CCPA: Worst-Case Scenarios

https://www.flickr.com/photos/oatsy40/34767677374/
“Danger” by oatsy40 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The new California Consumer Privacy Act went into effect on January 1, 2020. I’ve received a handful of emails and seen some updates from businesses informing me that their privacy policies have changed, but not as many as I expected. I hope the businesses who are required to comply with this law know the risk they take if opt not to comply with this new privacy law.

What if There’s a Data Breach

Like the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union (GDPR), you have to notify the impacted people if you have a data breach. If you have a data breach impacting personal information, you must notify the individuals “in the most expedient time possible and without unreasonable delay.” In either case, If the breach causes you to notify at least 500 California residents, you must also notify the California Attorney General’s Office.

If you are in a position where you are entrusted with data that you do not own or license, such as if you are a data storage business, and you have a breach, you must notify the business or person that hired you about the breach.

CCPA Penalties

The CCPA is unique in that it is the first privacy law to allow a private right of action. An individual is allowed to sue a company for failing to comply with the CCPA, $100-$750 per violation or their actual damages, whichever is more. This right is limited, however, to situations where there’s unauthorized access, theft, or disclosure of non-encrypted or non-redacted personal information because the business failed to use reasonable security measures. That means if the business did everything right and there was still a data breach, an impacted person can’t sue for their damages.

In addition to individuals suing for damages under the CCPA, the California Attorney General may fine a business for failing to comply with this law, Up to $7,500 per violation.

My CCPA Cheat Sheet

Complying with CCPA is no easy task, especially if your business must comply with CCPA and GDPR. I created a CCPA Cheat Sheet that I use with my clients and update it as more information and guidelines are provided about this new law. I give my cheat sheet out for free to anyone who asks. I will not add you to my email list. (I will invite you to add yourself, but it’s completely voluntary.) If you want a copy, please send me an email.

Your Rights Under CCPA

“Privacy” by doegox from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) went into effect today (January 1, 2020)! California residents just got a lot more rights under this law, at least from the businesses that have to comply with it.

(If your company makes less than $25 million per year and have contact information for less than 50,000 California people, devices and households; there’s a good chance you don’t have to comply with this law.)

Your CCPA Rights

Under the CCPA, California residents have the following six rights:

1. The right to know whether your personal information is being collected – and the purpose it’s being used for.

2. The right to know what personal information is being collected about you – upon verifiable request.*

3. The right to request the specific categories of personal information being collected and the sources from which they were collected, the business or commercial purpose for collecting the information, and the categories of third parties with which the business shares information.

4. The right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information. (Also, a third party cannot sell your personal information unless you are given specific notice and the opportunity to opt out.)

5. The right to delete your personal information – upon verifiable request.* This includes the deletion of the personal information the business has, and it must direct service providers to do the same. The law states nine reasons why a business may decline such a request, including to provide you with the goods and/or services you requested.

6. The right to not be discriminated against if you opt-out. A business can’t charge different rates or provide different level of service solely because you won’t allow the sale of your information. However, a business can provide a different price or quality of service if the difference is reasonably related to the value provided to you by your personal info. It’s ok for a business to give financial incentive for you to allow the collection of your personal information.

* The CCPA states that the California Attorney General may provide guidance about what constitutes a verifiable request.

What about Rewards/Loyalty Programs?

The sixth right would have created a problem for rewards and loyalty programs, so the legislature created an exception for these. A business can charge different rates or provide a different level of service if it is part of its rewards/loyalty program without being at risk of price discrimination in violation of CCPA.

Requesting Your Information

Under CCPA, you may submit two requests within a 12-month period that a business give you a copy of the personal information it has for you, assuming you’re a Californian. (A business may do this for all its customers, but it’s not required to do so.) The business must provide this information at no charge, by mail or electronically, within 45 days. If more time is needed, the business must inform you within the first 45 days, that it may take up to 90 days to provide you a copy of your information.

