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Do you tend to linger when it comes to sorting out your business legal documents?
Drifting around the internet and scrolling social media instead?
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Or maybe consume more content online in the name of ‘research’...
You’re not alone!
Most online entrepreneurs fall into these rabbit holes.
There’s no reason to panic, just be aware of time suckers!
If you’re intentionally looking into getting your legal stuff sorted out to protect your business and avoid legal risks...
You’ve just reached the right place to get your back covered.
So now, let’s get your business legal issues sorted, so you can tick it off your “To Do” list and move it to your “Done” list.
Yes! Let’s get you started on the right legal track.
Well, If you're a business law veteran, there's less for you here, but beginner and intermediate online business owners should grab a latte and dig into this guide.
It’s a definite guide to sort out your online business legal pages, documents, and contracts.
This tested and proven - Lawyer-Written- Guide covers the 3 main types of legal documents every online business needs:
- Legal steps to start a new business and form your own company
- the legal documents necessary at the early stages of operation
- the day to day contracts you need to grow your business
Many online entrepreneurs have read this guide and downloaded its free printable pdf version, to keep it handy and use it in their day-to-day business.
Don’t forget to grab yours free at the bottom of the page!
This Guide’s a bit long but worth every minute of your precious time, that I respect and honor.
It provides you with the basic information you need to understand your required website legal pages, business documents, and contracts.
It helps you operate your business - legally.
You’ll walk away knowing what you need to do and practical options on how to go about it. This guide obviously doesn’t address every single legal requirement or situation you may face, but rather the essential practical aspects you need.
If you have any questions though, leave it in the comments below.
I normally answer all the comments I get in the first week from publishing and close it after that.
Ready? let’s jump right in.
1- Legal Documents Every Startup Needs
These are the documents and procedures or steps you need to form your company or start your business (your pre-startup and startup phase):
1-1 Name & Type
Choose a name for your business. It’s good practice to check it out as a domain name, and even better to search it as a trademark too. You’ll need to register your name as a domain name right away and trademark after incorporation for extra protection.
Most of the online entrepreneurs I came across choose a limited liability company to start their small online businesses, websites or blogs.
Your Articles of Incorporation. It’s the contract that forms your business. Its bible or constitutional.
1-3 EIN or UID
Your Employer Identification or Business Number, in other jurisdictions they call it Commercial Registration Number, or Unified Number. It is a unique number to identify your business. It’s like your business ID number.
1-4 Taxes Documents
You need to register with income and sales taxes. In some countries, you are not required to register for sales tax unless you reach a certain turnover threshold.
1-5 Bank A/C Documents
Businesses need separate bank accounts so that the partners can deposit their shares of capital. Later it operates as a business account to make and receive payments. Partners need to designate who’s eligible to sign to transact on its business account.
1-6 Social Insurance Documents
In most countries, you will need to register your business at social insurance.
2- Your Business Legal Documents
These are the documents you need to have on file right after your business is formed or incorporated:
2-1 Certificate of Formation
Your Certificate of Formation contains the information that the law requires to put the public on notice. This is your business information that’s available to the public.
Your Bylaws deal with your day-to-day operations.
2-3 Stock Certificates
The Stock Certificates represent the shareholding equity in the Company.
2-4 Minute Book
Your Minute Book contains copies of your important organizational documents.
3- Operational Legal Documents
To ensure that your limited liability is intact, follow these tips:
3-1 Use of Correct Business Name
You should use the exact legal name of the company (ex: Your Company Inc.) on all
agreements and materials used in your business.
3-2 Signing Documents
The proper way to sign legal documents on behalf of your business is illustrated here:
Your Company Inc.
By: (______________YOU), President
It is important to adequately document all legal actions taken by the Company.
3-4 Record Requirements
The Law requires that certain records be kept each year by the Company.
Your Corporation is generally required to keep:
Minutes of the General Meeting with names and addresses of shareholders and directors.
Last 3 years profit and loss balance sheet.
Every business should have minutes of the annual meeting.
4- Taxes Legal Documents
These are the documents you need for your company's taxes:
4-1 Use of Federal Tax ID Number
You should apply to the Internal Revenue Service for a Federal Employer Identification Number (EIN).
4-2 Bank Account
You should open a bank account as soon as possible and use it as a depository for all Company funds. It is important not to commingle business and personal funds.
Banks need some form of proof that they are dealing with a real business entity. If you are a long-term customer and your banker knows you, you often will have no problems.
If that is not the case, the following tips will help:
If you apply for an EIN, keep a copy of your Federal Tax ID Application for your banker (Form SS-4).
Bring your minute book or similar records and, if applicable, your seal with you to meet with the banker.
Start with the bank manager and work down. It always helps to get to know the branch manager.
Some bankers require the original Certificate of Formation in order to open a bank account. Others will accept other proof of organization.
