We've Gotta Have it
5 Things All First-Time Entrepreneurs Must Do
What you don't know will cost you
Jenny Sheridan could’ve gone the usual route: graduate from law school, make partner, retire, spend time giving back to charity. But a direct career path was never for her. Jenny spent 25 years as a Silicon Valley technology attorney and fell in love with entrepreneurs in the process. “Their passion is contagious,” she says. “Look at [Mark] Zuckerberg–how impressive to leave a place like Harvard because you really believe in what you’re doing.” Despite having been told she’d make a great professor, it wasn’t until Jenny helped a friend run a class as an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University that she began to take the idea seriously. Today, she boasts 15 years experience as a law professor, teaching intellectual property and technology agreements at schools and online. She also runs the StartUp Business Law Bootcamp for Entrepreneurs–an online course and website for small business owners who cannot afford a private attorney. For the cost of one hour’s worth of face time with an attorney, you can take an entire course–at your own pace–and have a constant resource for navigating your legal needs. Here are her top legal tips for those just starting out–no matter what your age or stage.
1. Prioritize legal counsel
“You wouldn’t drive without having auto insurance, right? Understanding the basics of incorporation, agreements, privacy law, and intellectual property can protect you from losing money in the future.”
2. At the very least, set up an LLC
“If you’re offering goods and services to third parties then you’re at risk as a sole proprietor–anyone can come after your assets. This might not be so scary if you’re 19 years old, but for those of us who’ve spent our lives building investments, those assets need to be protected from a potential “disgruntled customer.” The three biggest threats to individuals who have not formed a legal entity are lawsuits, regulatory agencies, and customers. Additionally, if you plan to take on investors or apply to an incubator, you’ll be taken more seriously if you’re buttoned up legally.”
Check out Jenny Sheridan’s LLC Checklist here
3. Register your branding / trademark
“If you start branding your enterprise without obtaining proper legal rights then you’re at risk for being sued. Furthermore, there’s the consideration of the cost to rebrand and the loss of goodwill when a third party asserts legal rights to your brand. Plus, potential investors won’t take you seriously.”
4. Seek out law clinics in your area
“Law schools are increasing the number of business and entrepreneurship clinics they offer to the public and many of them can help you form your legal entity. They can also help with trademarks and possibly patents. The United States Patent and Trademark Office now also allows law students to prosecute patents and trademarks under supervision in a law clinic. In most of these cases, there is no cost to the client if they meet certain requirements, such as not having investor funding, because they are done by students.”
5. Deploy your network
“This could be the best time in your life after raising children, succeeding in your career, to invest in yourself and your ideas. I have noticed that young entrepreneurs are overwhelmingly male. I think young men are far more likely to bond over business than women. For older women, this is your time to reconnect, renew and reinvent. You have a lifetime of connections to draw from who can probably help you out.”
Sheridan adds: “Entrepreneurship is a means to democratize society. No matter your age or background you can take charge of your life. My goal is to provide affordable, quality legal services.”
(This interview was edited for space and clarity.)
Covey Club SPECIAL:
The first 10 people to sign up for the StartUp Business Law Bootcamp for Entrepreneurs will receive a special 50% discount (making the total course cost only $249!) and can participate in a FREE webinar (‘How to Select Your Trademark’) with Jennifer: Enter code SBBE1-50-CoveyClub at checkout.
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