BUSINESS STRATEGY

Legally Speaking: What You Need To Know About Collaborations

Legally Speaking: What you need to know about collaborating with bloggers + small business owners. Read this to make sure you're legally covered when it comes to creative collaborations.

I'm excited to welcome my friend Jackie to the blog today – she's a blogger, lawyer, and dog mom to some adorable pugs. When it comes to the legal side of blogging / small business, she knows what she's talking about – so pay attention y'all! 

One of the things I love the most about blogging is the sense of community it creates. You get to meet so many other amazing bloggers and learn from one another. It’s super awesome. But every once in awhile, just like with anything else in life, it can turn sour. Although 99.999999% of the time, working with other bloggers is an amazing beautiful sunshine-y walk in the park, there is sometimes that 0.0000000001% of the time when things are gonna go south. Fast. (These “statistics” are super made up – but you get my point!)

So what do you do when a collaboration with another blogger goes bad? Today I’m discussing what you can do. And, more importantly, what you can do BEFORE working with someone to make sure it never gets to that breaking point.

Types of blogger or business collaborations

First, let’s look at some of the ways that our blogging relationships can go bad…

  • Your joint venture webinar co-host never pays you your share of the bundle proceeds (or she pays you less)
  • Your collaborator in a webinar ends up keeping the entire slideshow presentation and claims it as her own work
  • Your co-host keeps the webinar video but won’t send you a copy for your website or course
  • You write a guest post for another blogger and she never credits you for it – she takes your work and posts to her to blog as if its her own
  • You’ve agreed to be an affiliate for someone and then they never pay you

The list goes on and on, but you can see my point. The main issues here revolve around: money and attribution. The other person has either not paid you for your fair share of the work and/or has failed to give you credit or attribution for your work and is claiming it solely as her own work product. And none of us want to be in these sorts of situations.

What do you “own”?

So first let’s discuss who owns what, when you’re working with another person. This is based on US contract and copyright laws. So, if you are international or working with someone internationally, be aware that the situation may differ.

If you are working for yourself (meaning you aren’t doing the work as part of your work for an employer), you own your own work product. In the US, you don’t need to affirmatively copyright your work in order to own the rights to it (though having an official registered copyright can give you more legal protections, but I won’t be getting into that here). So once you create something, you own the rights to copy it. (Get it, “copyright”?) If you are working for an employer, they likely own that right. But in the blogger / small business owner context, you are probably the copyright holder.

Now the waters get a little muddy when you’re working with someone else (who isn’t an employee or coworker of yours). Whatever that other person creates – she owns THAT. So now who owns that slideshow or ebook or ecourse you co-created? Well, that’s not easy to untangle! It could be argued that you each just own what you created or you both own all of it. It all depends. The law is often retrospective – if a dispute came up, a court would actually look back in time to try to figure out what happened. And this can be a hot mess. And expensive. And time consuming.

You don’t want to get to that point. Instead of letting the court be retrospective, you should be proactive TODAY.

A contract is basically an agreement that is a “meeting of the minds.” It’s where you have all the terms and information regarding your work together laid out. It’s your safeguard IN CASE something goes wrong.Click To Tweet

Protecting yourself before starting a collaboration

Once you’ve decided to work with another blogger, you should lay it all out there. You basically want to look forward into the future to try to foresee any problems that might arise. Is it possible the other person will keep the video of the webinar to sell and never give you a copy? Is it possible she will sell the slideshow or claim it as her own? Etc. Think of every scenario.

In order to safeguard against those nightmare scenarios, we want to have a very clear and detailed contract in place. Now, people get really scared when it comes to that work – contract. It sounds so big and legal and scary. It definitely can be, but it doesn’t have to be. A contract is basically an agreement that is a “meeting of the minds.” It’s where you have all the terms and information regarding your work together laid out. It’s your safeguard IN CASE something goes wrong.

A legally binding contract doesn’t need to be written on fancy paper or in a wordy document by a lawyer. It just needs to have all the info surrounding your working relationship. It doesn’t even need to be one piece of paper – an entire email thread can basically constitute a contract. So the best way to not have issues when doing collaborations is to have all the details ironed out BEFOREHAND. Creating a contract will keep you both accountable for your work and will also lay out how you’ll resolve any disputes. Here are some of the contract terms you should consider when working with someone else:

  • Division of work – who will be doing what
  • Timeframe and deadlines
  • Payment terms – who gets paid, how they get paid, when they get paid, etc.
  • Who owns the work once it’s completed – will you both be able to use the work or not
  • What to do if something bad happens – if someone can’t complete her end of the bargain, what happens?
  • Anything else you can think of that could be an issue. Seriously, anything!

What if a problem comes up?

