There are times when becoming an online business owner seems like the best idea you ever had. 

Like when you’re sick and you can take a few extra days to recover.  

Or you can choose to keep working because you don’t have to head into the office and suffer the side-eye from Debra in HR who wants you to put in your hours but also hates how much you keep sniffling. 

Or when it’s summer and you can make your own hours without asking anyone to approve the time off.  

Take 2 weeks to go adventuring with your kids in the campervan? Can do. 

Then there are other times when being an online business owner – especially one who works as a team of one – can be a bit tiresome. 

You may not miss the HR team, but you do miss socializing with other adults and people who understand what you do. 

Luckily, there’s a solution: 

Online (or even IRL) networking and relationship marketing. 

It’s the backbone of a successful online business, no matter what you sell. 

But there’s a hidden downside you’ve probably never considered. 

**Real quick before we jump in: 

Everything I share is legal education and information. It’s not business, financial, or legal advice, and it doesn’t create an attorney-client relationship between us.*

You need networking and relationship marketing skills

 Relationships are vital to online business owners. 

In fact, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if you fail to focus on connections and relationships, you fail as a business owner. 

Because no man is an island.  

Even if you work really well as the CEO, CFO, CMO, employees 1 through 10, and everyone else in between. 

Because referrals and repeat customers are everything when it comes to business, but you won’t get far if you don’t foster the relationships that encourage people to share why they know/like/trust you in the first place. 

The pros of networking and relationship marketing in business definitely outweigh the cons. 

But there are a few legal considerations I would urge you to keep in mind anytime you’re putting yourself – and your brand – out there.

Be careful what you share publicly

Let’s be real – we’re all extremely active and transparent on social media now. 

(It’s sort of an essential part of this whole online business ownership thing.) 

But sometimes, we’re entirely too trusting about what we share, and we forget that not every member of our online audience will always have the best intentions.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

In fact, I know of an online business owner who shared their intent to use a trademark for a new podcast they were setting up before they actually filed an intent-to-use trademark application. 

They learned a very hard lesson:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Someone in their audience actually copied the mark verbatim, applied for trademark registration, and got an ‘in use’ date, first. 

In other words, the trademark the original creator had envisioned now legally belonged to that member of their audience. 

They had zero legal recourse because they shared their proprietary information with the public before they had any rights or protection in place for themselves. 

And that’s the thing with Intellectual Property. 

You have no real rights until your ideas are expressed properly, and even then, if someone successfully files for registration of that idea or trademark before you do, you’ll have a tough time proving that it ever belonged to you. 

So bottom line, be careful what you share in public.

Don’t add just anyone to your email list

As with any platform, it’s really easy to get blinded by the desire to have a large audience. And that includes your email list. 

We’re inundated all the time on social media with people whose lists have hugely impressive numbers.  

“Join 54,789 engaged smarties, just like you!” 

It can make those offers to buy an email list really tempting. 

But it’s not worth the damage it can do to your brand, not to mention the lawsuits you could be opening yourself up to. 

Places like California and The EU have really strict data privacy laws, with more states like Virginia, Connecticut, Utah, and Colorado following suit in 2024.  

And even if you got someone’s email address in a completely legitimate way, like they booked a coffee chat with you or downloaded a free guide from you… 

That still doesn’t mean you can just add them to your list! 

You HAVE to ask for consent. 

That means making them aware that they are signing up to be on your email list in your communication with them or having them check a literal box that says “YES! I want to be added to your email list.” 

This does 2 things: 

  1. It keeps you legally protected.
  2. It makes sure you’re actually building an engaged list. 

Pretty win/win, right? 

(You can also check out this whole guide filled with more legal email marketing information.)

Don’t make guarantees about working with you

For a while there (mainly during the dark times of COVID when everyone flocked to the online business arena), I’d noticed a trend (with freelancing newcomers especially): 

“Results guaranteed.” 

People were putting this into their offers, their social posts, and even into their headlines on LinkedIn in a bid to stand out and win business over their competitors. 

It definitely looks confident. 

If you’re willing to offer a guarantee like that, you must be really sure you can deliver, right? 

Well, I certainly hope so because you’re also opening your business up to a world of customer and client complaints. 

Not to mention, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) actually has a whole guide on warranties and guarantees.

Failure to properly disclose your guarantee or follow the FTC’s rules can result in fines or even lawsuits. 

So your words literally have legal consequences.

Network with confidence (and legal consideration)

I don’t tell you any of this to scare you away from networking or relationship marketing. 

We already covered the importance of doing these activities for online business owners. 

But, by understanding the potential risks associated with things you may be tempted to say or do, you can network more confidently. 

And protect yourself and your business while you’re at it. 

Which is really what I’m here to help you do!

 

Handle more of the legal stuff – grab your Legal Guide for a Legit Online Business. 

And learn more about protecting your business when you join the list of exclusive listeners of the Uncomplicating Trademarks podcast.

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