4-3 Businesses With Prior Activities
If you have already been operating as a sole proprietorship or partnership, you likely opened your trade accounts personally.
At a minimum, you should notify vendors of your new name and have them change their records to indicate your new business name.
Likewise, any leases or other long-term contracts should be assigned to the corporation.
4-4 Initial Capitalization
Each Shareholder should write a check for the purchase price of his or her share in the Corporation.
It is your responsibility to maintain the appropriate liability, fire, extended insurance coverage, workers' compensation, and other insurance needed for your business.
6- Additional Filings
Annual Registration to the Secretary of State.
Your business must file an annual registration with the Secretary of State in order to remain in good standing and to avoid paying a penalty or being administratively dissolved. This filing is due May 15.
7- Doing Business Out of State
When you conduct business out of state, you may be subject to lawsuits in that state, subject to taxation in that state, and required to register in that state as a foreign business entity.
Each state has different registration requirements. In general, if you simply take orders over the phone and ship product to that state, registration is not required. But if you establish a branch office with employees in another state, registration is required.
Fortunately, isolated transactions generally do not require registration.
Registration is sometimes expensive, and most states have substantial penalties for failure to register.
Other states can also tax corporations differently than other entities. Before conducting business in another state, please contact your CPA so they can review the requirements.
8- City and County Business Licenses
Your business may need one or more business licenses. If the business operates in a county,
information may be obtained from the appropriate county clerk. If the business operates in a city, information may be obtained from the appropriate city clerk.
9- Trade Name (d/b/a) Registration
If your business plans to do business in its official name, then you need not register a trading name.
If your business plans to operate under a name other than its official name, you must register that name in the county or state where it conducts its principal activity.
Registering a Trade Name tells other people whom the business is owned by, but only provides minimal protection of your name. Trade Name protection is done by filing a
trademark or service mark.
If you use a Tradename, the formal way to identify your name on contracts is the official name followed by d/b/a (doing business as) and your trade name.
Ex: Your Company, Inc., d/b/a X’s Shop.
10- Trademark Registration Documents
A trademark is a word, phrase, design, or symbol, or a combination of these used to identify its goods and services.
A service mark is similar except that it relates to services rather than goods.
Federal or state registration of your mark greatly enhances your rights. You are then better able to stop someone else from using your mark, and can better defend yourself if someone else challenges your use of the mark.
11- Employment Documents
These are the documents you need for your company's employees:
11-1 Independent Contractor vs. Employee
How you classify your personnel can be critical to your profitability.
In general, you can hire new employees or make a contract with independent contractors.
If you use employees, you are safe with the IRS. If you use independent contractors there is some risk.
If you misclassify employees as independent contractors, the IRS may hold you responsible for employer payroll contributions as well as employee payroll contributions,
employee income that should have been withheld, penalties, and interest.
There is much misinformation about this issue. If you are going to use independent contractors,
do not rely on custom in your industry rather call a CPA or Tax lawyer.
11-2 State Unemployment Taxes
If your business has any employees (including yourself), it must generally pay the state unemployment tax.
11-3 Worker’s Compensation
Each state has specific requirements for worker’s compensation insurance. Most states require workers compensation coverage once a certain number of employees are employed.
11-4 US Citizen and Immigration Services: Form I-9
All employers are required to complete Form I-9 for every new hire. The employer must inspect
at least one document from each new hire showing identity (e.g., driver’s license) and one document showing employment eligibility (e.g., Social Security card) or one document showing both (e.g., US Passport).
11-5 New-Hire Reporting
Your state may require you to report each newly hired or recalled employee. If required, the information must be filed shortly after the hire or re-hire.
12- Your Business Tax Filings Document: Your CPA
Your CPA can apply for your employer identification number with the Internal Revenue Service, obtaining employment insurance numbers, and filing all other documents with respect to requirements for tax, payroll, and financial records.
12-1 Federal and State Income Tax Returns
Federal and, state income tax returns for businesses are due by March 15 of each year for the calendar year filers.
12-2 Annual Payroll Tax Returns
Every year, employers are required to file Federal Wage and Tax Statements Form W-3 with
W-2, and Federal Unemployment Tax Return Form 940.
12-3 Federal Payroll Tax Deposit
After issuing the Federal Employer Identification Number, referenced above, the IRS will
automatically mail the necessary forms for making payroll tax deposits to you on a periodic basis.
Unless you use a payroll service via your bank or another provider, you will need to establish an electronic payment account at www.EFTPS.com in order to make your required payroll deposits.
Please contact your accountant for additional details.
