It is one thing to build strong capital for your business and another to keep it free from legal issues. Unfortunately, a lot of business owners neglect the latter. As a result, they eventually find themselves with financially devastating problems. Amira Irfan is a lawyer who helps business owners take care of their legal responsibilities, saving them a lot of hassle along the way. Joining Janine Hamner Holman, Amira discusses the most important legal problems many businesses need to pay attention to. Amira explains the importance of securing contracts, the three legal documents every website must have, and the fundamentals of copyright laws.
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Important Legal Issues Every Business Owner Must Know With Amira Irfan
What am I paying attention to now? What we know that we don’t know. If you think about the whole world of knowingness, knowledge, and information, there are these things that we know that we know like I know how to drive a car. I know how to tie my shoes. I know how to help people have thriving employees in their organizations. I know that I know those things.
There are all these other things that I know that I don’t know. I do not know how to fly an airplane. My stepson, James, knows how to fly an airplane. He is a commercial pilot. I have no idea how to fly an airplane. I don’t know anything about physics other than you throw things up, and they come back down. The advanced theory around physics? Not my jam. There is a whole world of things that we don’t know that we don’t know.
I am a lifelong learner. I love learning new things and learning about things that I didn’t even know that I didn’t even know. When I had my first conversation with Amira, I realized that she had the opportunity to shine a light on some places that we don’t even know that we don’t know. Buckle your seatbelts, friends. Here we go.
Our guest for this episode is Amira Irfan. She is a business lawyer, and a blogger. She is also the coach behind A Self Guru where she helps entrepreneurs legally protect their businesses through affordable legal templates and coaching services. Amira has been working as a lawyer for over a decade. She has had the honor of helping over 50,000 entrepreneurs comply with the laws and sleep peacefully at night, knowing that their businesses are protected. Welcome, Amira.
Thank you for that introduction, Janine. Like you, I am a lifelong learner.
That’s what my show is about. The Cost of Not Paying Attention is about all the things that we don’t even know that we are supposed to be paying attention to, and because of our inattention, we may be creating some mischief. We will begin the way that I usually begin, which is, Amira, what is something that you have become aware of that people aren’t paying attention to either consciously or unconsciously? What’s the cost of that inattention?
I’m going to go back to my dad’s story and tie it into my situation, as a working lawyer. One of the things that I have noticed that people are not paying attention to, mostly business owners, is not protecting their businesses legally. Starting a business takes a lot of work. Sometimes, it’s easy to take that step. Sometimes it’s not but people do start businesses but then protecting them legally can be a challenge.
By not doing anything and neglecting the legal steps that people need to take to cover themselves, their families, and their businesses, the cost of that is huge. I am speaking from experience where I watched my dad’s business get sued for $90,000 for a simple legal mistake. I say a simple legal mistake because it’s a common mistake that I’ve seen entrepreneurs make all the time.
That one little mistake ended up costing us so much and turned our life upside down. We lost everything. My dad had to start all over again. The cost is humongous when it comes to not protecting your business legally. The ramifications don’t end with you. Unfortunately, they extend to your family. I was in college studying to become a doctor, believe it or not. Nowhere was it on my mind to become a lawyer but watching my father navigate through the legalities, stress, and emotional turmoil, not knowing whether we were going to lose or win or what the outcome was going to be. The reality is that when you do get sued, the lawsuits take a long time. They are not only expensive but they drag on.
This particular one lasted an entire year. Imagine not knowing where you stand or what’s going to happen for an entire year. It’s a huge toll on your mental health, your physical health, on everything. Watching my dad go through that made me realize that there must be many other entrepreneurs who are making similar mistakes, like not using contracts and not doing things the right way. That’s what inspired me to become a lawyer, and I completely changed paths.Lawsuits take a long time. They are not only expensive, but they drag on. It's a huge toll on your physical and mental health. Click To Tweet
When I was working with his lawyer, helping my dad with the lawsuit, I realized that this is the stuff that I see myself doing, helping other people. That’s how I became a lawyer. After becoming a lawyer, I continue to see the pattern. Now working for more than ten years as a lawyer, I see the same mistakes business owners make. They think, “I can google something about legal stuff or I can try to do it myself instead of working with a lawyer.” There are so many different way that I see people making legal mistakes. The cost is big when you do get into a legal issue. It’s always costly.
Thank you for sharing that story. Certainly, some of the folks who are our readers are out there paying attention, and are great leaders, and entrepreneurs. Plenty of them are business owners. A lot of them are folks who may want to start a business in the future or who have a side hustle going on. What are some of the mistakes that people might be making that we don’t even know that we are making? What are some of the legal things that we need to be paying attention to?
