Keeping your Blog + Business Legal. Legalese and taxes aren’t my ideas of a good time, but it’s super important to be sure you’re blogging legally. I’ll make this section as painless as possible.
THIS POST IS LESSON THREE OF MY FREE BLOGGING AS A CREATIVE BUSINESS COURSE
For more lessons:
Keeping your Blog + Business Legal
When you’re operating as a business, you need to be sure you’re doing so legally. This lesson is not to be taken as legal advice, but I will tell you the main things I’ve done to operate legally as a U.S. based small business.
[disclaim]I am not a lawyer or accountant so please be sure to consult with professionals to be sure you’re operating your business on the up and up. Their advice supersedes mine since they’re the experts![/disclaim]
Operating as a Sole Proprietorship is typically the most straightforward route to go when you’re just beginning. I ran my business as a sole proprietorship for several years until I focused on growing my blog as a business. No legal paperwork is usually required. The main thing I did to operate as a sole proprietorship was to register my business with the county in which I lived. Registering your business typically involves completing a simple application and paying a fee (mine was around $30).
It’s important to note there is no legal distinction between the owner and business in this setup, which means your personal assets are at risk. More on that in the next section!
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
At a certain point, you may want to consider incorporating your business (forming an LLC). I currently operate as an LLC.
Maintaining an LLC is not too complicated but forming it is a little more tricky if you don’t speak legalese. I recommend hiring a pro for this. At a blog conference one year, I attended a class by Jamie and Danielle, the owners of Businessese and Hashtag Legal. They specialize in working with influencers and bloggers, and they know their stuff. Having used their services personally, I highly recommend them.
If you’re considering moving to an LLC, be sure to read their article: Is an LLC Right for your Blog?
– Your personal assets are not at risk.
– It gives a more professional appearance.
– You can expect to pay around $500-$1500 to form an LLC, depending on your exact situation.
– There are more regulations/laws you’ll need to comply with to operate as an LLC, especially where taxes and filings are concerned.
The Fine Print
These are a few things that should be on your radar. I use the resources from Businessese because they specialize in working with bloggers, I’ve met them in person, and they offer affordable legal services and templates.
If you make money from your site, this should appear on your site. Businessese offers a template for this which you can get here.
Affiliate/Sponsored Work Disclosures
These vary by affiliate program and are mandated by the FTC. You can read about the FTC’s Dot Com Disclosure rules here and the Endorsements rules here. Failing to comply with FTC regulations carries some stiff fines, so be sure to study up on this!
For example, as an Amazon affiliate, you can’t use affiliate links in your email marketing (they recently announced that it is ok to link to your Amazon Influencer page via email, yay!). That’s just one of many of the rules, so be sure to know the rules of any affiliate programs you join so you don’t get the boot.
My blog post disclosure: This post and the photos within it contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a commission at no extra charge to you. See our full disclosures here.
For social media: I usually use #ad or #sponsored as my disclaimer. For Facebook, they offer business pages a Branded Content Tool for sponsored posts. I rarely use affiliate links on social media, but if I do, I usually go with #ad.
Giveaways can be fun for your readers and a great way to grow. I see so many bloggers running giveaways illegally. Check out this post on how to run Sweepstakes, Contests, and Giveaways on your blog in a legal way! I use the Rafflecopter widget to run my giveaways.
The contract I use most often is when I do sponsored work for a brand or company. I have this Sponsored Contract template and use it every time I do sponsored work on my blog and social media. Doing paid work without a contract is inadvisable primarily because it’s hard to get paid if you don’t and the brand flakes. With proper paperwork, it’s much easier to ensure you get paid for your work.
Managing the Money
I’m a straight-A student who got a big fat D in accounting in college. My brain is just not wired to work that way. I do a few things to make handling this side of being a small business owner less stressful.
I have two primary accounts set up for my business. I have a Business Checking Account with Bank of America, and I have a Business PayPal account. Keeping your personal and business money separate is ideal for a sole proprietorship, but it’s mandatory with an LLC.
I track my income and expenses I use Quickbooks Online (I’m on Simple Start Plan which is around $10 a month) and makes it so easy to do my accounting each month. You can link checking and PayPal accounts, so it updates all your transactions making it easy to update your books each month with just a few clicks.
I didn’t have a business credit card until just last month. The main reasons I opted to get one is that online purchases are typically better protected with credit cards and also for building credit. I pay it off every month to be sure it doesn’t get out of control, as credit so easily can.
The great thing about blogging it is doesn’t cost much to get started. I chose to operate on a cash-only basis. I added services, virtual assistants, marketing, and tools as my budget allowed. As such, I did not opt to apply for any business loans.
A SEP is a Simplified Employee Pension. In other words, I’m saving for my retirement. I started it last year with help from my mother-in-law who is an amazing Financial Planner. I contribute to it monthly and try to max it out by the end of the investment deadline each year. This makes me feel like a legit grown up. 😜
As a sole proprietorship, I just paid my taxes annually along with our personal taxes using my Social Security number.
You can also apply for an EIN for tax purposes (I did that even as a Sole Proprietorship). That’s easy to do online here.
As an LLC, I am using a CPA to file my taxes each year. Since I’m a single member LLC, I can still file along with our personal taxes, but after you reach a certain income level, you’re required to pay estimated taxes quarterly. My CPA tells me how much I need to pay quarterly and I just pay online by each quarter’s deadline.
Using Virtual Assistants
I don’t have actual employees, but I do have “hired help” in the form of independent contractors, namely a Virtual Assistant and Guest Bloggers. I have all of them invoice me via PayPal. Businessese offers a VA contract template you can check out here.
Copyright + Trademarks
Check out my full blog post on Copyright 101 for Creatives here.
As I’ve mentioned, operate my LLC under Dawn Nicole Designs. When I started to become more invested in building my brand, I began to consider trademarking my business name. The deciding factor in opting to file for a trademark was when I started having some products in stores with my business name and logo.
I was in the registration line for Snap! Conference in 2015 when I was chatting with the person in line next to me. That person turned out to be Mark (a.k.a. The Blog Lawyer). He is one of those people you instantly feel at ease around, so when it came to hiring him to handle filing my trademarks, it was a no-brainer. The trust was there. I knew he’d take good care of me and he did.
Mark and I are now Facebook friends. Everything he shares there confirms to me that he is “good people.” If I have questions regarding Intellectual Property Law, he’s my first point of contact.
Trademark Costs + Why to Hire a Pro
How much filing for a trademark costs varies depending on how many categories in which you file to have your trademark cover (Confusing, right? That’s why hiring a pro is ideal for legal stuff!) It’s typically in the neighborhood of $1K. You can file it on your own, but if you mess up the paperwork and don’t get approved, you don’t get your money back. So again, I recommend letting the legal pros do their thing!
As soon as I filed, I became Dawn Nicole Designs™. A few months later when the process was over (I didn’t have to do anything but wait), I officially became Dawn Nicole Designs®.
That little ® came in handy pretty quickly when a new “me” popped up online trying to use Dawn Nicole Designs for her business website, shop, and social media. It was easy to require her to stop doing so thanks to my trademark.
I worked hard to build my brand, and my trademark gives me great peace of mind knowing it’s protected from people who want to take advantage of my hard work. That makes it worth every penny.
Again, I am not a lawyer or accountant, so please be sure to consult with professionals to be sure you’re operating your business on the up and up. Their advice supersedes mine since they’re the experts!
Up Next: Creating an Editorial Calendar
Consistency is key. I’ll give you my tips for creating and sticking to a regular posting schedule + share my all-time favorite tool for blogging.