Required Notices Under CCPA

Businesses must provide notice at or before the point of collecting your personal information under CCPA. If it’s being collected online, this will likely occur in the business’ privacy policy, with notice on the page where the information is requested.

(The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union requires a business to prove it received consent to collect your information.  To be compliant with this law too, the business should be a box you have to check that you agree to voluntarily share your information with it.)

A CCPA-compliant notice must include:

  • What categories of personal info are collected and how it’s used by the business;
  • What categories of personal info are collected, disclosed, or sold; and that
  • You have the right to opt-out of having your personal info sold.

The business is also required to have a “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” conspicuously on the its homepage and privacy policy with a link to page where you can opt-out. The business cannot ask you to opt-in again for at least 12 months. 

My CCPA Cheat Sheet

Complying with CCPA is no easy task, especially if your business must comply with CCPA and GDPR. I created a CCPA Cheat Sheet that I use with my clients and update it as more information and guidelines are provided about this new law. I give my cheat sheet out for free to anyone who asks. I will not add you to my email list. (I will invite you to add yourself, but it’s completely voluntary.) If you want a copy, please send me an email.

Do You Have to Comply with CCPA?

“Please!” by Josh Hallett from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) goes into effect on January 1, 2020. This will have a substantial impact on companies that collect and use consumers’ personal information.

I would not be surprised if the CCPA was direct response to the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica fiasco. Every time I read a provision of CCPA that seems strange, I consider how the law will impact companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, and then the provision makes sense.

Who Must Comply with CCPA

Businesses must comply with the CCPA. According to this law, a business is

  • A for-profit business,
  • That sells goods or services to California (CA) residents or people domiciled in CA (even if the business is not physically in CA), and
  • Fit at least one of the following three criteria:
  1. Get half their annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal information;
  2. Possess the personal information of more than 50,000 California consumers, households, or devices; or
  3. Have $25,000,000 or more in annual revenue.

This may help you determine if you have to comply with this law.

Non-profit businesses are except from CCPA, as are businesses in industries where consumer privacy is regulated by the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, FERPA, and/or HIPPA.

“Consumer”

Under this law, a consumer is a natural person, aka a human, that lives or resides in California.

“Personal Information”

This law has an expansive definition of personal information that “identifies, relates to, describes, is capable of being associated with, or could be reasonably linked, directly or indirectly, with a particular CA resident or household.” This includes a consumer’s real name; alias; address; unique personal identifier; IP address; and email address. It also extends to other identifiers, including account names; social security and/or tax identification number; driver’s license number; passport number; military identification number; unique biometric data; and any unique identification number issued on a government document.

Not just these, it also includes records of personal property or services a person has purchased or considered; purchasing histories or tendencies; browsing history; geolocation data; professional or employment information; and/or education information.

This list is massive. Basically, it’s any information that identifies or could identify a natural person.

There are a few exceptions to this definition: aggregate data, deidentified data, and information that is lawfully made available in federal, state, or local government records are not personal information. Neither is personal information obtained from employees, contractors, and job applicants.

“Sale of Personal Information”

The definition for the sale personal information includes “selling, renting, disclosing, disseminating, making available, transferring, or otherwise communicating orally, in writing, or by electronic or other means.” Essentially, it includes any way a company might share a consumer’s personal information, even if you don’t make money from it.

Data Broker Registration

The CCPA requires any business that knowingly collects and sells to third parties the personal information of a consumer with whom the business does not have a direct relationship to register as a data broker with the CA Attorney General’s (“AG’s”) Office by January 31, 2020 and pay a registration fee. If you don’t register, the penalty could be up to $100/day plus any costs in the action against you brought by the AG’s Office.

My CCPA Cheat Sheet

I created a CCPA Cheat Sheet that I use with my clients and update it as more information and guidelines are provided about this new law. I give my cheat sheet out for free to anyone who asks. I will not add you to my email list. (I will invite you to add yourself, but it’s completely voluntary.) If you want a copy, please send me an email.