The first one is the mistake my dad made, which is that when you are working with others, you should always have a contract in place. Number one is that if you have started a business, side hustle or whatever it may be, it’s inevitable that you are going to work with someone, whether you hire a freelancer or offer coaching services of your own. There’s got to be something where you are working with someone in the business. Whenever money is exchanging hands, you want to make sure that you protect yourself.
It’s a good business practice to always have a contract in place because you never know where things can go if you don’t have one. There is always a likelihood of disputes. That’s one thing. The second thing which I see people don’t know about is that when you start a website, it comes with some legal responsibilities. You have to make sure that your website is legally compliant. Now, what does that term mean? It means that you should have three legal documents on your website before you launch it.
At the end of every medical commercial out there is somebody talking very quickly about all the things that happen to your body if you take this medication. That’s all the legal disclaimer information.
I give disclaimers as a lawyer. This doesn’t constitute legal advice. There are all kinds of disclaimers out there. The whole premise behind them is to limit your legal liability because we are in the information-sharing space. We are sharing information all the time, whether through writing or speaking. You always want to make sure that information is not construed in a manner that can come back and backfire on you. That’s why these disclaimers are in place.
As a matter of fact, it happens frequently where in the medical industry, someone is giving any medical information that can be taken as advice, and people can suffer negative consequences or health issues, then people get sued because of that. That’s why you see those disclaimers but not just in the medical space. You see disclaimers in the personal finance industry. You see disclaimers in the legal industry.
There are disclaimers in every industry but you want to make sure that whenever you are writing about a topic, you are always covering yourself with a limitation of legal liability language that is built into the disclaimer. The third document that you should have on your website is what’s called terms and conditions.
Now, I’m sure you’ve seen the terms and conditions too. Sometimes they are referred to as terms of purchase or service. They are essentially your rules like what you allow or don’t allow on your site, or if you are offering any products or services. You want to make sure that you let your customers know what they can and cannot do with your products. That’s why you need terms and conditions to outline your refund policy and exchange policy, and believe it or not, these are real issues.
If you don’t have terms and conditions, I know a coach that ran into this issue when she was providing coaching services. She didn’t have a coaching contract, terms, and conditions, nothing. After working with her client for a couple of months, the client ended up asking for a refund, and she had to lose thousands of dollars and give the refund back because she didn’t have any of these terms in place to protect her and her work. All that hard work went down the drain. This is a story that repeats itself. I see it often and not just in the coaching industry but in any industry.
That’s why you want to have terms and conditions if you are selling something. You want to make it very clear what your refund policy is, what your exchange policy is and under what circumstances people can get the refund, when they cannot get the refund, and other things that they can do with your product. You want to protect your intellectual property. You don’t want someone to steal your content. You need to put them on notice in your terms and conditions.
Also, if there’s ever any legal issue, you want to be able to have governing law provisions in their terms and conditions that let people know where the dispute will be resolved, how it will be resolved, and things like that. These are three legal documents that anyone is thinking about starting a side hustle or having a website of any kind. They should have these three documents. Also, make sure that now, with the increase of lawsuits that we are seeing with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, make sure that you make your site compliant with that too.
With all of this language that we need to have on websites, I know that you have templates for some of this stuff. The purpose of this show is not to create an advertisement for your services. I also know that as a good lawyer, you’ve got some great services out there. We want to let people know about that. If I needed it for my website, could I get a template from you that has this language or does the language need to be massaged so that it’s tailor-made for me? How does that all work?
I will give you the language and also show you highlighted instructions on how to customize it to your business. For example, the disclaimer we talked about is that your niche may be different from mine. You want to make sure that the disclaimer is tailored to your particular business and that the instructions are in the template. They are basically done for you but you do enter your own business information, a do-it-yourself thing. That’s why the cost is super low because they are very easy to use. Within 15 minutes or 30 minutes, you are done, and you have everything that you need for your website.
The same thing with the ADA bundle. I give you the website accessibility statement that you should have to demonstrate compliance. The plugins that you should use. As well as a checklist that you should use to make sure that your site is meeting all those requirements. All of that is given to you. The second option is if you want that added peace of mind, which is not necessary but if you do. Some people have questions and prefer to work with a lawyer one-on-one. If you might have a couple of questions, then you are welcome to always schedule a call with me like a coaching call or a consult.
