When you have a great idea, your first instinct is to see if anyone else thought of it first. Until you’re up and running you’ll always have the worry of someone taking the idea from you. It can happen. In the digital world, very little is secret. Once you have an idea out there, anyone can take it and expand on it. As a small business, you need to be keenly aware of this and protect your business.
Of course, it doesn’t happen as often as you think. Very few people are out to maliciously steal your ideas. However, it does give you peace of mind to file the correct patent papers and have a lawyer on hand. On top of this, there are other considerations. It’s important that your business is protected against lawsuits. These could come from personal injury claims or other employee disputes.
Finally there is the risk of losing secure data. Modern technology means that almost all secure data is stored digitally. In the event of a hardware crash or malfunction, you need sensible backups. Without further ado, here are all the things that you need to consider to protect your business. Don’t let disputes and legal proceedings cloud those vital early days of business.
Don’t reveal too much
One strong way to keep your secrets is to keep them to yourself. When it comes to pitching clients, you don’t need to disclose the inner workings of your product. You needn’t explain how or why it works or is useful. They just need to know that you can get results. When seeking advice, only confide in those closest to you. Use their advice to shape and mould the product but don’t put too much out there until it’s honed and ready. You may have to divulge more information to investors, but don’t worry too much about this. Investors aren’t in the business of stealing ideas. They’re actively looking for unique ideas, hold back the secrets and you won’t convince them.
If there is sensitive information behind your product, you can make use of non disclosure agreements. Clients may be reluctant to sign however, so use your best judgement here. If employees are working on an early version of a product, this is a fairly standard procedure. Have a lawyer draw one up for you. If this seems a bit extreme, simply use confidentiality statements. Sometimes information can leak out because no-one knows it’s confidential. Add the confidentiality agreement and most people will respect it.
Apply for patents
If you really think you’re on to a winner with your product or idea, apply for a patent. The idea doesn’t need to be fully fleshed out or developed. Apply early and you’ll be granted another twelve months to work on the concept further. The date of your first application is important as it allows you to trace the idea to its origins. It proves your claim to the idea if ever you need to.
Trademark your name
In many businesses, your name is the most valuable thing you have. Buying a domain in your company name isn’t enough here. Likewise, social media accounts in your name won’t hold up legally. To ensure you don’t lose any community that you’ve built up, trademark your name. It helps solidify your company and protects against others using a similar name.
Research your clients and investors
In the digital world, it’s very easy to research your clients and investors. It is a habit you should get into for many reasons. Firstly, it allows you to make a targeted pitch to them based on their goals and strategies. Secondly, it helps you avoid bad relationships. Researching clients will soon throw up any bad news. If there are any signs of previous disputes, arguments or legal proceedings, take heed. If there have been other cases of intellectual property law brought against them, you’ll want to avoid them.
Keep a paper trail
If the worst happens and you do find yourself in an IP dispute, documentation is vital. From the beginning of your business, keep track of every aspect of your company. Keep a folder of any emails that discussed the ideas or concepts. Keep a receipt of your domain name purchase. Proving your claim with solid dates and documents is the best way to protect yourself. Even if it seems insignificant in the early days, keep hold of it. You never know when it will come in useful.
Whatever your business, you will definitely need insurance. Businesses are at risk of public and employee liability. Then there’s product liability and buildings and contents insurance. Most of the time these will all come wrapped up in one business insurance package. Find one that suits your sector best. For example, if you’re in the sports industry, look to Protectivity. Any liability brought against you can be costly and time consuming. Protect yourself against it.
Have a good legal mind on your team
Whether you use an independent company or hire an in-house legal mind, make sure you have one. As a new business you will need constant legal advice in many areas. You’ll want a lawyer that you can trust and with all round knowledge. They will help you draw up initial contracts and agreements. They will fend off liability claims and help negotiate with clients and investors.
Back up your files
Finally, don’t forget to protect yourself against hardware problems. Your data and information is vital. Not to mention any business plans, reports and lengthy work. If this disappears, it could leave a severe dent in your business. Make sure you have three backups of everything. One on a hard drive, one on a cloud storage function and finally a paper copy.
Getting your new business off the ground is hard enough. The last thing you want is any setbacks on your time and budget. Making a small business work is all about momentum. Don’t get distracted. Cover all bases and give yourself peace of mind from day one.