Now that you have this contract in place, this should help keep you both on task. However, if an issue arises later on, the contract can save you. We all hope to never have to hire an attorney (even me and I am an attorney!), so attempt to resolve any issues directly with your collaborator. If you didn’t have anything written down (perhaps you had come up with your working arrangement via Skype or text messages that are now deleted), then it will be hard for you to say “Hey – you promised to pay me 60% and you only paid me 40%!” Nothing is in writing, so that’s going to be hard to prove.

But if you have your contract in place (which, I mentioned above can be something as casual as your series of emails), you can point that out to her. Everything is in black and white, which will hopefully quickly resolve any disputes.

Your last resort would be to contact an attorney if you can’t get resolution. Even in this situation, your contract will be a huge help since it will be something concrete instead of a “she said/she said” battle.

So there you go. The best way to avoid issues when working with other bloggers or small business owners. I’m so not a sports person, but really this is so true – the best offense is a good defense. Protect yourself before a problem arises and it should be much smoother sailing!

Legal Disclaimer: I am an attorney, but I am not your attorney. The information in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship. I am not liable for any losses or damages related to actions or failures to act related to the content in this article. If you need specific legal advice, consult with an attorney who specializes in your subject matter and jurisdiction.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jackie is an attorney and a blogger. She helps put the scary legal side of business into easy to understand terms for other bloggers and small business owners. She has built up her blog while working full time and aims to show other bloggers how they can easily do the same (it’s all about that time management!) Visit her (and her two sweet pugs) over on her blog, Jade and OakYou can also find Jackie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

7 Sales Tips To Grow Your Business Right Now

7 sales tips to grow your online business. Sales + marketing tips for entrepreneurs + small business owners who want to get noticed online and grow their revenue. Click through for 7 tips to increase your sales now!

This past week I've been sharing 7 Sales Tips (#7DaysofSalesTips) on Periscope. It's been fun to chat with some of you as I share these tips, but I also wanted to recap them for those of y'all who couldn't make it live. (Or maybe Periscope is not your thing – that's totally fine!) So here's what we've talked about this week…

1) Sell yourself first

I wrote a whole blog post on this last month but I truly believe that if you're a blogger, solopreneur, or small biz owner, the most important sale you'll ever make is yourself. You not only need to believe in yourself and the value that you provide, but you also need to be able to “sell yourself” or in other words, connect with your audience on a more personal level. People buy from people, so if you're not putting YOU out there, you're doing your brand a disservice. If you're struggling to figure out what REALLY makes you different from everyone else in your niche, here are 4 questions you can ask yourself to get clear:

  • How have your past experiences led you to your current business? Your experiences are unique to YOU and have shaped who you are and why you started your business. Think about how your education, your previous jobs, and your life experiences have led you to where you are today.
  • What have you learned from those past experiences that you can now use to help and serve others? Think about where you were 2-3 years ago? 2-3 months ago? What have you learned that you can now teach other people?
  • How do your products / services relate to your previous experience and the knowledge you have gained? Did you create something because it solved a problem for you? Do you provide a service because it's something you wish you had help with when you were at some previous point in your life?
  • How would you describe yourself / your personality in a dating profile? This question may be a little weird, but personality is a HUGE part of your brand! What do you want people to know about you? What do you want them to know about your personality? Think about first impressions – what are the key things you want people to “get” about you right away?

Now combine your experience + your knowledge + your products /services + your personality in a sentence that tells people who you are, what you do, and who you do it for <– This is how you sell yourself. This is how you STAND OUT.

2) Define strategic paths to your paid products + services

It's really easy to get overwhelmed with creating content. Figuring out what to blog about, what to post on Instagram, what to tweet about (and how often to do all of the above), can make you STRESSED OUT if you let it – but you can simplify and streamline your work by defining strategic content paths to your paid products and services.

You want all of your free content to lead your audience to eventually buy your products and services, right? Then don't waste time creating content just for the sake of creating something, and make sure everything you're doing has a point. So let's pretend you're a graphic designer. You share something on social media that links to a blog post on website branding… and after someone reads that blog post there's a call to action telling her to download a free checklist of the 10 questions you should ask your designer… and once she opts-in to receive that free checklist, she receives a series of emails that further educates her on the importance of cohesive branding… and THEN you “pitch” your services by reminding her that YOU can help her create cohesive branding (and link directly to your sales / service page so she can find out more).

If you haven't defined your content paths, I'd recommend getting out a piece of paper and mapping them out. You'll find that once you've identified your purpose and defined your paths, it will be much easier to develop relevant content (and you content will do much of the “sales” work for you)!

3) Know the difference between features, functions, and benefits

The biggest mistake I see with sales pages and product descriptions is focusing solely on features and forgetting about functions and benefits. So for example, if I were buying a vacuum cleaner and in the description it lists “multi-level filtration” – that sounds like a great feature but why do I care? Because multi-level filtration helps to reduce household allergens (that's a great function!) and because when there are less allergens I can spend more time cuddling with my pup without worrying about all the pet dander in our apartment (a great benefit!) – I also take a daily antihistamine, but you get the point.