12-4 IRS Publications
You may wish to order the following forms that further explain the intricacies of small business
taxes from the Internal Revenue Service:
Form 583 Small Business Startup Kit
Publication 3207 Small Business Resource Guide CD
Form 2553 Subchapter S Election
Circular E-Publication 15 or 15A Employer’s Tax Guide
12-5 State Taxpayer (Income Tax) Identification Number
You might also need to file the application for a state Employer Identification Number, which is
necessary if your business will be paying wages to employees or filing an income tax return.
12-6 State Payroll Tax Returns
Employers are also required to file state taxes if applicable. Please contact your accountant for more details or for assistance in filing the returns necessary for your business.
12-7 State Sales and Use Tax
Your business may be required to collect the state and local sales tax if your business involves the sale of goods and merchandise and other items.
12-8 Local Property Taxes
The business might be subject to taxation by the appropriate city, county, or both on the value of
its real and personal property.
13- Your Business Equity Documents
Transfers of Equity.
Selling new shares or transfers of those interests by Shareholders raises many issues such as:
Will there be a change of owners that affects the tax classification?
Have there been any problems where a release of liability is appropriate?
Will a Non-Competition, Non-Solicitation, and Non-Disclosure Agreement be needed?
14- Sale of Interests
If you’re selling interests of the business to others, you are likely selling securities or assets. Securities are subject to federal and state laws. Fortunately, there are exemptions for small issues of shares. However, Having out-of-state investors may require you to comply with their states’ laws.
Selling an asset owned by your business depends on the nature of such assets which can be physical or intellectual.
Physical assets can be movables like cars or fixed like a building. Each has its own rules that you have to check out.
Intellectual assets include for example patents, trademark, and industrial designs.
15- Your Website Legal Pages
These are the legal pages or forms you need for your website to comply with privacy laws & GDPR regulations.
This is where you tell visitors about using your site and your products, your sale and refund policy, subscriptions, and disclosures about reviews and affiliate links (disclose these if you use them).
This is to comply with the Federal Trade Commissions by telling visitors that results are not typical, that your website or blog is for information purposes only not legal, health or wealth advice. That your website is not in any way endorsed by Facebook or Google or part of it.
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15-4 Online Business Legal Resources
For more legal compliance information you can check the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It’s the authority that controls most of the online business laws in the USA. These include for example:
- Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.
- US Small Business Administration Self Employment Guide.
- The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999.
16- Contracts That Online Businesses Owners Can’t Ignore
These are the most common contracts entrepreneurs need for online business:
“A contract is as good as those who're signing it and the jurisdiction that's enforcing it.”
― E-Corporate Lawyer
16-1 Contracts In A Nutshell
Contrary to common belief, a contract is an agreement by two or more parties to do or not to do a particular thing. It’s not the paper on which this agreement is expressed as many people think.
The paper is the written proof of evidence to such an agreement that you’ll need to protect your business interests. Exceptionally, the law of some countries though requires sometimes that some contracts must be mandatorily written. That’s a different issue.
Anyway, generally speaking for contracts are formed when there are the assent and enforceable (supported by the force of law and government) if there’s a consideration.
Assent means an offer that meets an acceptance (except if it’s a unilateral agreement). A simple example if you tell a client: “I offer you this book for $9”. She replies “I accept”.
A contract is now formed between both of you.
Consideration, on the other hand, in simple language is the promise given to one party at the expense of the other.
It’s the price ($9) that your client pays and you receive in the example above.
Agreements are commonly used as an acceptable title for contracts.
The above principles almost apply in the same way on most types of contracts from a $9 book to a $9 billion dollar business transaction. But of course, the details and tactics can vary greatly.
16-2 Types Of Contracts Online Businesses Often Use
These are the common type of contracts that you’ll mostly need in your day to day in your online business journey.
The first one you’ll probably encounter is:
16-2-1 Partnership Agreement
This usually governs the relationships between you and your business partners in your partnership or a small company, with respect to ownership.
In larger closely held corporations or enterprises, they commonly call it a Shareholders Agreement.
Joint Venture Agreement, however, is more geared toward projects that are carried by two or more parties.
16-2-2 A Franchise Agreement
Is when you have a license to do business under some other person’s name.
16-2-3 A License Agreement
Is when you pay a royalty to get permission to use other parties intellectual property (trademark or patents)
16-2-4 An Agency Agreement
Is when you’re given authority to represent another party, either in person or commercially as a commercial agent.
16-2-5 Sales Contract
Use these to buy or sell your services, digital or physical products. Parties are usually called sellers and buyers. It takes several forms.
Examples: asset purchase agreements if you buy assets owned by a business.
16-2-6 Stock or Share Purchase Contracts
When you buy a share of the shareholding equity or stocks in business so you become a stockholder or shareholder.
16-2-7 Distribution Agreements
You can use them to bring the product of another party to the market. Or with your downline network of distributors who distribute your products or services.
16-2-8 Affiliate Partnership Agreement
The most widely used form of marketing online.
