It’s been said it takes a village to raise anything or anyone to success. While Erica is great at managing a lifestyle blog, and keeping her finger on the pulse of upcoming trends, she’s a great boss because she knows when to outsource. Friend of the blog, attorney and Howard Law School graduate Shofaetiyah Watson, has some great advice for bloggers who are just starting out in the social media world, and how to (smartly) invest your money with  an attorney to protect your interests.

What is the biggest mistake you see small-business owners making when they are launching a new brand or idea?

Well, I think people should meet with a lawyer, but whether they do or not, they don’t take steps to plan how they’re going to protect or trademark their ideas.

For bloggers who don’t have the budget to keep a lawyer on retainer for their businesses, how do you recommend they maximize one or two visits with an attorney?

You don’t have to keep an attorney on retainer, because most of the time, bloggers are not going to be involved in matters that require litigation. But, I think if you’re serious about protecting your brand, taking a couple hundred dollars and sitting down and having a consultation with a lawyer will save you a lot of grief down the line. Like the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

What are some signs bloggers should look out for when distinguishing “good lawyer” versus “bad lawyer”?

[For a blogger], the sign of a good lawyer is someone who has experience litigating and/or intellectual property. As far as “red flags…” If you’re asking questions about protecting the brand, and the lawyer is not bringing up anything in the way of copyrights, and isn’t able to explain to a blogger how trademarks work, those could be potential red flags.

Also, if someone is trying to charge a new blogger a bunch of money up front, that’s a red flag. However, “free” can be as big an issue as well; it definitely depends on the blogger’s comfort level, but remember, you get what you pay for.

What are a blogger’s rights when pitching to a brand or vendor so their content is protected?

One of the more common tools should be a non-disclosure agreement. Any blogger that wants to protect their intellectual property just as a matter of course needs to bring an NDA to pitch meetings. This is an area that would be helpful to discuss with an attorney, but they could just as easily [find a template] online.

Bloggers may end up working with stylists, photographers, that type of thing. How do they protect themselves, as well as making sure their content is delivered?

It goes back to having things in writing. Make sure you are explicit and particular about how content will be delivered, and when it will be delivered. And be wary of photographers or vendors who seems confused by standard industry lingo. Get things in writing.

On that note, do you recommend bloggers make more of an effort to keep everything in writing, especially as it relates to setting up meetings and discussing content?

Absolutely. People get accustomed to these handshake deals, but I think any contractual relationship needs to be in writing. [Bloggers] don’t have to be proficient in business writing, but they need to be familiar [with contract language], and even if they never send a contract to anyone, if someone gives them a contract, that’d be a great time to ask a lawyer to things over, especially if the company requires procedure the blogger isn’t familiar with.

It seems like that’d be especially important in regards to paying attention to things like what consequences can happen if the blogger doesn’t meet a deadline to produce content.

Absolutely. And it may behoove people to set up a business entity for themselves, so they are individually protected in the event something goes south.

In a world where it can feel like there is no new content, how can bloggers protect themselves and their ideas from other bloggers?

Copyright every post, or copyright the website overall. And again, this is where having a lawyer comes into play. For example, in the fall, people are going to be writing about apples and pumpkin spice and leaves, but if you’re specifically quoting Thoreau’s Walden, and weeks later someone is using that exact quote in their fall post, you may have a problem.

Obviously don’t steal other people’s work. But, more importantly, if you want to use other people’s work, just give them credit for it. “Go back to the original post” or link to the post, that type of thing.

The more we talk, the more I realize, as women, and as female business owners, we tend to assume to everyone is upfront and nice, and we don’t tend to think about any of this as a business.

The moment you decide to put a blog or a website up, it’s a business. Even if you aren’t intending to make a profit off of it, even if it’s a labor of love, it should be something you want to protect. There are people out there who, if given a chance, they will rip your site off and not once go back and give you credit.

What is the best way bloggers can set themselves up for long-term success?  

Again, folks need to understand this is a business, and if they approach it with the seriousness of a business, they can avoid some of the legal frustrations. You don’t need to have a whole lot of money to get a lawyer, but it’s important that at least on one occasion, you save up a couple hundred dollars and have a consultation with either a litigator or intellectual property attorney [ideally both], and you’ve dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s.

This interview should not be used in lieu of legal advice, nor does it represent legal engagement or representation. Please contact Mr. Watson if you’re interested in pursuing a legal matter; otherwise neither Eating with Erica, its writers, nor Shofaetiyah Watson, Esq., are liable for the content of this interview.

Rachel Boyd is an Atlanta native, holds degrees from the University of Georgia and Kennesaw State University, and is a reformed picky eater (still trying to overcome an irrational shrimp-phobia).  Non-cooking-related passions include her Great Dane-Bulldog mix, volunteer work, and half marathons with the Atlanta Track Club, bourbon, binge-watching detective shows, reading all the books, learning French, cute bearded dudes, and spending time on her best friend’s farm.

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