Don't just describe your products and services – describe how your products and services can actually help someone. What's in it for them? How will it improve their life? Bonus points if you can visually SHOW what the benefits are rather than just talk about them.

4) Create simple sales funnels

Give, give, give THEN sell. People need to know, like, and trust you before they buy from you. Grab their attention, pique their interest, appeal to their desire, then encourage them to take action.

Usually (but not always) the higher the perceived value and the more complex a product or service is, the longer your funnel will be. So if you are selling a $15 necklace, your audience probably only needs to come into contact with it a few times before they pull the trigger, but if you're selling a $3,000 consulting package, it may take weeks (or even months) for someone to trust you. That's ok. If you have higher priced services, you also need fewer conversions. As your audience grows, more people will be introduced to your brand each day. Focus on continually providing value, and if you've defined strategic paths to your paid products + services (tip #2), your business will grow too.

People buy from people, so if you're not putting YOU out there, you're doing your brand a disservice.Click To Tweet

5) Give people what they WANT, not what they need

People buy what they want, not what they need. Sometimes people don't even KNOW what they need. I probably NEED an accountant but what I really WANT is overpriced lipstick and this adorable dog sweater. There's a 100% I will make room in my budget for new lipstick and will end up doing my taxes on Turbo Tax because I don't WANT to pay someone to do them for me. Marketing is all about positioning.

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't understand you audience's needs – but when it comes to packaging and selling your products and services, give them what they WANT. So what's the number one thing you need to do to figure out what your people want?

Listen. Seriously, that's it. Listen to the questions they ask. Listen to what they say in their communities. Listen to the comments you receive. Listen and people will tell you what they want.

6) Overcome objections

So you're at the point where you're getting product inquiries. Maybe you're even doing free sessions or discovery calls – but you're having trouble converting all that free talk into paying clients and customers. You've probably heard one of these things…

  • I would love to hire you / buy your product but it's not in my budget right now / I can't afford the investment. Ugh, the you're too expensive excuse. The easiest way to avoid this is by clearly listing your prices on your website. If people are telling you that you are too expensive then they don't see the value in your products/services, and the #1 reason why that happens is when you don't explain the BENEFITS well enough (tip #2).
  • I need some time to think about it. If your pitch is compelling enough, people will not need more time to think about it. Sometimes a prospect just doesn't fully understand a small detail, so I recommend that you straight up ASK them, “what information can I provide to help you make the best decision.” Get to the root of the issue and you will usually find that the hesitation is over something that you can easily answer. Make sure you address whatever the specific issue is, and then ask for the sale again. If they're still not ready, don't stress about it. Keep them on your list, continue to nurture them, and maybe someday they will be.
  • Now’s not a good time / I have too much going on right now. Most of the time this is an excuse because if someone took the time to inquire or chat with you for a free consultation, they obviously HAVE time. Not to mention, if someone wants something badly enough they will MAKE time. Sometimes people just need an incentive to act now. You can position your offerings as time sensitive in a few different ways – if you have a service-based business, you can only take on so many clients at a time. Make it clear that your availability is limited. If you have a product-based business, you may have time sensitive offers (bonuses or discounts) that encourage your prospective customers to make more timely decisions.

7) Earn repeat business

So once someone has purchased from you, you can celebrate and move on, right? Think again. One of the easiest ways to grow your sales, is earning repeat business. Think about it – if you purchase a sweater from Zara and you love it – you will probably go back to see what's new the next time you are looking for something cute to wear, right? When you find a doctor that you like, you keep going back to them because why go through the hassle of finding someone new when you're happy with the service you are receiving. Getting repeat business is actually MUCH easier than getting new customers and clients no matter what you're selling. Here are 3 ways you can do this right now:

  • Offer related products / services. Your products and services should sell each other. If you offer one time consultations, add the option to extend the relationship with ongoing coaching. If you sell products, think about items that are complementary to each other. For example, someone who buys wedding invitations will probably need thank you notes as well.
  • Implement a subscription / membership based model. Recurring payments are an entrepreneur's jam. There are subscription based models with a low barrier to entry (think Birchbox or any of these), where you can then up-sell higher priced products OR you could offer a higher-fee ongoing service model (like group coaching) where there is a monthly “membership” fee.
  • Take into consideration timing / seasons. If your product has a shelf life, remind people to reorder after a few weeks/months. Take advantage of seasonal promotions – can you offer something unique during the holidays? What about at the beginning of a new year?

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So that was a lot of information and if you made it all the way through – high five! You're probably pretty serious about growing your sales and growing your business this year, right?