Also, if you want me to customize the contract, the template or a document for your particular business, then I have done that for entrepreneurs as well. For example, I had a client who was offering retreat packages and wanted the contract to be specifically tailored to her services and what she was offering. We had a back-and-forth conversation, and after speaking with her, I knew what she needed, so I was able to custom-write the whole thing for her. You have that option too. In that case, you are working with me one-on-one, so the cost is a little bit more. As I said, the first option is getting the templates and doing it yourself or the second one is if you want that one-on-one interaction, you are always welcome to work with me too.
Regarding “ADA compliance,” please go and check out the show that we did that aired on June 29th with Daryn who is an expert on ADA compliance. We did a whole episode on this because, again, who knew that websites needed to be ADA-compliant? I met Daryn at an event, thought he was a great guy and realized he had all this knowledge in an arena that I didn’t even know that I didn’t know anything about. Go and check out that episode. It was episode 28.
Amira, you were talking about the language that we need. If my website is not selling anything, if on my website I am saying, “You are interested in finding out more, contact me, contact my team,” if I’m not directly selling anything, if you can’t purchase anything through my website is it as important that I have disclaimer information on there?
Are you publishing anything like a blog or are you doing any information sharing on the website?
I do all kinds of information sharing.
Even if you weren’t selling anything, you should still. It’s good practice. They are not legally required if you are not selling anything but it’s still a good security blanket. You protect your intellectual property, and if there’s any issue with your reader or any other issues, at least your terms and conditions will protect you with the governing law provisions built in. Letting them know how legal disputes will be resolved and where. It’s still a good idea to have those three documents.
Where would that live on a typical website?
What are other things that we may not know that we may not be paying attention to? I have now been in business for a few years. Hopefully, I’ve got more or less all the things that I need but if I’m out there and I’m thinking about starting something or I’ve started something. What are the things that we want to check in with a lawyer about?
There are quite a few things. For example, the first one is whether you should think about forming a business entity to separate your personal assets from your business. A very common one that we see now is an LLC, especially if you are in business for yourself. It’s you or me, and there’s nobody else or even if you have members. You can have a couple of people but we see LLC be a very common business entity because it’s easy to form. It gives you all the protections. That’s something that you should also look into.
You are not required to do it from the get-go but it’s something that I believe you should have in your mind, especially if you end up making money from your business. You don’t want to mix your personal in your business. You want to keep it separate, have the shield of legal protection. That’s one thing. The question I get all the time is, “When should I form the LLC?” The answer is that whenever you start to make consistent income, it doesn’t matter what the amount is. When you know that you’ve got some viable business, it is a good idea to separate it to get that peace of mind of not commingling your personal stuff with your business stuff.
For that, you would obviously need a business bank account. Something else that I see plenty of people making mistakes on is not knowing the rules of copyright. They will google an image and take and post it on their site. That’s another big legal mistake. Sometimes you don’t know. It happened to someone I know. She had taken an image from Google and posted it on her site. The next thing you know, she got a cease and desist letter. She ended up owing $8,000 for that image.
The people who want to pursue legal action will get you. That’s after settling. The initial claim was for a much higher amount but they ended up settling and she still had to lose $8,000. Again, it’s not a mistake that she made intentionally. It’s something she don’t know. Never ever copy anyone’s material. Never copy anyone’s images. Never assume that you could use someone’s video. Always seek permission. Whenever you are in doubt, the best practice is to seek permission because you never know how that could come against you.
There are some serious legal damages for any copyright infringement. What I advise people to do is use a media release agreement. It’s an agreement that even people who you have on your show, or let’s say you have testimonials you want to feature. You may have heard about testimonial releases and media releases. They are basically, essentially, legal contracts that give you permission to use someone’s name, photo or video legally without you having to owe them money down the road or run into any legal violations.Never copy anyone's material, or use images or videos without the owner's permission. There are some serious legal damages for any kind of copyright infringement. Click To Tweet
There are a lot of websites out there that either charge a fee for a user to come and get photos. Unsplash, I know, is one. There’s a bunch of them that are out there that you can pay like a monthly fee and then have access to a whole bunch of pictures that you may then use at your discretion, often with a caption of who took the picture. There are ways to do this right so that you don’t infringe on copyright issues.
You mentioned the site on Unsplash. There’s Pixabay and Pexels. There are quite a few websites that offer copyright-free images for you to use. Whenever in doubt, look at those websites or, if you are going to use an image of someone who you know in the business world, then you are not going to find that image on those websites. In those instances, you are better off seeking permission, so this way, you get the legal right to use someone’s photo.
In May, I had the opportunity to be a presenter at a conference. I was one of the keynote speakers, and people had an opportunity to then give feedback. It was all anonymous. I don’t know who said what. I wish I did because all of my comments were great. I would love to be able to reach out to the people and say thank you but I can’t. There are a couple of comments that I would love to use on my website. The conference was called PHRA, which is the Professionals and Human Resources Association. Can I say this is what the person said and have it be a quote from “a PHRA conference attendee”? Can you do something like that?