If You’re Going to “Wing It” as an Entrepreneur

“Yay!!” by Subharnab Majumdar from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Plenty of entrepreneurs start out as a person or two, a business idea, and a shoestring budget. They know their craft but have limited or not experience starting or running a business. They don’t know what they don’t know – and that’s what gets them into trouble.

Many entrepreneurs employ the “we’ll learn as we go” approach to operating a business. Often times these are smart people, but if they get too focused on doing their business that they don’t take care of business within their operation, it can lead to costly mistakes: thousands of dollars in legal expenses and painful heartache to try to fix a problem that was completely avoidable.

Real-Life Facepalm Moments
I’ve had countless times where a business owner comes to me for help and I cringe and think, “We could have helped you avoid this if you had come to us sooner.” This is just a sample of my facepalm moments as a lawyer:

KAWS “At This Time” Sculpture by Guilhem Vellut from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

  • Owners who don’t create a business entity: put their personal assets at risk if the business gets sued;
  • LLC with multiple owners and no operating agreement: painful business “divorce” when things didn’t work out between owners;
  • Filing a trademark application with the USPTO that wasn’t trademarkable: the application might have had a chance if the description of the products and services was written more effectively;
  • Not filing a trademark and your competition files a trademark application that’s confusingly similar to or the same as yours: costly to make a claim against them and it may not be successful, which could force you to rebrand even though you were using it first;
  • Flawed customer contracts: doesn’t fully protect the company’s interests or address all likely contingencies;
  • Hiring a third-party contractor without a contract: if the person is hired to create an original work for the company, the company won’t own the copyright in what they hired the person to create and may have to pay to acquire it;
  • Working without a contract: so many problems. Whenever I get a call about a business deal gone bad, my first question is usually, “What does your contract say?” (Ideally, you want to be in a situation where, if the other side doesn’t perform as you agreed you can essentially respond with, “F*ck you, pay me.”)

If You’re Going to “Wing It”
If you are starting a business, my unsolicited advice is “Do your homework.” Invest the time to learn what goes into running your business and figure out what you don’t know. Reach out to established entrepreneurs to ask for their advice and avail yourself to resources in your community. In Arizona, we have dozens of these organizations like Arizona Small Business Association, Local First Arizona, and SCORE.

Even if you don’t think you can afford it, look into hiring a business and intellectual property lawyer for an hour. Bring them your ideas of what you want to do, and ask for their recommendations on how to make it happen. A good lawyer will respect your budget and tell you what you can do yourself and what you should hire a lawyer do for you. They can also recommendations resources to help you based on their experiences helping others.

If I’ve learned one thing as a lawyer it is that it’s easier and cheaper to prevent problems than to fix them.

True Story
Years ago, I worked with a new company where the owners hired me to create their operating agreement. I asked a lot of questions about things like intellectual property rights, compensation, and worst-case scenarios (e.g. disability of an owner) to create custom provisions for this document.

A few years later, the owners realized it wasn’t working out between then and decided to part ways. Their operating agreement dictated how they would address this situation, and they hired us again to revise the agreement to account for the exit of one of the owners. The process was professional, respectful, and cost-effective. I’m sure there were hurt feelings on both sides, but having this operating agreement helped the owners mange them and made for a smooth transition.

If you want more information about the legal dos and don’ts of starting and running a business, you can send me an email (Note: I can’t give advice to non-clients), and I maintain a mailing list where I share my thoughts about being a lawyer/entrepreneur, updates about projects I’m working on, upcoming speaking engagements, and I may provide information about products, services, and discounts. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

The 10 Legal Commandments of Entrepreneurship

“Stained Glass Window Full of Light and Color” by Stock Photos for Free from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Since becoming a lawyer in 2011, I’ve had the privilege of working with businesses on a variety of legal issues. Looking back at some of the most cringe-worthy moments I’ve experiences I’ve had and heard about from other business and intellectual property lawyers, I’ve come up with a list of the 10 legal commandments of entrepreneurship:

1. Thou shall have a business entity.

When you start a business, create a business entity – an LLC or corporation. Your accountant can tell you which option is best for you. By separating the business from your personal assets, you limit your personal liability if the business is sued. If you open a business without an entity (aka a sole proprietorship), you don’t have this layer of protection.

