Starting any kind of business is an exciting but overwhelming venture. With so many things to do, from figuring out your niche to finding clients, your to-do list can seem endless. A virtual assistant business is no different.
In this episode, I review different aspects of a VA business and guide you on protecting your content, brand, and company. I cover selecting a legal entity, working with clients, building your team, and more.
Please subscribe if you haven’t already. And if you like the show, I’d love it if you’d give it a review wherever you listen to podcasts!
In this episode:
[02:40] – Under what legal entity should a VA business file? Danielle discusses the pros and cons of sole proprietorship and LLCs.
[04:54] – Danielle talks about one of the most important agreements for virtual assistants.
[07:15] – Here’s a caveat if you niche your VA service into one specific area.
[07:51] – What legal policies do virtual assistants need for their website? There are a few you should include.
[10:20] – Trademarks and copyrights are the most important types of intellectual property rights. Danielle discusses how they relate to your VA business.
[12:10] – Include these revisions if you ever add digital products down the road, whether for free or for sale.
[13:18] – What must you know as you expand your VA company and hire more people?
[14:17] – Danielle wraps up with your action steps for today.
Links & Resources:
- Virtual Assistant Legal Guide
- Legal Templates for Virtual Assistants
- Episode 31: “Website Accessibility”
- Liss Legal
Welcome to the Simplifying Legal podcast, brought to you by Businessese. I’m your host, Danielle Liss.
Many years ago, someone told me I was the least lawyer-y lawyer she’d ever met because I helped make legal easier to understand. To this day, it’s one of the best compliments I’ve received in my professional life.
If you've ever felt legal was too scary, too overwhelming, too complicated, or just plain incomprehensible, you're not alone. The Simplifying Legal podcast was created to help.
In each episode, we’ll do a deep dive into a legal topic and give you concrete next steps so you can apply it to your business.
My goal is for you to walk away from each episode thinking, oh, that was easier than I thought it would be.
Let’s get started.
Hey there, I’m Danielle. Welcome to Episode 33 of Simplifying Legal for Small Business Owners. Today’s episode covers legal for virtual assistants.
Disclaimer: As always, before we get into today’s topic, a quick disclaimer. This podcast is meant to provide you with legal information only. It’s not legal advice and does not create any type of attorney-client relationship between us. Please don’t take any action without consulting your lawyer first.
For this episode, I’m going to review different aspects of a virtual assistant’s business, like selecting an entity, working with clients, and building your team.
This will have some overlap with our last episode and some others in the series. So if this isn’t the type of work that you do, you may still hear pieces that will apply to your business.
Like our last episode on legal for bloggers, there’s a lot of information and a lot of resources to tag. To make things easier, I created a PDF with some general information on each category, as well as a list of resources that you can consult. You can download the resource guide at Businessese.com/valegalguide.
Okay, now let’s talk legal for virtual assistants.
Starting Your Business
First, let’s talk about starting your business.
Starting a business is exciting, but it can also feel overwhelming as there are so many things to do. From figuring out your niche to finding clients, your to-do list can seem endless.
On the legal side, one question that comes up as virtual assistants consider starting a business is should you start an LLC, which is a limited liability company, or be a sole proprietor.
When you’re a sole proprietor, it usually doesn’t require a lot of paperwork, other than possibly obtaining a business license. As a sole prop, you and your business are considered the same entity. This is easy, but it could expose you to the possibility of personal liability in the event that something goes wrong.
For those who want to avoid exposure to potential personal liability, an LLC may be a great option. But, it is something to consider carefully since it requires more effort and expense than having a sole proprietorship.
You have to file official paperwork to form your LLC, typically with your secretary of state’s office. This will also involve naming a registered agent, which is someone who can accept service of process if your business is served in a legal action. You should also have an operating agreement for your LLC, which is the document that governs the business. This is especially important if you have more than one person starting the business.
After the LLC is formed, you’ll need to be careful to keep your personal assets separate from those of the LLC. Since the LLC is a separate entity from you personally, unlike a sole proprietorship, it’s key that you treat it like a distinct and separate entity, or you could reopen the door to the potential for personal liability in the event something happens.
Many VAs will set up an LLC either when their business is just getting started or when they start making money. If you plan to wait to start your LLC, consider what you want to happen in your business before you take that step. For example, do you hope to hit a certain revenue milestone first? Then, make sure you build it into your legal strategy and budget to make the change.
Working with Clients
As a VA, your client relationships are one of the most important aspects of your business. Because of this, having a strong client agreement is one of the most important things you can do for your business.
Your client agreement is there to protect your business and to ensure that your clients understand exactly what to expect in the relationship.
Here are just a few of the areas I recommend addressing in your client agreement:
- First, and most important, your agreement should have a detailed and specific scope of work that describes the services you’ll perform for your client.
- Next, make sure that your agreement explains how your compensation works. Is it flat fee or hourly? If it’s hourly, how will you track and submit your time? If it’s a retainer agreement with a set number of hours or services each month, can unused hours roll over?
- Along the same lines, if it is an ongoing agreement, have you addressed how you will treat changes to your rates? I always recommend including a statement that your rates might change and talk about the notice you’ll send to clients if that happens.
- Next, what happens if either you or your client wants to end the agreement? It’s important to have a termination clause that discusses this.
- Next, who owns the content that you create? Make sure you are clear about ownership.
