setting up your online coaching business legally

Online Coaching Legal Checklist

In Online Business Necessities by Shannon Montgomery

The internet is a magical place full of information, funny memes, and endless possibilities. With the rise of technology and social media, online coaching has become more and more popular. You can find an online coach for almost anything from business growth to booty growth, if you want to improve it, there’s a coach for that. Which is great for those of us that need help, and for those of you that want to do the helping.

So if you’ve ever thought about starting up your own online coaching business here’s a checklist that I want you to go through to ensure your business is running smoothly and legally. So you can help more people. Just think of me as your online legal coach…

 

online coaching legal checklist

1. Business Entity Formation

Before you start providing any type of coaching service I feel that it is important you set up some type of business entity. I’ve discussed business entities in the past from types, why you would want one, and how to go about setting them up, so if you click out of this post and over to the business entities section of the blog you’ll find those. I won’t go into too much detail here. All I will say is that coaching services are generally the type of service that carries some level of liability. Because of that, you will want to form an entity to protect your personal assets and shield you personally, from lawsuits.  You may choose to form an LLC or a Corporation and the decision should be made between you, your attorney, and your CPA.

  • Where you register will depend greatly on where you live, where you plan to have some presence if you intend to be fully virtual, or what state you think has the most favorable laws and tax structure for your chosen entity.
  • If you register an entity in one state but live in another, the state you live in may require that you file a foreign entity registration so be sure to check with an attorney in your area so that you do this correctly!
  • Finally, if you register your entity under one name but plan to use a different business name be sure to register a DBA or Fictitious Business Name (depending on where you’re at) with the name you plan to use in commerce.

2. Utilize Contracts

When you run an online coaching business, contracts will be your best friend. You should have written agreements in place detailing everything before you begin working with someone. Your contracts should include things like

  • what services you will provide
  • deadlines
  • termination of the agreement
  • intellectual property rights
  • payment terms
  • refund policy
  • liability waivers
  • disclaimers
  • and more…

If you are working with clients one on one but in a virtual setting, it is highly possible that at some point there will be a breakdown in communication. Having an agreement in place that explains what your role is, what the client’s role is, what the expectations are for the relationship and of course when and how much you should be getting paid, will help keep everyone on the same page and working together smoothly.

If you’re working with contractors in your business there should be agreements in place for that as well. Independent contractor agreements are key to operating your online coaching business legally. Of course, if you have W2 employees, get an agreement together!

Finally, as an online coach, you are going to want to utilize liability waivers separate and apart from your client contracts. A liability waiver is extremely important if you are providing any type of health or fitness related coaching. These waivers are not full proof but they do help lessen your liability exposure. There are best practices for how they should be written and presented to the client so email me if you have questions on this!

3. Intellectual Property Protections

Whether you’re providing online courses, coaching templates, blog posts, or other amazing content to help your clients, it all needs to be protected. Register your trademarks and your copyrights. Registration of copyrights that are important to your business such as online courses is extremely important in keeping them protected. If a copyright is not registered, you cannot sue for infringement, ie if someone steals your course, you have no way to sue them for this. Trademark registration of your business name, product names, and even logos or slogans is equally important and should be done early on to ensure your brand stays protected.

Utilize the TM symbol near trademarks that are not registered or the ® for marks that are to put people notice that you are claiming rights in those marks and that you intend to protect them. Be sure to have copyright notices on your website and any material that you give to clients, or allow users to download from your site. The © can be used or you can use “copyright 2018 your business name-all rights reserved.” This will again let people know you are asserting your rights and you intend to protect your work.

Monitor your intellectual property monthly. You need to ensure no one else is using your business name or selling your online course. If you find out someone is, and you don’t take action you risk losing the rights in that intellectual property. And we do not want that, especially if it’s something that generates a lot of business for you, or worse is your brand identity. If you don’t have time to worry about monitoring your IP let me know, I can help.

4. Make Sure Your Website is in good shape!

Your website needs to have a privacy policy and a terms of service. Both of these documents will help protect you from liability and are very important. A privacy policy is a must-it’s required by CA law and now we have the GDPR to worry about. Your terms of service although not legally required is very important too. This sets out what users can and can’t do with your website, you can spell out the intellectual property protections I discussed above, and you can even include things like refund policies in there. There are specifics for how both of these documents should be drafted and presented to your website visitors and customers. So get with an attorney to make sure your site checks out.

Finally, you will want to have the appropriate disclaimer language on your website. If you work as an affiliate with different companies and you recommend them to your visitors and clients you need the appropriate discliamer language. If you provide health and nutritional guidance but you’re not a registered diatician or doctor, you need disclaimer language. And it never hurts to disclaim anything regarding “guaranteed results” for clients. As with liability waivers, these aren’t full proof, but it is always better to have them than to not.

That really isn’t all…

That isn’t it, not even close. But I feel like it’s a good starting point for you as you start your journey as an online coach. Some of these things you will need the help of a professional to figure out, and some you may be able to accomplish on your own. Whatever route you take, make sure you get these things done before truly diving into your new business! It is always better to do it right the first time around.

If you have questions or need help with anything discussed here feel free to email me at shannon@montgomerypllc.com.

 

Please note that this is not meant to be legal advice for you or your situation, this is merely some legal research and knowledge on the given topic