2. Thou shall maintain your corporate veil.

Creating a business entity is how you begin to limit your liability, and you perfect that protection with a “corporate veil.” This means having a separate bank account and credit card for the business, and the business accounts pay for business expenses and your personal accounts pay for personal expenses. This creates a clear delineation between where the company ends and the person begins in terms of your finances. If the company is sued and loses, it’s clear which assets belong to the company and your person assets are protected.

3. Thou shall have a signed contract at the beginning of a business relationship.

When you are hired by a client or hire someone, start with a signed contract. A contract is a relationship-management document. It is your master document that puts everyone on the same page regarding their responsibilities. This will help you avoid confusion and resolve problems. When a client comes to me with a problem with a customer, I often start by asking “What does your contract say?”

4. Thou shall be thoughtful and careful about looking online for a contract template.

Looking at templates online is a good place to get ideas about terms you might want to have in your contract, but don’t indiscriminately use any contract you find. You don’t know where it came from or whether it’s suitable for your needs.

5. Thou shall take the time to fully read and understand a contract before signing it.

Never be afraid to ask questions or request changes when considering a contract offered to you. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand, because if you sign it and later regret it, you may be stuck with it.

6. Thou shall respect others’ copyrights.

Do not use others’ work without permission. Create your own original content. It’s ok to be inspired by and quote others, but add something to the conversation. If we’re talking about images, do not pull any image you find using a regular Google search. Seek out sources that provide licenses for use, including images available under Creative Commons. If there is an image you want to use that’s not available, contact the copyright holder and ask for permission. To date, I’ve never had anyone say, “No.”

7. Thou shall check the USPTO before branding a company or product.

When entrepreneurs think “branding,” lawyers think “trademark.” The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a database where you can see what company names, product names, and logos others have applied for and registered for their products and services. You don’t want to fall in love with, or invest a lot of time and money in, a branding idea to find out that it’s already been claimed by someone else.

8. Thou shall outsource your taxes.

Every entrepreneur needs an accountant. Let them do what they’re good at.

In the time it would take you to try to do your own taxes, you could make more than enough money to pay an accountant to do your taxes for you.

9. Thou shall consult thy attorney.

Even when you want to do things yourself, talk to your lawyer to make sure you’re not setting yourself and your business up for future problems. My most cringe-worthy moments as a lawyer have been problems clients created for themselves that we could have helped them avoid completely if they had told us what they were thinking about doing. It is easier and cheaper to prevent legal problems than to fix them.

10. Thou shall act with integrity.

Put your energy into your own business, creating quality products or services for your audience.

You don’t need to stoop to bad-mouthing the competing, using trademarks that are confusing similar to others, or ride other’s coattails by doing things like using a web domain that will allow you to pull an audience based on someone else’ popularity (e.g., cybersquatting). Be so good at what you do that you don’t need to use others to make a name for yourself.

One last note: If you’re an entrepreneur, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Accountants help you make money, lawyers help you keep it, and your peers will share their experiences so you can learn from them. If you are an entrepreneur, or have plans to become one, I hope you have people around you who can help you be successful.

If you want additional information about the legal dos and don’ts of starting and running a business, I maintain a mailing list where I share my thoughts about being a lawyer/entrepreneur, updates about projects I’m working on, upcoming speaking engagements, and I may provide information about products, services, and discounts. Please add yourself if you’re interested. You can also contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Ultrasabers v. Phoenix Comicon | Contracts Matter

Lightsabers Long Exposure by Brian Neudorff from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Phoenix Comicon nearly started with a bang – literally. On the first day of the con, Mathew Sterling, arrived at the Phoenix Convention Center with a loaded shotgun, three handguns, and knives, allegedly intending to kill actor Jason David Frank and police officers. He was arrested and charged with attempted murder.