You can use it to sell other people or business info or physical products & services in return for a commission.
You can also use it with your own downline affiliate so they can sell your own digital or physical products & services.
16-2-9 Employment Contract
Used between employers and employees who work under their control and supervision.
Examples: The contracts with your inhouse sales team.
16-2-10 Independent Contractor Agreement
You can use it to ask a person to perform a specific action and get a precise result. The person or contractor is the control over the task as opposed to the employment contract above.
Examples: When you contract a copywriter to perform a one-off task for you like writing copy for your ad campaigns.
16-2-11 Service or Maintenance Contact
For ongoing technical servicing or repair of your equipment. Often, offered in connection with the sale of mechanical goods.
A service contract for professional services (lawyer, accountant), however, is normally called “Agreement to Render Professional Services or Retainer Agreements”.
Moreover, if you require that someone personally offers you a unique service themselves in person, it’s called a “Personal Service Agreement”. When you ask someone to give a live performance it’s called a “Performance Agreement”, but if it’s for the making of an artistic production like a movie, musical recording it’s called “A Production Agreement”.
16-2-12 Publishing Agreement
Is when you pay royalties to authors so they transfer or license you their copyright to put their writing into a concrete form like a printed book for example.
16-2-13 Media Release Form
Sometimes called a Media Consent Release. You can use it to get authorization for a party to produce, reproduce (or reuse), edit videos, take pictures, print, and record the sound of an individual.
It’s recommended that you use this form when you host a guest on your podcast, webinar, video series and summits.
16-2-14 Consultancy/Coaching Agreements
These are typically for getting consultancy specialized advisors or coaches such as health consultants/coaches for example.
There you have it!
Whew, that was a wild ride, but at least now you have an overview of what you need to protect your business.
16-2-15 Non-Disclosure Agreement
You need this contract to protect your confidential information that you share with any party as a necessary part of doing business together.
In some countries, it’s called a Confidentiality Agreement, or Confidential Disclosure Agreement.
17- Intellectual Property (“IP”)
IP is the creations of mind expressed in a tangible format such as literary, artistic and scientific work. It also includes performances, recordings, photos, designs, and broadcasts etc…
IP is mainly protected as patents, trademarks, and copyright as follows:
17-1 Copyright Registration Documents
Copyright is the authors’ (person who creates the work) exclusive rights to publish or exploit their original work (expression of a novel and distinct idea), whether literary, artistic or intellectual. Usually for 50 years after the author’s death date.
Registration is not legally required but useful in enforcing it.
17-2 Trademarks Registration Documents
A Trademark is a sign affixed to goods for sale which identifies the originator of the goods. It applies to goods and services. It helps protect the buyer and seller from mistakes or confusion.
A business (UK) or a Tradename (US), however, is the name of your business, not your products.
17-3 Patent Documents
A patent is how you protect and get an exclusive right to exploit your novel and useful inventions. It’s issued by the Patent Office if they approve your application.
18- Now, What’s Next?
It’s up to you to decide how to go about sorting the legal documents or contracts you need to bulletproof your business.
You mainly have 3 ways to implement them today:
18-1 Access A Free Website Legal Pages Generator
Access a free legal forms generator for your website that you still have to customize yourself and take the risk of not getting it right.
18-2 Schedule A Free Consultation With eCorporporate Lawyer
Schedule a virtual 25-minute free consultation with me personally to discuss how I can draft a custom made contract that perfectly fits your business needs.
Rest assured that I’ve got your back covered. Knowing that your business is bulletproofed against legal risk and liability that comes your way often unexpectedly.
18-3 Website Legal Pages & Contract Template Shop (pret-a-porter)
Last but not least, you can pick and choose what legal templates you want to buy from a lawyer approved contracts template shop.
We researched the entire internet to offer you these specially selected contracts. It’s drafted with specifically you in mind to fully protect you as an online entrepreneur and small business owner.
The good news is the legal heavy lifting is already done for you. Plus it comes with several bonuses including community exclusive membership. Here you can ask specialist lawyers and entrepreneurs any legal questions you may have.
Don’t stay legally vulnerable and miss out on all these great offers.
You’re not doing anybody any favors procrastinating and leaving yourself, yourself and family exposed to fines and business risks when the shit hits the fan!
Take action today. Knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing. It won’t get you anywhere. It will only get you in trouble.
Protect yourself and bulletproof your business now!
Snag Your Free Legal Documents Checklist Now!
(+ The 3 Most Practical Ways To Implement Them In Your Business Today)
As a Corporate Lawyer and Harvard Certified Cybersecurity Expert for over two decades, online entrepreneurs, business owners & investors hire me to start, secure, scale or sell their e-businesses, digital assets & investments.
This article contains general legal information for educational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice.
Ask a lawyer for legal advice.
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