- Next, is there exclusivity expected? This might mean that you would agree not to work with other people in a similar area or industry. For example, this is really common for VAs who work in real estate. A particular agent may want to ensure that you are only working with them in a particular geographic region.
- And finally, use your agreement to set boundaries with your clients. If you don’t plan to respond to things in an hour, make sure they know how to reach you and what your response times typically look like.
As your business grows, depending on the types of services you offer, you may niche your business into one particular area, like a social media manager or graphic designer. If you make this change, make sure you adjust your client agreements accordingly.
For example, as a general VA, your client may own all of the work product that you create, but as a graphic designer, you may want to change this. It’s important to consider what’s changed as you’ve modified your services and make sure your agreement reflects what you are doing.
Protecting Your Website
Next, I want to talk about your website. Depending on how you attract clients, your website may be an important asset within your business and it's extremely important to make sure that you’ve considered the legal side of your site. Typically there are a few legal policies you should include:
Terms & Conditions
The next important policy is terms and conditions. Your terms and conditions are your contract with your audience on how they can use your site. Often, these terms will include things your audience can do with your content, things they can’t do, intellectual property notices, licenses regarding user-submitted content, and other legal terms.
The next policy you may want to consider to protect your site is a disclaimer. It’s there to protect the business from liability for use of the information they publish. For example, Web MD might have a disclaimer stating that the information is provided for informational purposes only and to contact your doctor. It will then state that they aren’t liable for how you use that information. Depending on your niche, if you talk about marketing and how your services might help them make money in the future, this is an important policy for you to include.
The last policy that you may want to include is an accessibility statement to show your commitment to providing an accessible website. Check out episode 31 for more information.
Protecting Your Content and Brand
Next, let’s talk about protecting your business and the brand that you’ve built.
For many VAs, the most important types of intellectual property are trademarks and copyrights. Depending on the types of clients you work with, patents and trade secrets may also come up and your handling of your clients’ IP may need to be addressed in your client agreement. But for this episode, I want to focus on trademarks and copyright and how they relate to your VA business.
A trademark is something that identifies your brand as the source of a product or service. It can be a word or phrase, a logo or symbol, or your company name. It can be anything that helps distinguish your brand in commerce.
If you are using a distinctive name for your business or services, I strongly recommend that you consider whether it is time to apply to register a trademark with the patent and trademark office.
If you register your trademark, it gives you the exclusive right to use that trademark for the types of goods and services that you offer.
Talk to a lawyer to see if this makes sense for your business.
Next, let’s talk about copyrights. Understanding copyright law is extremely important if you create content for your clients. First, you need to make sure that none of your content infringes on someone else’s copyright rights.
Additionally, your original work, whether it’s your written posts, images, or videos, may be eligible for copyright protection. This means that you have certain exclusive rights in content, like the right to display or sell the content.
Ownership of content comes up frequently in VA agreements for those who have a creative aspect to their services, so it is an extremely important area to learn about and make sure you address with your clients.
Adding Digital Products
As your business grows, you may add digital products, like an ebook, printables, or a course. This can also include freebies, like lead magnets, which are really an ebook that you are offering for free in exchange for an email address.
First and foremost, ensure that you are including a copyright notice on the content. This is the copyright symbol and your name. This puts viewers on notice that you own that content.
You will also want to have terms for your digital products, which can be added to your website’s terms and conditions. If money is being exchanged for your products, you should include a purchase policy that discusses refunds and any other important information regarding the purchase.
Additionally, if someone can purchase your copyrighted content, your terms should discuss how they can use that content. This is part of copyright law and is referred to as a license. You’re giving them a license to use your materials when they make the purchase. For example, you may state that a purchase is for personal use only and that you are not providing a license to any other rights.
Building Your Team
The last thing I want to discuss today is building your team. I love hearing that virtual assistants have grown and they need more people in the business. You may start with a subcontractor to assist with your clients, but then it grows to encompass other roles too.
When you’re hiring, you will need to know whether you’re hiring for a contractor or employee role. If you plan to hire an independent contractor, be sure to check your local laws regarding contractors as they are not the same everywhere.
Remember, it’s important to have agreement between you and your team members.
For subcontractors, you may want to exercise caution and ensure that you’re providing guidelines on how the subcontractor can communicate with your clients and if they can do any work for your clients in the future, if you aren’t involved.
This wraps up our overview of legal for VAs. Now let’s talk about today’s action steps.
- First, do you have a set business structure? If not, this is a good time to consider if you want to create an LLC.
- Next, are you using a strong client agreement? This agreement should help protect your business and set out clear expectations for your client. This is one of the most important legal things you’ll need in your business, so make sure you have it.
- Next, do you have the website policies you need for your site? If you sell digital products, you should also ensure that you have clear refund and purchase policies.
- Next, have you protected your intellectual property? If you haven’t, consider whether or not you should trademark or copyright your content.
- Next, have you hired team members? Do you have an agreement for those team members? If not, you know that I’m going to recommend that you get one.
- Last, as always, if you have questions on any of these aspects of your business, please talk to a lawyer. If you aren’t sure where to start, I do offer strategy sessions through my law firm, Liss Legal and I’d love to talk with you more. I’ll include a link in the show notes.
Thanks for joining me for today’s episode. In the next episode, we’ll continue this series and we’re talking about legal online service businesses. Remember, you can download a PDF with resources at businessese.com/valegalguide. There’s a link in the show notes.
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