Following this incident, Phoenix Comicon changed its rule for the event and banned all prop weapons. Likewise, it instructed vendors who sell prop weapons to wrap them when completing a sale. This is where the problems between Ultrasabers and Phoenix Comicon began.

Ultrasabers sells replica lightsabers and was a repeat vendor at Phoenix Comicon. There was a dispute between the two, resulting in Phoenix Comicon demanding that Ultrasabers pack up their booth and vacate the premises on the Friday night of the con. It’s unclear exactly what transpired between these two companies. Ultrasabers and Phoenix Comicon each released a statement about this matter.

As a lawyer, one of my first thoughts when I heard about this situation was, “This is why contracts matter.” For full disclosure: I don’t represent either party in this matter. I didn’t write this vendor contract. I haven’t even seen it. I’m just an outsider looking in.

Contracts don’t exist for when things go right. Contracts exist for when things go wrong. A contract is a relationship management document; it helps prevent and/or solve problems between people in a relationship. It’s imperative that contracts are written with a thorough scope, and that the recipient review it thoughtfully before signing it, because if things take a downward turn, the contract will be the roadmap you rely on to achieve a resolution. Whenever a client or prospective client comes to me with a contract dispute, one of the first questions I ask is, “What does your contract say?” Footnote: The most common response I get to this question is, “We didn’t have one.”

In regards to Ultrasabers v. Phoenix Comicon, I don’t know what actually happened between the two or whether this situation is resolved at this point. I hope this issue was a reminder, or perhaps a wake-up call, to people who participate as a vendor or performer to read their contracts carefully before signing them. If you sign a contract and you later regret it, there may be nothing you can do to change the rules of that relationship at that point.

If you have questions about your contract needs, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Can You Afford to be an Entrepreneur?

Money Unfolding by CreditCafe.com from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

When I decided to launch this law firm, a good friend and fellow entrepreneur/lawyer warned me: “You’re going to need 6 months’ worth of money and 12 months’ worth of patience.” He was right. Fortunately, I had nearly 3 months from deciding to opening my practice until our first day in business, which gave me time to research and formulate my offerings and tap into community and professional resources to get my business off the ground.

Other entrepreneurs aren’t that lucky. They may not have the time and/or money to consult counsel prior to launching a new venture. Even on a condensed time frame or on a shoestring budget, your legal needs should be part of the discussion and plan.

Full-Time Venture Needs Financial Backing
If you want your new venture to be your full-time job, you need to be prepared for the potential financial strain that comes with that undertaking if you don’t have a spouse or other income supporting you in the meantime. You may have the gift of time, but you can only operate your business as long as you have income or savings to cover your bills. I don’t recommend jumping into a new venture without some type of financial safety net.

For entrepreneurs starting with a side hustle, you have the opposite issue. Your regular job can pay your bills while you develop your business, but it limits how many hours you can work. And depending on your circumstances, you job may not provide much money to put towards your business after paying your bills.

Make the Business Fund Itself
While every business needs some seed money to get started, make your business fund itself. When you decide to start a business, make a list of all the services, equipment, and supplies you think your company needs. Then step back and categorize each item as “Must Have” or “Nice To Have.” Ask a trusted colleague or friend to review your list and challenge you on what you need.

Many businesses don’t need much to get started. When I started this firm, I only needed an LLC, client contract templates, computer, scanner/printer, website, email address, phone number, and business cards. I gave myself a limited budget for supplies, bar dues, and to pay for my LLC and my accountant, and after that, I didn’t buy anything for the business until the business could afford it. (Even if my personal account could afford it, I made myself wait until the business could afford it.) It forced me to be scrappy, creative, and thoughtful about how I spend my money. It’s something I recommend to other entrepreneurs, including seeking out low-cost and free options when appropriate.

Prioritize
I regularly receive emails from people who need help with the legal side of starting a business, and some of them claim that they can’t afford an hour of legal services. Sometimes I wonder if these entrepreneurs didn’t do any research into the expected costs of a consult, contract, or trademark when creating their business budget. (When people can’t afford my firm, I’m happy to provide referrals to other options and/or tell them what things they can do themselves – like filing an LLC with the Arizona Corporation Commission. The forms and instructions are online.)

