The Internet is a powerful research tool for expanding your horizons. In addition to learning the basics about how to run a business, the online community offers a wealth of information from some of the industry's top thinkers, experts, and strategists. They can help you:
With these 11 must-read articles for today's business owners, you can approach your next challenge with confidence.
There is so much to do when starting a new business that creating a legal structure and filing the proper documentation with the local government are often put on the back burner. However, establishing proper business formation is something that should be prioritized. In “The Top 7 Legal Documents for Any Startup,” Matt Faustman offers entrepreneurs advice on which legal documents are essential when starting a business. Faustman is the founder and CEO of UpCounsel, and he identifies the following core legal documents as those all businesses should have:
Faustman's discussion of technology assignment agreements and invention assignment agreements is particularly enlightening for any business owner who has yet to ask their employees and contractors to sign formal agreements. Faustman explains why these documents are important and how they can ensure businesses avoid problems later on.
Article: Top 10 Employee Handbook Updates
If someone were to ask your employees to go get their employee handbook, some employees would need to search their file cabinets for a few minutes before producing a document they have only read one time. However, an employee handbook should not be a static document that remains locked in a desk drawer. As Steve Bates explains in this article for the Society for Human Resources Management, not updating an employee handbook can have disastrous consequences for an employer who relies on a statement of law that has been modified. Bates recommends businesses update their handbooks once a year with the assistance of legal counsel. The article lists the following 10 company policy areas that should be reviewed and updated:
After refreshing the employee handbook and company policy statements, employers should remember to bring their employees up to date about their rights and responsibilities on the job. Bates's article will help you understand how to make your organization bulletproof just by changing the employee handbook from a static document to a dynamic one.
Human resources is one of the most important departments in any business environment. Businesses depend on human resources managers to maintain human resources documents; hire, discipline, and train employees; and keep the business compliant with the law. In Forefront Magazine's “12 Habits of Highly Successful HR Leaders,” John Schierer explains how human resources can not only support the business, but actually drive it. His list of traits and communication pointers illuminates what characteristics a human resources professional should have to excel on the job.
Schierer's tips and examples will help you screen and hire the best HR team for your business.
Social media plays an enormous role in the lives of most Americans, and their participation in online activities doesn't end when they go to work. As a business owner, knowing when and how to limit your employees' involvement in social media can be tricky. Should you limit all social media use during working hours? What if your employees check Facebook at work? If an employee discusses your business in a social media post, is he or she violating confidentiality agreements by sharing proprietary information, or will the things he or she shares actually help the business get publicity? These questions pose real problems for many employers.
Brian Honigman's article encourages employers to write social media policies that “reflect the unique values, culture, and ideals of your organization.”
IBM values its employees' ideas and wants them to feel free to share information about the company that may further its interests on social media. As a result, the company's social media policy reflects that it is proud of its corporate culture.
IBM's example is one reason why Honigman cautions employers not to enact a blanket ban on any social media activity, since a prohibition may generate resentment and a backlash among employees. Overly restrictive social media policies also strongly communicate that employees are not be trusted.
On the other hand, Honigman explains that employees still need guidance about using social media. Although a little common sense will prevent many social media snafus, employers have to think through what the limitations should be and then communicate them accordingly. The article features helpful examples from corporate policies like Coca-Cola, which says “when in doubt, do not post.”
There is no such thing as a business without confidential and proprietary information. Despite this fact, a surprising number of businesses don't even realize they have intellectual property that should be protected. Every business, no matter how small, has trade secrets, confidential information, trademarks, patents, or other processes that are given legal protection under the law. In “Protecting Your Valuable Trade Secrets, Proprietary, and Confidential Information,” lawyer Richard Hurford defines intellectual property so that you can determine which of your company's assets are protectable. He explains how much is at stake for modern businesses and how to use non-compete and non-solicitation agreements to discourage employees from sharing confidential information.
Hurford's discussion is a must-read for employers since he explains which non-compete agreements will be deemed unenforceable by courts and how to create a document the courts will approve of. Most importantly, Hurford explains that courts require businesses to show they have taken reasonable steps to protect their confidential information. As a result, businesses should immediately take the following minimum steps:
Hurford's article is a highly readable and detailed explanation of confidential and proprietary information from an industry expert, and thus a must-read for business owners.
