7 Key Questions About Legally Protecting Your Online Business with DIY Legal TemplatesAug 08, 2023
Thinking about legal issues for your online business can be intimidating. You often don’t know if what you’re doing has legal implications, or you might be pretty sure there are legal implications but you don’t know what they are or the first place to start to learn about them. You start a search on Google, but then there are so many results. Which ones will help me? You’ve heard about legally protecting your online business with DIY templates, but you’re not sure what they are. You’ve thought about hiring an attorney, but the idea of hiring an attorney can be intimidating. You may worry about finding an attorney that can help you with your specific problem, and then the thought of spending a hefty sum on legal consultations and drafting is unappealing. You may also feel like you don’t know what questions to ask when you meet with an attorney or that the attorney you hire may not understand your business.
The market for legal services is shifting, and in today’s digital age, there are other solutions, including customizable legal templates. These DIY online resources have transformed the way businesses access legal information and tools and solve their legal problems without always using traditional attorney services. In this blog, we'll answer seven key questions about how DIY legal templates can help you legally protect your online business.
Abbott and Costello were a famous comedy duo performing from the 1930s to the 1950s. One of their famous routines was about baseball, and during this skit the 2 performers banter back and forth about the names on a baseball team. If you’re familiar with the skit, you’ll know that Who played first base, What played second base, and I Don’t Know played third base. Unusual nicknames for sure, but it was fuel for the comedy sketch asking about the names of the players. You can watch the 6 minute sketch here from Universal Studios The Naughty Nineties: Who's on First. Taking a lead from Abbott and Costello that Who and What are great questions to lead any inquiry, this blog will cover the Who, What, Where, When, Why, Which and How questions as they apply to customizable legal templates for your online course business, coaching business, membership site or custom services business. This blog may not get as many laughs as Abbott and Costello (we’re talking legal, after all!) but it will provide you with some key information to help legally protect your online business.
What Are Customizable Contract Templates?
Customizable legal templates are legal agreements, or contracts, that cover specific topic areas in your business. Although legal templates can be drafted any number of ways, legal templates for online business, like the ones I sell in My Customizable Template Store, are drafted with the online business owner in mind. Provisions that would not ordinarily apply are removed and provisions addressing issues commonly faced by online service business owners are included. As different situations in your online business call for different solutions, each template is drafted to cover a different scenario where you want to implement contractual legal protection for your business.
Once you have the basic legal template for the particular problem that you are addressing in your business, you are able to customize it to fit your business while leaving the basic legal elements and structure of the template in place. The templates include blanks to fill in basic information about your business and information specific to your offer or program.
Who Are Customizable Legal Templates For?
You may be asking, if I draft the contract instead of an attorney, is it legal? The answer is a resounding yes! You do not need an attorney to draft a legal and enforceable contract. If you decide to draft your own contract without using a template as a starting point, this document may not achieve your goals or provide you with the legal protection you are looking for. If you’ve cobbled together a contract using bits and pieces of contract language from different forms you’ve found online, or maybe even from a friend who’s shared a contract with you, your contracts may be missing key provisions, have unclear language or be internally inconsistent. You also may end up using language from agreements designed for a different use or purpose, and so they don’t provide you with the results you want when you put them to use or contain terms that are confusing or don’t apply to your situation.
When you use a legal template that’s been drafted by an attorney familiar with online service businesses, you have a strong contract template drafted by an attorney that understands the online service business industry. If you decide to use a contract template, this is the best place to start.
If you are an online course creator, online coach, run a membership site or provide custom done-for-you services, then you are a candidate for using customizable legal templates to help legally protect your online business. As an online business owner, you will want to ensure that you have legal protection for your website and that you have key agreements in place with your customers to help manage expectations, ensure you get paid, protect you and your business from liability risks and portray a professional appearance for your leads and customers. Attorney drafted legal templates created for online service businesses will help you in meeting these goals for your business.
Where in Your Online Business Do You Use Contract Templates?
When you publish short form content, like freebies, social media posts, blogs, podcasts, etc., you’ll want to provide disclaimer language. While not specifically a contract, disclaimer language is available in template form so you can adopt it for your business. If you are a course creator, you’ll want to have terms and conditions for your course that your students must accept before enrolling. Online coaches providing 1-1 or group coaching programs, will want their clients to agree to the terms of the coaching program. If you operate a membership, you’ll want your customers to agree to the terms and conditions of the membership. If you provide 1-1 or done for your services, you’ll want to have your clients sign a service agreement to ensure that you get paid, avoid scope creep and manage expectations for the relationship.
As you grow your business you are likely to find opportunities to collaborate with other online business owners for mutual marketing advantages. As you develop collaborative relationships, you’ll want to put these in writing with a contract. This way you and your collaborator will have a clear understanding of obligations and benefits from the collaboration. If you are looking for opportunities to collaborate with other online businesses, an amazing resource is Collaboration Station by Meg Burrage. (affiliate link). By locating other online businesses for collaborations, you may find you need other agreements, such as guest speaker agreements or podcast release. Your business will need other types of agreements when you are ready to hire team members to help you in your business. You may need offer letters for your employees or independent contractor agreement for consultants.