A fellow entrepreneur suggested that these potential clients don’t see value in paying for quality legal services. That sounds plausible. Many new entrepreneurs are focused on their expected success that they don’t want to ponder the what-if scenarios. In many ways, quality contracts and other legal services protect you when things go wrong. You often don’t need to rely on them when things go right.

My recommendation for all new entrepreneurs is to meet with a business accountant and a lawyer to make sure you’re starting out on the right foot, and that you understand the legal implications of your venture. If you have questions about business needs, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Joy of Customized Partnership Agreements

Dúo by Hernán Piñera from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A contract is a “relationship management document.” A well-written contract should put everyone involved on the same page and protect both sides. A contract should provide clear explanations to help the parties avoid confusion and prevent problems. It’s an effective way to document the priorities and goals in the relationship.

You can put anything you want in your contract as long as it’s legal. (I’ve written a legitimate contract where one party had to attest that they are “a sexy bitch.”)

The Roommate Agreement: The Epitome of Customized Agreements
One of my favorite contracts is the Roommate Agreement between Sheldon and Leonard on The Big Bang Theory. It’s a perfect example of how contracts can be customized (and how important it is to define words in your contracts.) Here are some of my favorite provisions of the Sheldon-Leonard Roommate Agreement:

  • Once a day, Sheldon must ask Leonard how he is (even though Sheldon doesn’t care).
  • No “hootennanies”, sing-alongs, raucous laughter, clinking of glasses, celebratory gunfire, or barbershop quartets after 10.p.m.
  • If one friend gets super powers, he will name the other one as his sidekick.
  • If one friend gets invited to go swimming at Bill Gates’ house, he will take the other friend to accompany him.
  • Once a year, Leonard and Sheldon take one day to celebrate the contributions Leonard gives to Sheldon’s life, both real and imaginary.
  • One friend has to put up with the other’s craziness. (Yes, we know: Sheldon’s not crazy. His mother had him tested.)

I love this contract. Not only is it hilarious, it shows what a contract can be.

My Partnership Agreement
If I owned a business with a partner, we would have the best owner’s agreement. Besides the provisions about how we were going to resolve deadlocked votes when a unanimous decision is required and the division of administrative tasks, we’d customize our contract based on our personalities and priorities. Here are some provisions I’d advocate for:

  • We won’t use vendors who are known to be sexist, homophobic, racist, or who treat their workers poorly.
  • No jerks. This applies to vendors and customers who want to hire us.
  • Our office will always be dog-friendly.
  • If we’re driving somewhere together, Ruth doesn’t have to drive.
  • There is only one way to say “data” correctly in Ruth’s presence.
  • If you’re sick and contagious, stay home. Keep your germs to yourself.
  • Neither owner is allowed to do their own taxes. Let the professionals do them.
  • We will have a monthly meeting to discuss the state and future plans for the company. If either owner is 10 minutes late or more, they have to buy the other lunch.

When I write partnership agreements, operating agreements, and bylaws for companies, I have a set of questions I make my clients answer to assist me in drafting a contract that fits their needs. One of the questions is “What else do you want me to include?” and I encourage my clients to be thoughtful and creative, based on their needs and their goals for their business.

If you’re interested in getting a custom contract, you can contact me directly or a business lawyer in your community. I regularly post about legal issues impacting entrepreneurs on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Contract Amendments – Always in Writing

Signature by Sebastien Wiertz from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

When a lawyer writes a contract for a client, it usually includes provisions that say that the all the terms of the agreement are contained in the document and all changes to the contract must be in writing. It may look something like this:

This Agreement is the entire understanding between the Parties concerning the subject of this Agreement. This Agreement replaces and supersedes any and all prior oral or written agreements and discussions between the Parties on that subject. All amendments to this Agreement must be in writing and signed by the Parties.

