You are building the small business of your dreams but it can turn into a nightmare if you don’t follow the law. Here are some common pitfalls and ways to avoid them.

Be Careful: Using Fonts, Images, or Music You Didn’t Create

You need to license fonts for web and print use unless they are open source. Try a free font site like fontsquirrel.com. Photos and illustrations found on the web are not free for the taking. These images are protected even if they haven’t been officially registered for copyright. Try using a subscription image stock service like Shutterstock.com to meet your needs for the first few months.

Watch out: Taking a song about love and inserting your own lyrics about your lawnmower business is not parody and is not protected by fair use. Parody requires you comment on the original work!

Be Careful: Using a person’s likeness when publishing promotional material

If you want to use a photo with someone in it, ask them to sign a one page model release. Do not use any photos, videos or pictures of a person unless you have their signed consent.

Be Careful: Infringing on Trademark

Do a search with the state records database to see if your company name or slogan are already in use. Don’t use protected trademarks in marketing materials. You should also file a trademark for your company name, slogan and logo to ensure that you are protected.

Be Careful: Sending Emails

You must offer a link to unsubscribe; subject lines must be accurate; and you must include a real business address.

Be Careful: Collecting and Storing Data from Customers

If you are storing customer data, your servers must be secured and encrypted. All hard copy of consumer information should be stored behind lock and key and in compliance with HIPAA laws. Allowing records to be released through careless business practices is a violation of federal law.

If your company’s marketing reaches children under the age of thirteen (intentionally or unintentionally), you must be complaint with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA).  Compliance requires detailed notice requirements to parents, confidentiality of information, and a posting of a clear and comprehensive online privacy policy.

Failure to comply with the above recommendations can result in significant fines from the government, bad publicity, and dire financial consequences from lost business. Make sure your disclosures are visible and detailed and that you aren’t taking original work from others to further your business.