When Should You Think About Using Contract Templates in Your Business
As noted above, contracts play a role at all different points in your business’ life cycle. Even when you form your legal entity, for example your LLC, you create an operating agreement that is part of your LLC documents. Your LLC charter from your state government, while not a contract specifically, operates in much the same way as a contract, as you are able to operate your LLC only as the law and regulations of your state permit.
Contacts should be on your business radar from the time that you start your business. There is some Internet lore circulating around that you don’t need to do certain things in your business, like form an entity or put contracts in place until your business has been operating for a certain amount of time or you make a certain amount of money. Putting legal protection in place for your online business starts when your business starts, regardless of how many clients you have or how much money you are earning. If you run into legal trouble, you can’t use it as a defense that you just started your business and therefore should be exempt from liability. Legal protection needs to be in place before something happens.
Why Should You Think About Using Contract Templates?
For many business owners just starting out, money is a scarce resource. There are many expenses associated with starting a business. Even though online businesses have a lower cost barrier to entry than most brick and mortar businesses, there are still costs associated with starting up. Websites, email service providers and other software tools all have a cost to them. When you are first getting started and not earning money from your business, you need to make choices about where to invest your cash.
Many entrepreneurs, especially when they are just starting out, operate on a solo-preneur mindset. They are learning the different aspects of running a business, and one of the best ways both to learn how to run the business and keep the costs down is to complete the tasks themselves. When thinking about hiring an attorney, in addition to the overwhelm, the cost to hire an attorney can be high. Attorneys usually charge by the hour to draft agreements, and in major cities in the U.S. hourly rates can easily exceed $500/hour for an experienced attorney. Putting together a package of contracts for a start-up business would easily cost several thousand dollars, or more, depending on the scope of the project. For many online businesses just starting out, these costs are prohibitively expensive. Although customizable templates cannot replace an attorney, and they are not intended to, given the two options of not having any contracts to legally protect your business, or using contract templates, templates are definitely a viable option. There is no doubt that contracts provide fundamental legal protection for your online business. The DIY option of using customizable contract templates makes contractual protection accessible and affordable.
Which Templates Should I Use In My Online Business?
When you are thinking about using customizable templates in your online business, you’ll want to use the right template for the job. Trying to customize a template drafted for a specific purpose or situation for use in a different situation is likely to leave your business without the legal protection you are expecting. Each legal template will have certain language in it designed to cover specific risks for that situation. By cobbling language together from a variety of sources or taking one template and trying to apply it in a different context than was originally intended could have disastrous consequences.
An example of this is disclaimer documents. There are disclaimers, and disclaimer language, used in different contexts in online business. Websites need a disclaimer, course terms and coaching programs need disclaimers (or disclaimer language included in the course or coaching program agreement) and short form content needs disclaimers. Each of these types of disclaimers is drafted and designed for each of these specific circumstances. While there is overlap, each of these disclaimers plays a unique role in your online business.
Another example is website terms and conditions and course terms and conditions. Each of these documents are called “terms and conditions,” but each has unique language designed to provide legal protection for the specific context where it is used. The website terms and conditions document deals with issues related to the public visiting your website, while the course terms and conditions document deals with customers purchasing and enrolling in your course. Substituting one for the other would leave gaps in the legal protection you need in your business.
How Should You Use Customizable Templates in Your Online Business?
Customizable legal templates are an alternative to hiring an attorney, but they are not an equivalent substitute. In addition to drafting documents, attorneys also give advice and can explore different aspects of your business with you or particular circumstances of concern to you. There may be times during the lifecycle of your business that you need legal advice specific to your situation. In these cases, you should always consult with an attorney who can review your specific circumstances and advise you as to what course of action to take or in some cases refrain from taking. A template can’t take the place of giving you legal advice when you need it.
Customizable legal templates can, however, help you put some legal protection in place in your online business where you might not otherwise have it. Thinking about the legal implications in your online business is one of the essential aspects of operating your business. Just as you would learn email marketing, sales funnels and SEO there is some legal to be learned in your business as well. Understanding what the contract means is important when you implement contracts in your business. Contract templates purchased from my Step Up Your Legal™ Template Shop come with an instructional video explaining which sections require customization and describing what each section of the contract means, in plain English. Having this information alongside the template helps you implement it in your business with intention and understanding as to how using the template can benefit your business.
Summarizing the What, Who, Where, When, Why, Which and How of Customizable Legal Templates for Your Online Business
As an online entrepreneur, whether you are a course creator, coach, run a membership site or provide done for you services, leveraging customizable legal templates can be a game-changer for your business. They offer convenience, affordability, and versatility tailored to your specific industry. By using templates, you can swiftly address legal matters, tailor documents to your unique business, and educate yourself about essential legalities.
It’s crucial, however, to recognize that while templates cover routine legal needs, they may not suffice for complex and high-stakes situations, or when you feel you need legal advice tailored to your specific situation. In such cases, seeking advice from an attorney remains essential. Striking the right balance between using customizable templates and seeking professional counsel ensures that your online business is built on a solid foundation, is legally protected and is primed for success.
Has this blog inspired you to consider customizable legal templates to help legally protect your online service business? Be sure to check out the templates in The Step Up.Your Legal™ Template Store.