Yes, because this way, you are keeping it anonymous. That is okay because that’s not identifying anyone, and you are not using someone’s name or anything. In that situation, you can.
I know that often when people think about hiring a lawyer, they think, “I am in for thousands and thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.” I know I work with a lawyer because I own a business and have an LLC that files as an S corp. I know what all those things mean now. A) It does not cost me thousands and thousands of dollars. B) It helps me sleep better at night. I know I’m doing things right. We have this idea that it’s going to be so expensive. It’s going to take a lot of time.
In my experience, it doesn’t have to. If somebody is thinking, “Maybe I will give Amira a call,” in general, how much of your time is it going to take? I know I’m asking you to spitball here but if somebody needs five, six, or maybe just three hours of your time, I’m not asking you to quote rates. Are we looking at something that’s less than $2,500?
I have purposely kept my rates super affordable. When I was working for a law firm, my rates were high because, as you know, it comes with experience. Another thing about my rates and my bundles is that you will see I have hundreds of love notes and testimonials on my website and my Facebook page. Do you know what the number one thing people say? “I can’t believe how affordable it is.”
Do you know why? It’s because I have seen my father lose it all. I’m coming from a different place. I’m not coming from a place to make money. I come from a place to genuinely help people. I hope people see that. I know they do because of the love notes. Everything from the bundles to even working with me is super affordable. Even a call with me, all the rates are on my website, so it’s no secret. You can see on the Work With Me page that it’s super affordable. To answer your question, yes, I am known to over-deliver. It’s how I am. I’m not going to sit there and count like every half hour and every hour and bill you.
Every 15 minutes or five minutes, which in law firms, that’s the way that they price.
That’s why I quit those law firms.
I work for a couple of those big law firms. I know. The good thing about this is that all of these legal expenses are tax deductible. This is a reasonable business expense that is important to incur to make sure that you’ve got all the things that we need to protect us. I love where you are coming from. This is a business, you need to make money but your focus is not, “How can I make the most money possible?” Your focus is serving and knowing that when you serve, the money follows.
My dad taught me that when you help someone, and you make a difference, money will come. I never made money my focus. It is always, as you said, the service. To me, that makes me sleep better at night, so everyone is different.When you help someone and make a difference, money will come. Click To Tweet
In general, the folks who I am attracted to and who I attract are often those folks who come from that perspective. We want to serve. We want to help make the world and our organizations a better place. We want people to be happy. I’m on a mission to have the world of work be one in which everyone can thrive. This show is a part of that, and usually, those are the people who are in my tribe. Those people who come from that same perspective. That’s one of the many things that I enjoy about you.
Like attracts like.
As we start wrapping up, is there anything that I haven’t asked you yet, or anything that you want to make sure that, maybe even you said but you want to underline it? You want to make sure that people remember. A note that you would love to leave people on.
What I would like to say is that I know the legal stuff can be complicated. It can be intimidating and frustrating. What I’ve done is I’ve put together a free legal guide, so it’s free. It’s on my website under the freebies page. Quite a few different freebies that I would like to offer. This is a way to let you know what you need to know and how you can protect yourself and your business. Feel free to download that guide.
Thank you so much, Amira. This has been wonderful and an episode chock-full of information for those entrepreneurs and business owners who are thinking about starting a business, expanding their business, and want to make sure that they have all their ducks in order. Even if you don’t have a business, hopefully, this was interesting and entertaining anyway. Thank you for your time, your generosity, your wisdom, and your selflessness.
We all have a stake in what’s important to us. Obviously, what happened to your dad is horrible, and I appreciate how seeing what happened to him made this momentous shift in your life. You have been able to help over 50,000 people. That’s an amazing thing to be able to say.
Thank you for being here with us.
Thank you so much, Janine. It was my pleasure.
- A Self Guru
- Legal Store
- Episode 28 with Daryn, an expert on ADA compliance
- Work With Me
- Amira on Pinterest
- Amira on Facebook
- Amira on Instagram
About Amira Irfan
Internationally renowned Amira Irfan is the business lawyer, blogger, and coach behind A Self Guru, an online company that has been featured around the world for helping entrepreneurs in legally protecting their businesses through its affordable legal templates and services. Amira has had the honor of helping over 50,000 entrepreneurs comply with the laws and safeguard their businesses. Her work has been featured in 200 media outlets such as Ticker News, Yahoo Finance, International Business Times, Business Digest Magazine, Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, US Times Now, and more!