Why Defining Your Ideal Customer Is Holding You Back

Why defining your ideal customer is holding you back and what to do about it. For entrepreneurs and small business owners who struggle with defining their ideal customer avatar - this is for you.

Raise your hand if you've ever been told to create an ideal customer avatar (ICA).

(raises hand)

Raise your hand if you really know what the hell your ICA actually needs and wants?

(eh, not really)

To be honest, I think avatars are kind of dumb.

If making up an imaginary person and creating a profile will help you understand what your ideal clients / customers want – then good for you.

But for most people – this makes no sense.

Why Defining Your Ideal Customer Is Holding You Back

If you want to sell your products and services to real live human beings, how is making up a fake persona really going to help you? I've never really been into make believe (unless you count reality tv, in which case I am really into that), so maybe that's where the disconnect is for me, but I KNOW I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Let me be clear though –

I do think it's important to have a target audience. 

If you are trying to sell to everyone, you are probably selling to no one. And even if you think you are selling to a specific group of people (like “stay at home moms” / “creative entrepreneurs” / “dog owners”) – you should probably get MORE specific. Having a target audience will help you tremendously when it comes to your branding, your marketing strategy, your copy, and the products and services you offer. 

If you're just starting out and you don't REALLY know who your ideal audience is – that's ok. But when you focus on attracting, relating, and selling to a target audience – everything is easier. And more effective.

So how do you figure out who your target audience is if you have no idea who they are?

#Realtalk – I have a hard time believing anyone when they say they have no idea at all. Maybe you're indecisive and don't want to commit to a particular group or maybe your business is so new that you don't want to turn away potential customers by focusing on a target audience – but the more specific your messaging is, the more relatable it is. 

My honest advice?
Just start somewhere.

Pick one. You can always change it later.

That's the beauty of owning your own business. If you decide that you want to focus on creating brand identities for millenial food photographers and in a few months you realize you actually hate food photography because it makes you hungry ALL THE TIME, you can decide to change things up.

If you've been in a business for a while, you can probably identify the types of people you've enjoyed working with. Who are the clients that have turned into friends? Who can you relate to the best?

Not sure where to start? Start with yourself. 

Personally, I want to work with people like myself.

Lipstick wearing entrepreneurs who left corporate life to do something more creative. They care about aesthetics, they value planning / systems, they want to build empires, and they also probably love puppies + Bravo tv. I “get” them – because I'm like them! 

My target audience is similar to me, but not ME – so maybe you're “me” a few years ago – working a corporate job with a side hustle and hoping to turn it into a full time career. Maybe you're “me” several months ago (before I cracked the Instagram code and figured out how to rapidly grow a profitable following), and you want your pet to be insta-famous too. Or maybe you're “me” now, and have the same values / interests / audience, but your strengths are design + development whereas mine are marketing + sales.

Chances are, you probably want to work with people like yourself too. It just makes sense. And it also makes it easier to develop content that's helpful and relatable, because you can put yourself in your “former shoes” to think about the types of things that would have appealed to you before you got to where you are today.

Having a target audience will help you tremendously when it comes to your branding, your marketing strategy, your copy, and the products and services you offer. Click To Tweet

What if you don't want to work with people who are like you?

Well that's weird.

Kidding. It's probably more of an opposites attract type of situation, which makes sense too.

If you don't want to work with people who are like you – who are the types of people you naturally attract? Who are the people you hang out with? Who are the people who could most benefit from your products and services?

Your target audience should be composed of people you actually like that ALSO need your products and services. 

If your target audience is not like you, but is like someone else you know (a friend, parent, sibling, etc.) then instead of creating an avatar to “represent” that person, actually spend time getting to know that person and their peers better so you can really understand what they need.

But what if I REALLY can't pick one person as my target customer?

I never said you should. 

That's another thing that bothers me about the “ideal customer avatar” – most people teach you to create just one. So you make up one fake person with one fake set of needs and that's supposed to help you sell your products and services to a larger group of real life people.

Or not. 

I'm going to mess with your mind and tell you that it's ok to appeal to more than one person. Because the truth is, YOUR BUSINESS HAS TO APPEAL TO MORE THAN ONE PERSON, unless you plan on literally having one customer forever. Not all people are going to buy your products or choose to work with you for the same reason – they don't all have the exact same needs and they don't all want the exact same things. That would be really boring.  

This is NOT an excuse to be all over the place when it comes to your marketing. You shouldn't try to appeal to everyone, and you should still try to get as specific as possible. But if you have a target audience made up of living, breathing people – it's much easier to find where those people hang out, get to know them, and create products and services that help them than to make up one, single avatar and try to find them in Neverland or wherever it is that avatars hang out.

I get it, but I'm still trying to figure things out…

Stop wasting time. Yes, you can figure things out along the way. Maybe you need to work with a few different types of people before you figure out who your target audience is. But don't let defining your target audience stop you from getting started or gaining momentum in your business.