When it comes to the world of management consultants, business owners have greatly disparate views. Some businesses don't trust anyone from outside the company to evaluate the business, whereas other companies don't feel comfortable making any move without the advice of their favorite management consultant. So who is right? According to Rob Biederman, neither extreme makes much sense. His article on how and why to hire an independent consultant will help you determine whether a consultant could help your company. If so, Biederman will help define the right kind of consultancy for your needs.
In order to properly vet a consultant, he suggests evaluating the person using these six areas:
Once you've considered Biederman's thoughts on consultancy services, consider how consulting services agreements can help define the scope of the project the consultant will work on, as well as the timelines, payment terms, and confidentiality covenants you should expect from your consultant.
Naming your business is one of the most difficult things you will do. Some people spend too much time seeking outside opinions, while others shoot from the hip without thinking through the consequences of picking a certain name. In this article, Josh Spiro gives you branding advice that will put your mind at ease. What's in a name? Plenty. For starters, it helps businesses fit in or stand out. As Spiro explains, the name sets the stage for a series of other important decisions, such as:
Spiro provides a succinct explanation of the different kinds of trademark protections, including the five categories of trademark strength the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office considers when evaluating your proposed marks.
Benjamin Franklin once famously wrote, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” As Stephen Sheinbaum explains, more than 50 percent of all U.S. small business owners are over the age of 50, which means that 28 million businesses should start considering their succession plans. Unfortunately, business owners rarely think about succession plans, even though up to 78 percent of people hope to sell their businesses to fund their retirement. Of those who want to sell, fewer than 30 percent have a written succession plan.
Sheinbaum explains what a succession plan is and what questions a business owner should ask him or herself about the future.
Sheinbaum gives tips about each of these issues, including advice on loan agreements, purchase agreements, and estate planning, as well as how to get ready for a smooth transition to the next phase of life.
Paperwork can be an annoying part of running a business, but as you already know, spending time completing paperwork can set you up for success. Kenneth Loi starts his article by defining the basics every person needs to know about the function of a purchase order.
A purchase order becomes a legally binding contract. Although some companies routinely forgo purchase orders because they seem like a hassle or due to a preexisting relationship with a vendor, communication challenges arise when the paperwork lacks the specificity required of a bill of sale. Loi explains how some companies can benefit from using a purchase order system and procurement software to integrate requisitions, create budgets, propose volume discounts, and more.
A partnership agreement is a document that defines the rights and responsibilities of a multi-partner LLC. Corporations use bylaws or operating agreements for the same purpose: to ensure that each person knows their roles in running the day-to-day operations of the business. The agreement also explains what happens legally in the event that the partnership dissolves or one partner passes away.
Amanda Neville has some advice for businesses that are writing their partnership agreements. In her article, “Five Clauses Every Partnership Agreement Needs,” she asks a lawyer for the top three clauses that must be addressed in a partnership agreement.
Attorney Megan Eiss-Proctor and Neville identified five areas they recommend every partnership agreement should address:
Armed with their recommendations, you can draft excellent partnership agreements that facilitate communication.
The use of independent contractors is on the rise. A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that independent contractors may make up more than a third of the U.S. workforce, with 31 percent of workers having worked in an alternative employment arrangement at some time during their working life. Although there are significant upsides for businesses who use independent contractors, the arrangements invite government scrutiny if the workers are misclassified. In this article, Suzanne Brown of the Association of Corporate Counsel gives ten useful tips for how you can use independent contractors properly.
Brown's first and most important tip is “get it in writing.” An independent contractor agreement is not enough to insulate a company from liability for misclassifying an employee, but it is a major factor that helps a company prove its case if the need should arise.
The agreement must not only specify the nature of the relationship, but it should also be tied to a specific project and include a fixed duration.
Brown also helps employers avoid specific traps, such as requiring exclusivity in their business arrangement. Generally, employers cannot require independent contractors not to take other work. If you ask them to sign an agreement limiting outside work, or encourage them to put in 40 hours, you may unwittingly move the independent contractor into the employee column for purposes of taxation and insurance. If you need to limit the contractor from sharing your company secrets or contracting directly with a competitor during a project they are working on for your business, then Brown suggests you always ask the independent contractor to sign confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements and a covenant not to compete.
Think of the Internet as a giant library, with up-to-the-minute information you can find on a wealth of subjects involving your business. Whether you are in the middle of your first start-up or you are a seasoned business owner, all of these articles have valuable lessons and instruction.
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