies usually start as a business idea, creatives often have a passion that starts as a side project and later they build a business around it. I like to protect people’s passions.
Q: What mistake do creatives often make when it comes to legal matters?
A: They think they can do it on their own, which is somewhat true but it’s the “it depends” situations that get tricky. You can’t really DIY your way through legal with confidence. It’s a risky thing to do, and takes a lot of time if you don’t know what you’re doing. Another big thing I see is people forming partnerships with friends and not realizing how that can be problematic down the road. They don’t think about it as a business, they are just doing something cool and figure they will split it 50/50, but splitting it 50/50 is the worst thing you can do because if there’s an argument you can’t do anything about it.
Q: What are the most common reasons creatives need legal help?
A: The big three reasons people come to me are LLC formation, trademarks, and copyright issues. Those are the things people realize they need help with, but there are sneaky things they don’t know they need, like website agreements, independent contractor agreements, and client agreements. Those are things every business should have but often don’t even think about.
Q: What can be the cost of not engaging a lawyer?
A: The big cost is liability. If you don’t form an LLC and your company does take off and someone sues you, they can go after your home and car. Also, things like trademarks and copyrights protect the intellectual property you’re building your business around.
Q: People know they need lawyers when they get sued, but what are other reasons a business owner should invest in a lawyer?
A: Creatives, in particular, really battle with a sense of feeling like they have to prove themselves. A lot of family and friends don’t really understand or approve of what creative entrepreneurs are doing. My clients are motivated in part to prove these people wrong. Getting legit on the legal side really helps others—and yourself—take your business seriously.
Q: How important is it to find a lawyer you ‘gel’ with?
A: People have different personalities and strengths. You want someone who makes sure you’re on the same page and with whom you can communicate well.
Q: What would you say to someone who chooses an attorney based solely on price?
A: Business owners shouldn’t put the price tag of the attorney as their main priority. Good attorneys know they shouldn’t be undervaluing what they’re worth. It’s important to see if you can find an attorney who specializes in exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re an attorney and you say you can do it all, from family law to personal injury or business, then it means you’re only okay at everything. An attorney who specializes means they’ve developed an expertise in one area.
Q: You offer a subscription plan. I’ve never heard of that in the legal world. Explain how it works.
A: I’m trying to innovate by providing transparent, flat-fee pricing, and by offering subscription plans for new entrepreneurs to build a relationship with an attorney as they learn the business landscape. People feel like they can’t ask stupid questions of an attorney. With my subscription, you get a set number of legal documents prepared, plus unlimited quick questions—anything I can answer without research.
Learn more about Joey Vitale of Indie Creative Law on his website or on his Facebook page. He’s always willing to hop on a call and discuss how his flat-fee packages and subscription plans work, and I can attest to the fact that he’s a really nice guy (not the stereotypical stuffed shirt attorney or sleazebag ambulance-chasing lawyer you may dread). Tell him I sent ya!