Contracts are relationship management documents. They keep everyone on the same page to prevent problems down the line or to help resolve problems when they occur. One of the challenges I encounter with contract clients is they often don’t follow the contract they signed and amend the agreement that is documented only in an email exchange, or worse, a undocumented verbal agreement.

Always Get It In Writing
The purpose of the “entire agreement” clause is to put all the terms of the contract in a single document. All written amendments should be stored with the original agreement – in hard copy and/or electronically, so if there is a question or dispute, the parties only need to review the single or amended document. They don’t have to piece together the contract from the parties’ communications and actions.

If you don’t get your amendments in writing, you’re asking for trouble. There could be confusion about what the change is, or worse, the other side could deny the existence of an amendment and screw you over. Remember, the law does not care about what you know, only what you can prove. If you don’t get your amendments in writing, and you have an “entire agreement” clause, if you have to go to court, the judge could say the amendment doesn’t exist.

Contract Amendments Can Be Easy
Why don’t people put their contract amendments in writing. I suspect it’s because they think it will be a hassle, cause a delay in a project, be time-consuming, or maybe they don’t even think to put in it writing because “it’s not a big deal.” In general, contracts exist, not for when things go right, but when they go wrong. What you think is a minor verbal change when both sides are getting along can become a big problem if things turn sour.

If you spend $100s or $1,000s to have a lawyer draft your contract, don’t revise it without their involvement. You’ve invested time and money to protect your interests. You don’t want to inadvertently throw that away with a damaging and undocumented revision.

Contracts are your Friends
These are some of my guidelines when it comes to reading and drafting contracts:

  • Never sign a contract you don’t understand. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
  • Whomever writes a contract does so for their or their client’s benefit. Keep that in mind when a contract is written by the other side. (Lawyers have an obligation to represent their clients zealously.)
  • Substantial business contracts should always be reviewed by a lawyer to ensure it’s complete and protects your interests.

A contract should be written to protect everyone involved – to make sure everyone understands and agrees to the same course of action.

I’m constantly reviewing and drafting all types of contracts for clients. If you want to keep up with what I’m doing or if you need help, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Year-End Visit to the Accountant

Money Tunnel by Lomo-Cam from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Every business owner needs an accountant, and a good accountant is worth their weight in gold.

I’ve been saying that for years. Actually, I recommend visiting your accountant twice a year – once during tax season and once at the end of the year. And just to show I “eat my own dog food,” I wanted to share my experience seeing my accountant this fall.

Planning Ahead for Next Year’s Taxes
Visiting my accountant is a great way to begin the process of winding down the year. I brought him a copy of my Quickbooks. (I’m probably his only client who keeps their USB on a Star Trek key chain.) He did a quick review my books for the year to date, made sure everything is categorized properly, and he gave me an estimate of what I should expect to pay in taxes come next April. (I don’t get upset when I have to pay taxes. It means I made money.) I find it reassuring that my tax bill isn’t a big mystery looming in the future. With his estimate, I can budget in my expected tax bill starting December or January.

Avoid the Tax Season Insanity
When I meet with my accountant in November/December, we get to have a laid back conversation about my business for the last year and what’s on the horizon for the next year. This gives him a chance to provide more thoughtful advice since he’s not in the middle of the insanity of tax season. Meeting before the end of the year gives him a chance to give me any advice regarding an end-of-the-year spend-down or if I have a big purchase coming up, whether it matters which tax year it happens.

Connecting with a Fellow Entrepreneur
My accountant is also a fellow entrepreneur who meets with other entrepreneurs for a living. When I share my ideas for my business with him, he gives me suggestions from his own experience and from watching what’s worked for other clients.

I’m always happy to meet with my accountant and never flinch at paying his bill. If you haven’t scheduled your year-end meeting with your accountant, I strongly recommend it. If you don’t have an accountant for your business, get a referral from a trusted professional. Your accountant is your partner for your success.  If you want to connect with me and my thoughts about why every entrepreneur needs an accountant, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.