5 Legal potholes photographers can avoid (but don’t!)
Don’t hit that pothole.
Trust me, I did it a few weeks ago.
Ended up with two flat tires, two broken rims, and my car in the shop for a week. This led to not only the stress of being on the side of the road with three kids trying to call a tow truck, but without our vehicle for a week and extra costs of a rental vehicle. I didn’t even mention the stress caused and extra money the insurance didn’t cover. All because I didn’t see the pothole. I drive that road every day, I should’ve known better. I KNEW it was there. But I was focused on speed and other cars on the road.
Don’t do this in your business.
Many think that contracts, by themselves, will protect from legal potholes. Yes, contracts are a great way to set expectations, form the legal relationship, and protect your photography business. I find that many photographers in the industry understand their value and have implemented them in their businesses. But they are not the be-all and end-all for protection.
There are some top legal potholes of running a photography business that may be completely overlooked and may cost you time, money and potentially your business if not paid attention to before an issue arises.
#1 Business prevention (contingency plans)
Could you be in danger of losing it all?
Death. Divorce. Disability. Dissolution.
Do you ever think about what would happen to your business if there was an emergency? If you or your spouse got sick? If there was an earthquake, flood, or fire? If you or your husband died unexpectedly? If your family declared bankruptcy? If you needed to take a leave of absence to take care of your parents?
Just because you know all the ins and outs of running your business does not mean that’s the best move for the future. You need to be set up in case anything keeps you from doing that—today or you run the risk of it all coming to a full stop.
- That’s less money and more stress at home.
- That’s an inbox that piles up with unanswered inquiries.
- That’s clients who can’t get their unedited session photos.
- That’s bills that go unpaid.
How do you prepare for the worst so your business can run at its best?
It only takes an instant for something to go wrong that can put your business on hold. Everything from natural disasters to medical emergencies can affect your business’s wellbeing—and the wellbeing of your family, too. What will happen if you’re not able to bring in that extra income?
Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t think about setting up the simple safety nets that could make all of it much easier.
#2 Intellectual property defense
Protecting intellectual property is a real and serious necessity for business owners in this digital age. The idea that anything posted online is “fair game” to be used by others is the result of misconceptions and misunderstanding of intellectual property laws and respect for the creators.
Lawyer bills and anxiety rack up when you are unsure how to defend your work. Have a Defense Kit in your arsenal of business tools to easily and affordably put out any infringement issues. Defense kits should include documents such as DMCA take down notices (to send to the Internet Service Provider), Invoices for Commercial use, Outreach letter, and Cease and Desist templates.
#3 Client issue tools
When a client issue arises, I see many photographers turn to Facebook groups and ask “what now?” Having a pre-drafted template to start your communications (such as a breach of contract letter) can help you to formulate a response to clients in a more efficient, quicker, and complete manner than piecing together advice from strangers on the Internet.
Note: I’m not saying to swing at clients with legalese – having a formal letter can be a great structure for you to formulate a nicer response when trying to put out fires in your business. The benefit to having a formalized letter is – you have it when you need it and don’t have to scramble to find an attorney or get overwhelmed and ignore the entire problem. At TheLawTog®, I always recommend discussing person-to-person with a client before bringing in legal guns. But should you need, a Client Issue Pack can have you prepared.
#4 Date your attorney
Even if you have never had a need for an attorney, make sure you have a good working relationship with one just in case you do need them to help you at a moments notice. It’s easier, more effective and potentially cheaper, to have created a relationship with a local attorney to reach out to should an issue ever arise. I find that many photographers’ anxieties and bills rise when they haven’t cultivated an attorney relationship prior to an issue arising.
#5 Have YOUR OWN Understanding
Yes, a good attorney is worth their weight in gold, however, you need to have a working understanding of all facets of your business, ESPECIALLY legal. If you are looking to understand business formation (sole proprietor, LLC, Corporation, etc), you can definitely have someone easily fill the documents out for you. But having someone else do all the work without providing business strategic concepts for future changes leaves you in the dark.
Business formation is not a “check the box” and never come back. What happens if you have to move or make a change that can simply be done through filing state forms? The State is unable to provide you legal advice, and you’d be invoking another attorney bill for potentially simple questions and/or changes.
Further, you’re relying on a neutral third person with no “skin in the game” for your business to help make these strategic decisions. And unfortunately, most professionals (attorneys and CPAs) won’t provide the business strategic advice at the time you may truly need it. Take for example, what if you choose an LLC this year, but then grow so much that you want to change over to Corporation for the tax benefits or choose an LLC with an S-Corp tax election? The recommendations may not come around until your yearly meeting with the professional, and you could have lost money at that point.
For these reasons, I do not say to get rid of an attorney or CPA, but educate yourself. You, as the business owner, have a responsibility to have your hands on these documents and how things work. Further, having the working knowledge allows you to recognize if (hopefully not) you’ve hired a less-than-adequate professional (because let us face it, they are out there!)
BizRevamp® provides a photographer/lawyer insight into topics such as taxes, business formation, retirement, insurance, and more. You can use this as a stand-alone education site to DIY your own business workings, or use it to prepare for when you go in to an attorney.